Insh Marshes – a shared vision for a natural floodplain

Stretching between Kingussie and Kincraig along the River Spey, Insh Marshes is a 1,000 hectare floodplain. It is managed by RSPB Scotland and is part of the Cairngorms Connect partnership area. At the moment, historical modifications prevent the floodplain functioning in a natural way. It requires constant work to maintain important habitats and prevent negative impacts on surrounding communities.

The RSPB has developed a long-term vision to transform Insh Marshes into a prime example of a naturally functioning floodplain and river system. River and floodplain will be more connected, tributaries unrestricted by historical modifications and defunct ditch systems will no longer have a negative impact on protected wetland habitats.

These changes will increase the resilience of local communities and the natural riches of Insh Marshes against climate change, while keeping management requirements sustainable.

A Special Place

Insh Marshes is important for numerous National and International designations, including Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Designations highlight and protect aspects such as the wetland habitats of the floodplain, the aspen stand, rare insects, birds and mammals.

The reserve is especially known to support breeding wading birds including curlew, lapwing, redshank and snipe, as well as the goldeneye duck. In winter, highlights include the whooper swans visiting from the Arctic and hen harriers use the Marsh to roost at night. The rare aspen hoverfly and eagles claw lichen rely on our aspen trees.

 More than 500 species of plants are found here including string sedge, least yellow water lily and pillwort. These are specialist species, found in only a select few places in the UK. Other designations are in place for otter, salmon, arctic char and freshwater pearl mussel.

Influences on the Marsh

Insh Marshes is described as one of the least modified floodplains in the UK. However, extensive work dating back to the 18th and 19th Century, to create land for agriculture, has reduced the opportunities for the floodplain to function naturally. Most of these modifications were never fully successful and many have now fallen into disrepair

 With past modifications, natural processes on the marsh are restricted. There is growing concern that current management of the reserve is unsustainable, which means it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain some of the designated features and habitats it is recognised for and the ability to keep them in a favourable condition.

 Additionally, we are all aware that we are in a climate crisis and that our world is changing. In Northern Scotland, climate change projections indicate that seasonality of precipitation is likely to become more pronounced, with winters, on average, becoming much wetter and our summers becoming drier. This puts more pressure on how we make the floodplain function better to help alleviate these increases, of which there is a predicted 20% flow rate increase in the next 200 years.

 This is where restoration, into making the floodplain function more naturally and to join connectivity between the river and floodplain, becomes vitally important.

Options for the Future

In 2016, RSPB Insh Marshes commissioned a feasibility study, funded by SEPA's Water Environment Fund and Cairngorms National Park Authority, to look at options for the future to ensure the sustainability of Insh marshes not only as an important site for flora and fauna but by continuing to offer flood protection. EnviroCentre created a computer model using data collected from the marsh and previous flood events. It assessed the current conditions, and offered different options for restoring a more naturally functioning river and floodplain

 Aims of the study:

The study presented 10 different options (some with sub options) to consider for the future:

  1. Doing nothing
  2. Maintain according to obligations
  3. Full repair of embankments
  4. Removal of embankments

    a. All embankments

    b. Embankments at Lynchat

    c. Embankments at Lynchat, Dell, Insh and Coull

  5. Increased breaching of embankments
  6. Removal of bank protection
  7. In channel restoration measures on tributaries, i.e. installing woody debris or boulders in the river.
  8. Channel realignment/re-meandering on tributaries
  9. Reinstatement of stream diversions
  10. Reducing internal drainage

    a. Block internal ditches

    b. Reduce connectivity between the main drain & Loch Insh

Each option was put through a Multi Criteria Assessment using a simple positive, negative and neutral matrix to provide an overview of the potential benefits and risks. These included assessing the impact on Hydrology, Ecology and Morphology as well as Flood Risks.

The study was taken to the project stakeholders such as SEPA, CNPA, NatureScot for feedback.

Preferred Options

The feasibility study provided an overview and evaluated the potential impacts of each option using a multi-criteria assessment. Feedback from other agencies like SEPA and Nature Scot helped indicate options which could be taken forward. After considering further feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, the RSPB is considering a number of projects which could be taken forward:

  1. Reconnecting the river and floodplain

    a. Embankment removal at Lynchat

  2. Naturalising river dynamics

    a. Channel re-meandering of Ruthven and Raitts burn

    b. Removing in bank protection on the Tromie

    c. In channel measures on the tributaries

  3. Improving wetland habitat

    a. Ditch blocking in areas susceptible to summer droughts

We want to know your thoughts and feedback on the preferred options being considered.  Which option or options do you think should be taken forward?
Complete our survey through this link: Insh Marshes Survey

Further Information

Insh Marshes – A shared vision for a natural floodplain

This document gives more information on Insh Marshes, the history of the floodplain and management with details of the preferred options.

A summary of options from the feasibility study

This document covers a short description of all options, their impacts on the hydrological processes, important ecological features and required maintenance, along with our conclusions.

Technical Summary of Feasibility Study

This document offers a 12 page summary of the full feasibility study carried out in 2016 detailing information about Insh Marshes, including hydrology, ecology, and morphology.

 Full Feasibility Study

This full technical document details Insh Marshes at the time of the study in 2016, along with all possible options which were identified.  This study was funded by RSPB Scotland, SEPA's Water Environment Fund and Cairngorms National Park Authority.


How to get involved and sharing your thoughts

We invite you to learn about and engage in the long-term vision for Insh Marshes, transforming it into a prime example of a naturally functioning river & floodplain system.

Join us to discuss the project at the following events:

20th & 21st November 2020 – Site Visit to explore the options available with staff. This will be limited in numbers and can be booked through Eventbrite by clicking here. BOOKING FOR THIS HAS NOW CLOSED

Wednesday 25th November 2020 – Join us for an online webinar at 7pm to find out more and ask questions.  You can register for this event by clicking here

Wednesday 2nd December 2020 - Pop-up exhibition at Loch Insh Outdoor Centre, which will be in the Ptarmigan.  Open from 11am - 3pm for you to ask questions and find out more.  

An exhibition will be displayed at the Insh Marshes lookout throughout the project.

We want to know your thoughts and feedback on options being considered.

Complete our survey through the link below:

Insh Marshes Survey

This survey will be open until 11th December 


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