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About RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes

What is RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes?

Insh Marshes is a 1,000-hectare floodplain stretching between Kingussie and Kincraig along the River Spey, with 850-hectares of this floodplain managed by the RSPB Scotland. It is one of the largest and most important inland wetland areas in the UK, supporting a variety of wild and plant life. It is managed by RSPB Scotland and part of Cairngorms Connect, a partnership of neighbouring land managers committed to a bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species, and ecological processes across a vast area within the Cairngorms National Park.

What is a floodplain and why is Insh Marshes important?

A floodplain is a large, flat expanse of land that forms on either side of a river, stretching to the valley edges. The natural process of a floodplain is to flood when a river overtops its banks.

Created over thousands of years as the river meanders back and forth across the valley floor, floodplains are dynamic natural systems and provide a range of benefits to the ecosystems and communities that surround them.

Insh Marshes acts as a giant natural sponge, holding water and allowing it to slowly travel back into the river.

By slowing down the flow of water, the marshes play a crucial role in alleviating pressure on areas further downstream, including the towns of Aviemore and Kincraig. At its capacity, Insh Marshes can hold 35 million cubic metres of water. That’s the same as 1,400 Olympic swimming pools.

Underground water sources that serve as our primary water source are replenished by slow seepage through the underlying soils and rocks. Floodplains such as RSPB Insh Marshes also filter water, by removing excess sediment and nutrients, which would otherwise degrade water quality and increase treatment costs.

History of the Marshes

 

Iron Age

The first known inhabitants of the Spey Valley. There is evidence of settlements near Lynchat, and Raitts Cave (an underground chamber) is dated as having been active between 550BC and 560AD.

13th - early 18th Century

Farming was practiced from the river to distant mountains. Riverside was used for hay meadows and winter pasture. Shoulders of hills were used as summer sheilings - where women and children would graze animals. Rent was paid in produce.

Late 18th Century

Two prominent landowners, John Dow & Hugh Tod, were commissioned to build embankments along the Spey to restrict flooding and allow areas to stay drier for longer. This increased value of pastures twenty-fold.

Modifications were made at Pitmain by John Maclean. He transformed 200 hectares of “land deemed no better than a swamp” to “firm land bearing good crops of hay & corn”. In addition, 1,000 sheep were sustained by this land.

Estate owner Captain John MacPherson employed a stone mason to construct embankments “with three roes of fail (turf) and six quarter high of stone” to protect hay meadows.

The straightening of the Spey involved the removal of one loop, Loupouchkie, which previously had slowed the water flow in the river. The level of Loch Insh was lowered by six feet by digging a canal to drain water back into the River Spey.

20th Century

Clearances and World Wars decreased the local population, leaving few to maintain the agricultural land. Modern farming machinery (tractors etc.) were too heavy to be used in wet areas. This resulted in fewer areas being used for agriculture, with land reverting back to marsh and being left to nature.

1973

RSPB Scotland acquire land on RSPB Insh Marshes. The land is managed to ensure habitats of National and European importance are in favourable condition.

2005

RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes designated as a National Nature Reserve.

2023

RSPB Scotland employs a team of 10 people who, supported by a valued team of over 20 volunteers, trainees and interns, manage the reserve for wildlife, climate and people.

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