Removing a Blocking Tree from the River Nith

Towards the end of the gorge in the River Nith, a commonly run whitewater section in south west Scotland, a large tree had blocked the course. Depending on the river level this was not easy to go round or cross and for over a year social media had a steady stream of people warning about it. Kyle Canoe Club even stopped running the section of river because of it.

So I set about trying to work out what it would take to remove it. The first task is to go to the site and assess, images on Facebook only show so much. It was 20m down a steep slope with no easy access and there were at least 4 trees stuck across in the same spot. They ranged from about 50cm to 80cm in diameter. This was not something that could be done with a hand saw and manual lifting.

I had to find someone who knew how to use a chainsaw and winch lifts in difficult environment and got hold of Scot Muir from the Forth Rivers Trust who I had trained up in white water safety the year before. Not only did he have winches and chains and axes, he knew the right fuesl to use in the chainsaw when near water so as not to cause a pollution incident.

I then visited the estate office for the site, which is Richie Scott’s large Buccleuch estate. The local head of forestry was happy for us to go ahead but understandably wanted a risk assessment and to know our qualifications.

Then I applied for money to pay for my travel and a day of Scot’s time from the Andy Jackson Fund for Access, a simple enough application but you do need to be mindful of who is paying and when and what happens if you don’t succeed on your first attempt.

Next it was a case of watching my webpage SCA Where’s the Water for low flows. When they arrived and my dates aligned with Scot’s we met up early in the morning and spent 8 hours with ropes, winches, chains and chainsaws. Every cut needed problem solving to work out what angles we could get a grip on and how we could cut it without ourselves ending up in the water or the trees just getting stuck again. The final trunk was so thick and so waterlogged we had to rotate it several times to be able to cut through and it needed pulled into an eddy when it sank rather than floating away. Some paddlers ascending the river stopped by to say hi and give us their thanks which was lovely.

So for anyone who comes across strainers on the river have a look and consider if you can help remove it. There’s funding available from the Andy Jackson Fund and we’re happy to help with pointers of how to do it, but it’s a process that takes some planning and problem solving and works best in the summer months so let’s get removing those trees pronto.