The floods that hit Peebles in December would have been “much worse” were it not for innovative works to restore the original meandering course of the fast-flowing Eddleston Water.
That is the view of Councillor Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire) after accepting an invitation from the Drygrange-based Tweed Forum to tour the £300,000 partnership project last week.
Jointly funded by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the work focused on an 800-metre stretch of the Tweed tributary near Cringletie and Lake Wood which, 200 years ago, was straightened to make way for a new turnpike road, thus avoiding the cost of bridge building over the twisting watercourse.
In the 1800s, the railway took advantage of that back-breaking feat of engineering.
But the wholesale tree-felling and the removal of bends came at a price, with the acceleration of flows manifesting itself in regular floods, not least when the river becomes The Cuddy before joining the River Tweed in Peebles.
And wildlife also suffered from the loss of natural habitats for salmon, trout, otters and lampreys.
The physical task of restoring the river to its former meandering glory was carried out for the Tweed Forum in 2013 by Glendinning Groundworks of Innerleithen, along with Aberdeen-based eco-engineers Cbec.
During the work, which also involved widespread riparian replanting, river wildlife was effectively evacuated, a team of experts skillfully “electrofishing” the existing pools and an army of volunteers carrying the stunned salmon, trout, eels and lampreys downstream to safety.
And a network of rain gauges, groundwater and river level gauges was installed throughout the valley to collect data on how the changes would affect flows and flood frequencies.
“What has been achieved in such a relatively short time is both remarkable and reassuring,” said Councillor Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative group on Scottish Borders Council, who is seeking election to the Scottish Parliament in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale on May 5.
“It was fascinating to see the way the bends have been returned and the speed at which the rocks and pebbles in the river bank have been drawn down the river and settled to create a feeling they have been there forever.
“In addition over 70,000 trees have been planted, helping slow the flow of water off the land, and 13 leaky ponds created, allowing water to be stored during periods of intense rainfall.
“The upshot is that while we can never fully prepare for the kind of devastation which Storm Frank visited on Peebles at the end of the year, this project has made a valuable contribution to reducing overall flood risk.
“There is no doubt that, without the Eddleston Water Project, the floods which hit the town at the end of the year would have been much worse.”
More details on the project are at www.tweedforum.org/projects/current-projects/Eddleston.