Popular Scotland streams restored with beauty and danger

Written by Natasha Baker, CNN

The Orkney Islands have a storied history, with revered architect Walter Scott writing his famous novels there and the last woolly mammoth being discovered in 2004. And in recent months, these rocky island chains have been in the news again, following the successful restoration of the vulnerable Passage to Eden freshwater stream.

While it is popular with tourists and fisherman, the Passage to Eden is still reeling from being redirected by navigation authorities in 1998. This flowing water channel cuts through the canals of the islands of Lewis and Cromarty, which leads directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

The restoration process, which has focused on improving biodiversity, marine life and the overall health of the stream, is a joint effort between the Orkney Islands Council, a regional district in Scotland, and the Orkney Islands Councilor, a community group that promotes the local tourism industry, in partnership with Conservation Scotland.

The riverside site that once served as the Passage to Eden was transformed into a nature reserve thanks to volunteers from Lewis and Cromarty Nature Centre (LCNC). Now, it helps to protect salmon stocks as well as offer visitors access to local sites that preserve significant historical sites and archeological remains.

More than 600 volunteers took part in the Passage to Eden project, which involved liaising with lighthouses on the north Orkney mainland to help extend the channel. Conservation Scotland helped to oversee this work, which has served as a reminder of how transportation infrastructure can negatively impact ecosystems, and ecosystems themselves can need to be saved from degradation.

The Portion of Lake Baikal, a huge ice-free lake in the Russian Far East, where 1,000 sharks were captured using dynamite on the water’s surface. The video was taken after numerous local studies showed an increased number of sightings. Credit: Courtesy National Geographic

While the Passage to Eden remains a habitat for salmon, other species such as small water birds have also returned. In fact, of the approximately 15 native species that inhabit the Passage to Eden, five have increased their numbers in recent years.

“Recent surveys have revealed diverse birds, mammals and reptiles throughout the Passage to Eden … indicative of an increasing recovery of the habitats of the Orkney islands,” said Brad Salmon, a volunteer working on the project.

However, the Orkney islands — on the north coast of Scotland — are still historically famous for their troubled relationship with the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the first white settlement on Orkney was in 1610, as traces of its history continue to show up around the country.

The Orkney Islands were chosen as the starting location for HMS Erebus (sometimes known as Poseidon) and HMS Terror, the last two vessels of the Franklin Expedition, an exploration of Northwest Passage in 1848 and 1849 that ended in complete loss.

Cromarty, at the other end of the Orkney Isles, is said to be the site of the last encounter between the two vessels, when the bodies of British expedition member Albert Thunanghor and Consul Stephen Erskine werehes ashore near Cromarty in 1848. In 1973, the location was identified as a possible burial site for Franklin and his crew. However, his identity was discovered to be a hoax in 2002.

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