Natural heritage conservation designations

The wildlife and landscape of the River Tweed and its tributaries are protected by the designation and management of specific sites. Most of these designations provide protection through statute, however some, such as National Scenic Areas or Local Biodiversity Sites, do not provide protection under any legal framework. More information on all the designations below are available through the JNCC website.

Nature conservation

The Tweed in Scotland

In 1978 the Scottish section of the River Tweed, including all major tributaries, was originally designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Updated by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, this statutory SSSI designation requires landowners and managers to work closely with Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure appropriate management of the site’s natural features; and to ensure decision-makers, land managers, their agents and advisors, as well as local authorities and other public bodies, are aware of SSSIs when considering changes in land use or other activities which might affect them. The Tweed was designated SSSI as a nationally important example of a relatively nutrient-rich river system showing characteristic hydrological and biological sequences along its length.

The Till riverbanks
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) on its amazing journey upstream to spawn

A section of the River Till, a major Tweed tributary which lies mainly on the English side of the border, was designated as a separate SSSI in 1993. This 211 ha section of the river and surrounding land, stretching for 6.5 km from Redscar Bridge to above Doddington Bridge, supports very rich ground and water beetle populations. The unstable river cliffs with broad, sparsely vegetated beaches and oxbow features provide the habitat for these species. Ground beetles prefer areas of unvegetated shingle and open sand left by floods whilst the oxbow lakes, temporary pools and ditches are utilised by water beetle species. Notified in 1999 as part of the whole River Tweed SSSI system, the Till catchment rivers are clean rivers of high conservation and ecological value. Floating beds of Water Crowfoot are of international significance and the seasonal blooming of the diatom Didymosphenia, in the headwaters draining the Cheviot, is unique within England. The fish fauna are particularly significant with large migrations of salmon and all three British species of lamprey present. The Till catchment also contains important habitat for otters.

The Tweed estuary
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) stretching its wings

The Lower Tweed and Whiteadder SSSI was designated in 1988 and stretches from the confluence of the Whiteadder Water to the end of the breakwater at Berwick-upon-Tweed. On this intertidal area around 600 Mute Swans (about 40% of the British population) winter, including non-resident birds drawn from a wide area. Goldeneye winter on the estuary with some 200 to 300 feeding in the area. Smaller numbers of other ducks including Eiders, Common Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers also occur along with waders such as Dunlin, Redshank and Turnstone.

Other Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Land adjacent to the Tweed has also been designated a SSSI where particular features or habitats merit this. Examples of this include sections of the Whiteadder (where the rocks exposed on riverbanks contain significant fossils) and the woodland around Scott’s View and Leaderfoot. Many of the Border Mires and Mosses also enjoy SSSI status with the Whitlaw Moss complex designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR).

International designations

The main stem of the river and its major tributaries of Whiteadder, Teviot, Till, Ettrick and Gala are classified as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Natura 2000 legislation. This accords the highest level of European conservation value. The SAC designation is due to the presence of certain species, for the Tweed these are Atlantic Salmon, Otter, Lamprey and Ranunculus (Water Crowfoot). The Northumberland Coast is designated under the EU Conservation of Birds 1979 (the “Birds Directive”) as a Special Protection Area (SPA). The same area is also a Wetland of International Importance (a RAMSAR site) and is part of the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast SAC. These designations protect the site, under the English “Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010” and the Scottish “Habitats Regulations 1994” (last amended 2012), against any operations which may cause deterioration or disturbance of the habitat or species for which it has been designated.

Protection of landscape

Leaderfoot Viaduct

In Scotland, landscapes of national importance are designated by Scottish Ministers as National Scenic Areas (NSA). In December 2010, NSAs were designated under new legislation. This defines them as areas of “outstanding scenic value in a national context” for which special protection measures are required. The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 gives a statutory basis to NSAs by adding a new section to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. The new legislation was brought into force in December 2010 through The Town and Country Planning (National Scenic Areas) (Scotland) Designation Directions 2010. NSAs are broadly equivalent to AONBs in England and Wales.

On Tweed, both the Eildon/Leaderfoot NSA and the Upper Tweeddale NSA (which includes the hill country from Peebles to Broughton) have been designated. Within NSAs, various activities are subject to close scrutiny by the relevant agencies and local planning authority. In both NSAs, the Tweed is a major component of the landscape, a feature exemplified by the famous Scott’s View of the Tweed and Eildon hills.

Scottish Borders Council also recognises Special Landscape Areas (SLA), which replace the previous Areas of Great Landscape Value in local development plans. The nine current SLAs are generally larger than the NSA areas and are distributed throughout the Scottish Borders Council area. SLA status affords protection against inappropriate development, although, as a local designation, the protection is less stringent than that for NSAs.

In England, the headwaters of the Till river system rise in the Northumberland National Park – one of 13 National Parks in England and Wales. The headwaters of the Till includes the tributaries of the Glen and Harthope burns which cut deep into the Cheviot Hills. Also, much of the Northumberland Coast is designated as an AONB, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. AONB is a statutory designation established by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Together with National Parks, AONBs represent the nation’s finest landscapes. The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

Agri-environment programmes

Scottish Rural Development Programme

In Scotland, land management for conservation is supported via the Scottish Rural Development Programme (2014-2020). The SRDP contains several agri-environment options including a Forestry Grant Scheme, Agri-Environment Climate Scheme and an Environmental Co-operation Action Fund.

Countryside Stewardship

In England, Countryside Stewardship provides funding for activities such as conserving and restoring wildlife habitats, woodland creation and management, reducing widespread water pollution from agriculture and keeping the character of the countryside.