SEVENTY gamekeepers rallied together to help a flood-ravaged north-east village, which felt the brunt of Storm Frank, prepare for the important tourist season by removing tonnes of debris from the River Dee.
Estate gamekeepers in the Grampian Moorland Group traveled to Ballater from all parts of Aberdeenshire, forming operational teams with the South Grampian Wildfire Group.
Heavy machinery and manpower were deployed at various sites on the Dee floodplain and around the bridge in the village as Ballater attempts to recover from the New Year storms in time for Easter.
Tourists spend £340 million a year in the region and ensuring visitors return this year to Royal Deeside will be vital to the community after the devastation of Storm Frank.
Waterways off the Dee were cleared of items such as mattresses and beer kegs by diggers and the crews, including foresters and estate staff, removed broken caravans and white goods from nearby farmland.
Ghillies, farmers, members of the local community and volunteers from the River Dee Trust have been working to clear rubbish from the riverbanks and the village.
The clear-up is to continue today although those on the ground are aware that getting Ballater and local businesses back to where they were, will take time.
Over 300 homes and 60 businesses were flooded, causing levels of damage never witnessed before.
“Obviously it is not long until the tourist season and that brings people into this area. The gamekeepers from the estates in the Grampian Moorland Group all wanted to do their bit to help,” said Hans Mckenzie-Wilson, who is Head Gamekeeper at Invercauld.
“The local community has done a great job so far but no one can do everything and, even with the amount of people we’ve got here, I doubt it would even be finished in a week, it’s that bad.
“A lot of the debris is very heavy. We’ve been pulling out the undercarriages of caravans and things like fridge freezers. A lot of the stuff is also in places that can’t normally be reached.”
Farmer Alan Adams, currently in temporary accommodation, was glad to see the teams at work yesterday, adding to the all-round community relief effort.
His flooded farmhouse will have to be completely refurbished whilst broken caravans from the nearby holiday park felled his fences and left mountains of rubble in his fields.
“There is so much damage and it is good to see the effort being put in because it has to start somewhere. It’s a long road back. Even with all the clean-up activity I think I will have lost one of my cattle fields this year. There are caravan beds and mirrors lying everywhere and one part of one field was completely washed away.
“I’ve been here all my life, and my father before me, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Members of the South Grampian Wildfire Group, comprising local estates and agencies in Deeside and Donside co-ordinated ‘Operation Cleanup’.
Michael Bruce Chairman of the group said “A large part of the debris was deposited on the floodplain, often getting caught up in trees. It was clear the level of effort and type of equipment needed had to increase massively. My thanks go to all the estates and agencies making this vital contribution to the local community.”
Geva Blackett, Councillor for Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside, was on hand to witness the effort.
She said: “Gamekeepers have kept the countryside beautiful around here for generations and I am delighted, if not surprised, to see them taking part. I’d like to say a big thanks to them and the wildfire group, as local councillor.”