Led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Democratic Society and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, this project stream provides an opportunity for communities, landowners and other stakeholders to work together to identify Riverwoods projects that have the potential to be financed using new mechanisms beyond traditional grants.

Natural flood management, water quality, biodiversity, engagement with nature and carbon will provide the initial focus for exploration of new ways of bundling and selling the benefits created.

Value proposition

This activity will create momentum around building investment readiness, identifying potential projects and equipping them with the early-stage tools to enable them to begin this journey. This will fill three important gaps:

  • Providing investment readiness and project development support that is currently unavailable
  • Building the evidence around the needs and opportunities connected with novel financing for Riverwoods
  • Securing meaningful community engagement approaches for nature restoration initiatives

Aims and objectives

Our overall aim of this project stream is to begin developing a portfolio of investment-ready Riverwoods projects, taking an inclusive and innovative approach that will help deliver scale in the longer term. 

The three key objectives are to: 

  • Taking a participative approach with meaningful community engagement, support the short-listing of of up to five candidate projects with strong potential to be subsequently selected as demonstrators of the kind of projects that could achieve the aim above
  • Negotiate a source of public/philanthropic funding that would enable two demonstrator projects to be developed to the stage of investment-readiness 
  • Provide useful feedback and visibility to a larger number of other potential projects that may be able to access other sources of support in future.

External context

The restoration of our valuable natural environment and biodiversity will require an innovative partnership approach and a combination of public and private sector funding. We know that multiple stakeholders will have a part to play – including landowners, local communities, business and third sector and Scottish government agencies. The Riverwoods programme provides an opportunity for us to test and learn how stakeholders can work in partnership to deliver positive riverine habitat change. This will be a challenging and ground-breaking project as it will require the development of tangible revenue streams from the sale of ecosystem services created by the improved riverine habitat.   

Our approach  

We are very grateful to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for agreeing to fund the initial development stage of Riverwoods 

Our approach aims to draw heavily on the learning from four English pilot projects, developed by individual organisations or partnerships with advisory support from Triodos Bank and funding from Defra, the Environment Agency and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Dan Hird (ex-Head of Corporate Finance at Triodos) who led the work on the four English pilots, will be engaged as an independent adviser through his continuing work with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and will bring a strong focus on working towards investment readiness.

We will also draw on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s experience of project design and delivery, aligning our plans with the goals in the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s new Strategy 2030. Ruchir Shah, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Director of External Affairs will lead this process. 

Finally, we will engage specialist expertise in facilitating effective participative community engagement. This will be led by David McDonald, Scotland Manager, and Pandora Ellis, Network Delivery Manager from Democratic Society, and will focus on co-developing the approach with community partners and Riverwoods stakeholders.

Programme of activities


Shortlist of around 5 commercially viable potential projects (based around individual river systems)  

Activities to achieve the above 

  • Focused communications, outlining the aims and benefits of developing Riverwoods demonstrator projects in the context of the agreed Riverwoods vision 
  • Direct engagement with Fisheries Trusts, Development Trusts and other landowner and community groups who may have interest in developing a project (calls, webinars and in-person meetings) 
  • Facilitation of an inclusive process to help identify potential demonstrator locations (expert input from specialist partners, clear criteria for applications, development of initial questionnaire, individual video calls with interested parties to explore ideas and provide support) 
  • Establishment of evaluation panel (including Esmée Fairbairn Foundation representative if possible) to evaluate completed questionnaires 
  • Two-stage participatory process to shortlist no more than 5 commercially viable potential demonstrator projects (stage 1 involving wider stakeholder input through a participative process, stage 2 involving the expert panel) 
  • 1:1 feedback call to every applicant that meets the criteria for consideration to give their projects additional value for participation 
  • Discussions with funders and government agencies around potential mechanisms and funding to support the demonstrator projects.


  • Four to five fully developed proposals to undergo an open book scoring mechanism, leading to two final projects for taking forward as demonstrator projects 
  • Secured development grant funding for these two demonstrator projects, up to circa £250k.

Activities to achieve the above: 

  • Provision of financial support (small grants of £4K – £5k) for 4 to 5 shortlisted projects to enable them to refine and further develop their proposals 
  • Continued discussions with funders and government agencies to establish the mechanisms and funding to support the demonstrator projects 
  • Panel to receive and evaluate all final applications and select 2 recommended demonstrator projects 
  • 1:1 feedback to all applicants.

Budget and timescales

  • We have been awarded £60k by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (plus in-kind support of Dan Hird), which will cover the costs of Demsoc and the Scottish Wildlife Trust in delivering Phases 1 and 2 outlined above.
  • Esmée Fairbairn Foundation will also sponsor additional support through the time of Dan Hird, advisor to the Foundation. 
  • In addition, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is contributing in-kind staff support in the form of senior staff input and input from its wider Riverwoods team.
  • In-kind support is also being provided by SEPA in supporting criteria development, strategic and research inputs. 
  • We also envisage in-kind support in the form of contributions of ideas and expertise from Riverwoods partners via the Finance Group and Strategic Advisory Board. 

Phase 1 will incorporate:  

  • Refinements to project design: April 2022
  • Project promotion: June
  • Audience engagement: July/August
  • Deadline for submissions: October
  • 2-stage selection process: November
  • Awarding of bursaries: Dec/Jan

Phase 2 will incorporate: 

  • Review of Phase 1 outputs to inform negotiation of investment readiness funding package 
  • Further development of four shortlisted bids using the £5k support: Dec/Jan 2023
  • Selection panel to select two candidates as demonstrator projects suitable for investment readiness funding: Jan 2023

We will develop an evaluation framework against the following factors: 

  • Reviewing with communities and Riverwoods partners, “What does success look like?” 
  • Assessing how the projects will measure/monitor/report on their activity and how the benefits will be realised  
  • Ensuring we incorporate metrics for biodiversity/water (non-carbon) assets.  
  • Exploring how demonstrators can apply standardised approaches (or those in development) where they exist  
  • Considering a wider landscape approach within which restoration projects are nested 

Designing the offer  

Establishing the benefits

We will base our offer around the benefits outlined in the dropdowns below. 

  • Opportunity to participate in discussions and influence decisions about riverbank nature restoration 
  • Opportunity to put forward candidate Riverwoods demonstration initiatives for investment 
  • Opportunity to shape the Riverwoods initiative for Scotland. 
  • Opportunity to benefit from expert advice on financing nature restoration on your land 
  • Opportunity to put forward candidate Riverwoods demonstration initiatives for investment 
  • Opportunity to demonstrate an inclusive and meaningful community engagement with your initiative. 
  • Opportunity to shape, share and learn the best approaches to meaningful community engagement in nature restoration 
  • Opportunity to explore new and innovative financing mechanisms in practice for investment in nature 
  • Opportunity to use the demonstrator projects to openly and transparently test, learn, and share what works to create investible propositions in the restoration of thriving riverbank woodlands and healthy river systems.

Help shape the next steps

We are currently working on the design for the following components, and would welcome your thoughts.

Click on the following links to access and comment directly on their entries on the Ideas Wall 

While we will be providing more information soon for prospective project leads, if you would like to flag your interest as a prospective project at this stage, please do get in touch with us by posting on the Ideas Wall or contact us directly.