Looking north over Achnacarry and Torr a Mhuilt. Photo: Arkaig Community Forest.
Caledonian pine forest set for 1,000 ha expansion
5th June 2014
A unique community purchase of Forestry Commission land in the Highlands will see native Caledonian pinewoods re-established over 1086 hectares of commercial conifer woods planted in the 1970s, complete with relict ancient pines.
We now have a unique opportunity to take a significant step forwards in achieving our vision of a renewed Caledonian Forest in the West Highlands.
Plans for a major new pinewood restoration project in the Scottish Highlands have been given the go-ahead.
Forestry Commission Scotland has agreed to sell 1,086 hectares of woodland at Glen Mallie and South Loch Arkaig in Lochaber to a Highland community group in partnership with conservation charity Trees for Life.
This marks a major milestone in efforts to restore the ecologically important but rare native Caledonian Pinewood habitat, says TFL's Director Alan Watson Featherstone, who describes the land as "rich in biodiversity and historical importance".
"We now have a unique opportunity to take a significant step forwards in achieving our vision of a renewed Caledonian Forest in the West Highlands, while bringing real social and environmental benefits to the remote rural Lochaber community. Our challenge now is to raise the funds required to make this vision a reality."
The Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and Clunes (ABC) Group and Trees for Life now have 18 months to raise £500,000 to buy the land.
And then the hard work begins ...
Assuming success, they will then begin a process of native woodland restoration and of restoring the links between the local community and the wild and remote country on the south side of Loch Arkaig in the West Highlands.
The Glen Mallie and South Loch Arkaig forests contain iconic native pinewood remnants that were damaged by fire during Commando Training in the Second World War, and were subsequently acquired by the Forestry Commission and underplanted with commercial conifers in the 1970s.
The long-term aim of Trees for Life and the ABC Group is to restore the native pinewoods and other natural habitats of the area to the benefit of both people and biodiversity. The forests were declared 'surplus' by Forestry Commission Scotland in September 2013 as part of its national repositioning strategy.
An important first for Scotland
This is believed to be the first time that a conservation charity has partnered with a community group to purchase surplus Forestry Commission land under the National Forest Land Scheme.
The scheme - administered by Forestry Commission Scotland - gives communities and non-governmental organisations the opportunity to acquire state-owned forest land which has been declared 'surplus' by the Forestry Commission.
Gary Servant of the ABC Group said: "This is a great opportunity for the local community to secure real benefits in terms of sustainable rural development, to support local land-based jobs and livelihoods whilst at the same time helping to protect, restore and expand these important remnants of native Caledonian Pine Forest."
Watson Featherstone added: "This exciting project could be a valuable model for efforts elsewhere in the Highlands to achieve native woodland restoration on a significant scale whilst at the same time securing substantial rural development benefits for local people."
25 years of reforesting success
This year Trees for Life is celebrating 25 years of pioneering conservation action. It already owns and manages a significant area of woodland, having purchased the 10,000-acre Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness in 2008.
The charity aims to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration by 2018, creating expanded habitats for Scotland's remarkable and rare wildlife, including species that are in danger of extinction.
Today only a fraction of the former native Caledonian Pinewood habitat survives in the form of around 80 pinewood remnants in the north and west of Scotland, but Trees for Life has planted more than a million trees and has created 10,000 acres of new forest.
Trees for Life's awards include UK Conservation Project of the Year, Millennium Marque, Top 10 Conservation Holidays worldwide, Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Environment Award (2012) and RSPB Nature of Scotland - Outstanding Contribution to Nature Award (2013).
Support TFL by becoming a member, carrying out conservation action, sponsoring trees for special occasions or sponsoring an acre of native forest. See www.treesforlife.org.uk or call call 0845 458 3505.
Arkaig Community Forest is on Facebook for further information and updates on the project. www.facebook.com/arkaigcommunityforest.
Also on The Ecologist: One tree at a time: restoring the forest of Caledon.
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