A massive native woodland restoration project has been given the go-ahead, after a partnership between a local community group and a conservation charity convinced Forestry Commission Scotland to sell them 1086 hectares of pine wood in Lochaber. The remote site in Glen Mallie and the south side of Loch Arkaig, at the foot of the corbett Beinn Bhan, will gradually be returned to its full natural glory.
The buyout marks a 'major milestone' in efforts to restore Scotland's scanty, but ecologically rich, Caledonian pinewood, according to conservation charity Trees for Life, who have teamed up with the Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and Clunes (ABC) community group to move the project forward.
The community forest group has its own Facebook page - see here.
The partnership now has 18 months to raise £500,000 to buy the land. Following this they will begin the long process of native woodland restoration, hoping to restoring the links between the local community and the nearby country on the south side of Loch Arkaig.
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, which gives communities and non-governmental organisations the opportunity to acquire state-owned forest land which has been declared 'surplus'.
Trees for Life’s Executive Director Alan Watson Featherstone said:
'We are delighted that Forestry Commission Scotland has approved the bid to purchase this native pinewood site, which is 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.'
'This exciting project offers a unique opportunity to pioneer an innovative partnership between a conservation charity and a local community group, which 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.'
The Glen Mallie and South Loch Arkaig forests contain 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 the new project is to restore the native pinewoods and other natural habitats of the area.
The forests were declared 'surplus' by Forestry Commission Scotland in September 2013 as part of its national repositioning strategy. The ABC Group formally applied to purchase the land in February 2014, after completing a draft business plan, with support from the National Lottery 'Investing in Ideas' fund, and conducting a postal ballot of local residents.
Trees for Life was invited to become a partner due to its expertise in native pinewood restoration and in actively promoting practical action for woodland conservation. Forestry Commission Scotland then held a 28-day open consultation, for the public to comment on any aspect of the proposal. An independent panel of experts made a detailed evaluation of the project and has now recommended its approval.
Trees for Life, which this year marks its 25th anniversary, already owns and manages a significant area of woodland in the Highlands. To date they have planted more than a million native trees and created 10,000 acres of new forest. The charity aims to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration by 2018.
People can support the charity 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