Thinking Big - Woodland Trust Buy Highland Estate

© Woodland Trust Scotland

The Woodland Trust has completed the purchase of the 4,500-acre Couldoran Estate in Wester Ross. The conservation charity aims to manage Couldoran jointly with their existing adjoining land at Beinn Shieldaig to revive the native woodland and a mosaic of other natural habitats across a very large area.

Couldoran, which lies to the east of the magnificent Corbett Beinn Bhan and close to the famous Bealach na Ba road pass to Applecross, is described by the Trust as being in a 'relatively poor condition', but given sufficient funds it is hoped that all that will change.

With a combined size of around 8500 acres, the two properties span almost the whole isthmus, from Shieldaig on Loch Torridon to just short of Loch Kishorn.

The plan is to link up existing wooded fragments  © Woodland Trust Scotland
The plan is to link up existing wooded fragments
© Woodland Trust Scotland

"Securing Couldoran doubles the area under our management at Shieldaig, increasing potential to bring back more of the native woods that once featured across the wider landscape" said Woodland Trust Scotland director Alastair Seaman.

"Once restoration is underway, we hope many of the iconic species we have at Ben Shieldaig will flood back in."

An initial survey suggests that over 1,000 acres of new native woodland of Scots pine, aspen, downy birch, rowan, willow and alder could be created, with the rest remaining open ground.

Couldoran map  © Woodland Trust Scotland
Couldoran map
© Woodland Trust Scotland

Couldoran was once part of a network of rich woodland habitats that blanketed Scotland's west coast. Restoring its woodland will help connect important nearby sites, say the Trust, by creating a 'nature highway' along Glen Shieldaig to link the Shieldaig Pinewood Site of Special Scientific Interest with Rassal Ashwood Site of Special Scientific Interest, and other ancient Caledonian pinewood remnants in the area. The theory is that a range of species from lichens and mosses to butterflies and red squirrels will then be able to move more freely, avoiding fragmentation and isolation while gaining resilience and adaptability.

Local wildlife includes eagle, otter, pine marten and red squirrel  © Mark Hamblin
Local wildlife includes eagle, otter, pine marten and red squirrel
© Mark Hamblin

"Our vision is to manage Couldoran jointly with Ben Shieldaig as one huge mountainous estate" says Alastair Seaman.

"We want to establish a healthy and resilient mosaic of habitats across the entire catchment. This will include creating and restoring thriving native and montane woodland, with carefully planted trees and natural regeneration, gradually removing invasive species, and protecting peatland and blanket bog."

But it's not all about trees.

"Access is an important part of our aspiration" said Alastair Seaman. " A couple of informal tracks exist. We want to upgrade this and improve public access into an area with spectacular views, but which currently attracts few walkers."

Beinn Shieldaig was purchased in 2019 after a public fundraising appeal. A continuing fundrasing effort will be needed to progress the plan.

The charity used financial reserves to finalise the purchase of Couldoran, and continues to fundraise to cover the cost of buying the​ estate and managing it in the years ahead. The purchase price was £3.5m with a further £4.5m required to create native woodlands and transform the site for people and wildlife, they say.

So far the fundraising appeal has raised £600,000 from Trust supporters.

"Continuing our approach at Ben Shieldaig, the Trust will consult with local people and neighbouring landowners on our plans and provide opportunities for people to have their say and get involved" said Alastair Seaman.

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16 Dec, 2021

Foot paths and forest - great news! Birch belt article was really interesting too. I was in Coulags bothy recently and talking to some mountaineers who'd moved to Scotland from Poland. I was asking them about how these Scottish mountains contrasted. "Beautiful, very open. No trees!". Feels like now the momentum is there to really make a change on a large scale.

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