A SPECTACULAR ancient Scots pine forest - famed for being used as a training ground for WWII Commandos and featuring in a Harry Potter movie - has been bought by a local community following a race against the clock to raise funds.
Loch Arkaig pine forest near Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands has been sold by Forest Enterprise Scotland.
The sale had to be concluded this winter or the forest could have gone on the open market.
Woodland Trust Scotland partnered with Arkaig Community Forest - a small group of local residents who share ambitious plans for the 2,500 acre site - to complete the purchase.
An appeal was launched in April to raise £500,000 - and a further £4m to restore the forest.
The stunning site was used as a training ground for Commandos during World War II and which was a filming location for a Harry Potter movie involving a scene where the young wizard and his friends fly over the forest on a dragon.
SEE MORE: View Loch Arkaig’s stunning wildlife
A consignment of gold sent from France to help fund the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden is said to be hidden in the forest.
Gary Servant of Arkaig Community Forest said: “This is a great moment.
“The land has been bought and we have a fantastic opportunity to work together to restore these native woodlands and to reconnect local people with their forests.
“Everyone is very excited and we give heartfelt thanks to all who have supported us and have contributed to the appeal.”
One of the most significant areas of remaining Caledonian pine forest, this will be the largest ancient woodland restoration undertaken by the Woodland Trust on land directly under its care.
The partnership between Woodland Trust Scotland and Arkaig Community Forest has the dual aim of restoring the forest and stimulating sustainable economic activity around it.
The pinewoods are magnificent but have been degraded by historic felling, over-grazing and planting with non-native conifers which will be slowly removed over the next twenty years.
It is hoped the local economy can benefit from wildlife tourism and the development of businesses using products from the forest.
The forest will be surveyed to identify ‘Wildlife Hotspots’ which will be expanded through sympathetic management in the coming decades.
The Woodland Trust’s Scotland Director Carol Evans said: “We are going to consult widely on our detailed plans for the wood.
“We want to see this special place established as a benchmark for the joint regeneration of both its native forest and local community.”
Simon Hodge, Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise Scotland, said; “This was one of the last applications to the National Forest Land Scheme. It has been great to see the way Arkaig Community Forest and Woodland Trust Scotland have worked in partnership to achieve their joint aims.
“I hope this success inspires other community organisations to consider how they might be able to develop similar projects under the new Community Asset Transfer Scheme.”
An army of well-wishers across the UK and beyond backed the appeal to make today’s purchase possible.
The largest contribution - £750,000 - came from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: “Our players like to support initiatives for a better future, so nurturing trees and woodlands as an investment for the next generation is perfect.
“We are delighted that our players are able to back the exciting partnership of conservationists and community at Loch Arkaig.”
The Loch Arkaig Appeal continues with a final target of £4.5million. The total currently stands at £2.9million
“The purchase is just the first step,” said Carol Evans. “Our long term goal of restoring this wood to its full glory will cost more than the purchase price. But today is a day for great celebration nevertheless. We are on our way.”
British Commandos and Allied Special Forces including the Free French trained at Loch Arkaig during WWII.
During exercises with live ammunition forest fire raged across the hillside. Scots pines cooked in their own resin were preserved and still stand like ghost trees across the hillside.
Loch Arkaig was the location for a sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Harry, Hermione and Ron cling to a dragon as it flies above the forest before jumping off into the Loch below.
Filming on the shore is thought to have been cut short because the midges were too fierce.
The forest is home to wild boar, sea eagles, golden eagles, ospreys, pine martens and deer amongst many other species.
Steeped in history, the area is the ancestral home of Clan Cameron. There is a myth that gold sent from France to help fund the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to be hidden deep within the trees.
Woodland Trust Scotland is part of the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. The Woodland Trust has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.
Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. In 1984, the Trust acquired its first wood in Scotland.
Today it owns and cares for some 60 sites covering more than 8,000 hectares across Scotland. Access to its woods is free.