Your report (19 March) on the Caledonian Forest project being promoted by the charity Trees for Life raises many questions.
While on the one hand the enthusiasm of their staff and volunteers in planting thousands of native trees in Scotland is to be applauded, there is real concern that these energies are being misdirected.
You cannot restore the ancient Caledonian Forest by planting. Those native pinewoods that are recognised as being remnants of the ancient forest are there because they have been descended from generation to generation by natural seeding from the original trees of the post-glacial forest.
These native woodlands are an important part of Scotland’s heritage, of enormous historical and ecological value. They are naturally regenerated, not planted, and have survived in their present locations, from Shieldaig on the west coast, through places like Glen Affric and Strathfarrar, through to the Cairngorms for thousands of years.
Trees for Life should not be planting in these areas. It should recognise the artificiality of planting in such locations and accept that to plant is to damage the historical and ecological integrity of the Old Caledonian Pinewoods. Those who are responsible for regulating forestry in Scotland and funding forest restoration projects should make this clear to Trees for Life.
We would welcome increased effort by Trees for Life to deal with the main problem facing the ancient pinewoods – the lack of young trees due to overgrazing, usually by red deer. Increased culling efforts are needed in many areas, not only to encourage natural regeneration but also to reduce soil and peat erosion.
Where Trees for Life is replacing commercial forestry plantations of alien conifers with tree species of native origin this is to be supported, so long as we recognise that this is native woodland establishment, not restoration of the Caledonian Forest.