A massive new tree nursery in the Highlands may also help slow the spread of ash dieback, the disease which threatens to do enormous damage to native woodlands.
The Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape project is an innovative partnership of local landowners, led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, establishing a plantation at Little Assynt, five miles east of Lochinver in Sutherland.
Tree Nursery Manager Nick Clooney has been recruited to grow trees from seed collected in locations throughout the Coigach and Assynt area, avoiding the need to bring in planting stock and so avoiding the risk of importing disease.
Growing planting stock locally also cuts down on energy requirements, reduces the carbon footprint and creates local jobs.
Project Manager Viv Halcrow said: “Recent research from Sweden has shown that some strains of ash can resist dieback disease, so it is important that the genetic diversity of our ash populations is maintained.
“The disease is likely to have a devastating effect on woodlands across the UK. It is vital we save our native ash trees and ash woodlands as the species is very important in biodiversity terms, supporting many other species, as well as being a beautiful mature tree.
“The Little Assynt tree nursery is also growing native birch, rowan, hazel, oak, wych elm, cherry, holly, juniper, blackthorn and dog rose.
“This wide range of native trees and shrubs will go towards sympathetically reforesting parts of this vast area, helping us to provide a diverse range of connected and resilient habitats in which wildlife can thrive.”
The project area covers over 60,000 hectares of land, of which roughly half is owned and managed by the seven current partners - Assynt Foundation, Culag Community Woodland Trust, Eisg Brachaidh, John Muir Trust, Kylesku Estate, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Tanera Mor - north of Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland.
More landowners are also being encouraged to join the Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape partnership.
Environment committee convenor Rob Gibson said: “Ash dieback is a serious disease that threatens the future of ash trees in Scotland and in the rest of the UK.”
He added: “The Committee is encouraged to hear of the Minister’s commitment to engage with stakeholders and the forestry industry and believes this is vital in helping stop the spread of the disease.”
Mr Gibson said the committee will continue to scrutinise the steps taken to mitigate the spread of the disease and will seek an update from the Minister in the spring following a major summit of those involved.
A blog – coigach-assynt.org – has also been launched, telling the world the latest about this groundbreaking project.