While welcoming the fact that Dave Morris (Letters, 21 March) applauds much of our work – and while agreeing with him on the importance of the ancient Caledonian Forest to Scotland’s heritage, history and ecology – I would like to address some of the misunderstandings on which his letter seems to be based.
Our restoration of the Caledonian Forest is not simply by planting, as Dave supposes. We have a threefold strategy for the forest’s return.
The first step is to help natural regeneration of trees by fencing deer out of key areas, so that seedlings can grow naturally to maturity without being overgrazed.
This is the best method of restoring the forest, but it only works where there is an existing seed source nearby – which unfortunately is not the case in the treeless expanses that make up most of the Highlands today.
In such situations, step two of our strategy is needed – planting native trees in barren areas where the forest has disappeared completely.
Our planting uses trees grown from seed collected from the nearest surviving forest remnants, and is done in irregular spacings at varied densities, which mimic the distribution of naturally-regenerating woodlands. It is far removed from the commercial planting techniques used in many new woodland schemes. Indeed, our measure of success is that in 30 years the areas we have planted will be indistinguishable from Caledonian Forest remnants that have regenerated naturally.
The third step involves the removal of non-native trees, which in some areas have been planted as a commercial crop amongst old trees of the Caledonian Forest remnants, preventing their regeneration.
Without such action, key parts of the forest are at risk of being lost forever.
However, by using this strategy, our volunteers have helped to create 10,000 acres of new Caledonian Forest, and we have pledged to establish one million more trees by natural regeneration and planting by 2018 – creating crucial habitats for wildlife and ensuring that our children and theirs will also be able to enjoy this remarkable woodland.
Some of the remaining fragments of Caledonian Forest have, as Dave says, survived in their present locations for thousands of years.
But the sad reality is that without concerted and considered conservation action, the Caledonian Forest will remain solely as these scattered and isolated remnants, albeit with a new generation of trees in them, in amongst a still largely deforested landscape.
We wholeheartedly agree with the need to reduce the numbers of red deer, in order to allow natural regeneration to occur, and are working to achieve this on our Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston.
We are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year with an open event at Dundreggan near Loch Ness on 24-25 May.
Dave would be welcome to join us and to see for himself how our conservation action is being carried out.
There are also of course more details about our work on www.treesforlife.org.uk .
Alan Watson Featherstone
Trees for Life