Inspectors raise concerns over new Scottish woodland promised to be 'exceptional' for the environment

Concern has been raised over the mounding over a black grouse breeding ground on the site, which is situated in the corner of the Cairngorms National Park

One of Scotland’s largest woodland schemes developed in the last year, and said to be “an exemplar” for natural capital projects, has caused “significant disturbance” to a protected habitat in a national park, a report has found.

The Muckrach woodland scheme, near Grantown-on-spey, sits on a former moor covering more than 1,500 acres of the Cairngorms National Park.

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Landowner Calthorpe Estates, a property investment company based in Birmingham, was awarded just over £2.5m in taxpayers money for the tree planting initiative.

Calum Campbell

The company’s chief executive Haydn Cooper said the landscape-scale project will contribute to “mitigating climate change while creating a diverse habitat, all within the Cairngorms National Park.”

The scheme is managed by Savills, whose rural director said the site will see “peatland restoration in order to achieve carbon capture, natural regeneration, and biodiversity enhancement.”

Almost one million trees have now been planted at the site in the last year, the majority of which are Scots Pine and native broadleaves. But a recent report following an inspection by Scottish Forestry found the planting has caused disturbance to sensitive habitats on site.

Evidence of planting on deep peat, developing vehicle tracks near sensitive sites, draining bogs, and mounding over black grouse lek sites - where the birds mate - are just some of the damages caused, according to inspectors.

Some locals have gone as far as saying the project is a case of “de-wilding” given the evidence of disturbance to the local flora and fauna.

Scottish Forestry inspectors have since insisted the trees planted in sensitive areas, such as on deep peat, should be removed.

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The report also called for the lek site to be restored to open ground by removing planted trees and turning over the developed mounds.

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According to documents, no new tracks were proposed in the planning stage for the plantation, yet there is evidence on site of current tracks being upgraded. While upgrades to forestry roads do not require full planning permission, they do require to be notified to the local planning authority for comment.

Despite being involved in the woodland scheme, Scottish Forestry first reported about these track developments following the inspection carried out last month.

Inspectors found there has been track construction work within close proximity to archaeological features, through a dyke that forms part of a larger enclosure, and on the rock face below the Creag an Righ summit.

They also found a track being developed across a burn, which inspectors said is non-compliant with UKSF Forestry and Water guidelines, “presenting ongoing risk of sediment delivery.”

Another track has been upgraded which is creating “visual impact,” the report said.

Inspectors insisted sections of newly-cut track should be reprofiled to allow for rapid revegetation of native flora. They said the landowner or site manager needs to consult an archaeologist to determine the significance of damage to historic features since the track developments have taken place.

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They said the requirements of prior notification for new and existing track upgrades should also be discussed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, also involved in the scheme, and which oversees the national park, to determine if any remedial action is appropriate.

The report said: “Repeated tracking across blanket bog, evidence of recent drainage and insertion of fencing materials and perforated land drainage pipe within causing significant disturbance to and affecting the integrity of protected habitat.”

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A small amount of operational waste, including plastic shrink wrap and fertiliser packs, have been found on site, which inspectors called to be removed.

The report also found evidence of minor damage to some of the young trees from hares.

Resident and former gamekeeper Calum Campbell said in the winter months with snowfall and food becoming more scarce, the hare damage will increase.

Calum Campbell

He said a 27km deer fence has been erected around the site, but no rabbit netting has been installed to stop hares getting in and browsing the young trees.

Mr Campbell photographed a dead blackcock he claimed was lying next to the deer fence and urged site managers to improve fence markings to protect the birds.

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Concerned about the local wildlife, he said: “These is so much wrong with these scheme.

“It is not helping the wildlife, it’s killing what we have here.

Calum Campbell

“Black grouse are really suffering, so we need to make sure that as soon as fencing goes up, there are efficient markers to protect them.”

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The Scottish Forestry report said NatureScot had requested sensitive areas where bird strikes - when birds fly into fencing - are likely on sections of the newly-erected deer fence should be marked with wooden droppers.

Mr Campbell added: “I don’t want to stop trees being planted in Scotland, but if a job is going to be done here it’s got to be done right.

“It’s our money used to fund these things.

“And nobody really knows about what’s going on here as it’s so off the beaten track and a little corner of the national park.”

In response, Ewan Reid, director of Savills Forestry, said: “We welcomed the recent inspection by Scottish Forestry which has assisted us to identify operational challenges that require our attention. 

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“Their report stated that the work has been undertaken in accordance with the approved plan, although some limited remediation from the tree planting process is now required, including obtaining retrospective planning for track repair work and removal of any trees planted outside the boundary (this amounts to less than 0.5 per cent of the trees planted).  

“Savills has undertaken to implement all agreed mitigation works on behalf of our client to the required standards before 31st October 2024, or other such date(s) as agreed with the principal partners, taking account of site sensitivities, such as the bird breeding season.” He said Carlthorpe Estate’s aim with the tree planting initiative, which he said is estimated to sequester 263,000 tonnes of carbon, is in line with Scotland’s ambitious woodland creation targets.

In the past six years, apart from 2018/19, Scotland has failed to reach its tree planting targets which ministers have repeatedly blamed the UK Government for lack of funding forcing them to cut the forestry budget.



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