Forest project looks to protect ‘wee tree’ habitat

Conservationists in the Highlands are to unveil a plan to restore Scotland’s threatened native woodland and safeguard the survival of iconic wildlife.

Picture: Donald Macleod
Picture: Donald Macleod

The Trees for Life charity, which has overseen planting of more than a million trees as part of efforts to regenerate the Caledonian Forest, will today announce an expansion of its work that will focus on halting the decline of rare “wee trees” and endangered animals.

As part of an ambitious pledge to plant a further million indigenous trees by 2018, the charity will replant a 300-
hectare commercial forestry plantation of alien conifers with native woodland and undertake a pioneering “mire restoration” scheme. The projects are aimed at reinstating Scotland’s natural wilderness and preventing key species such as the pine marten, capercaillie and red squirrel from disappearing.

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“Without urgent action, key parts of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest could be lost 
forever, and forest-dependent wildlife such as the Scottish wildcat and capercaillie could become extinct in the UK,” said executive director Alan Watson Featherstone.

Scotland’s natural woodlands reached a critical point around 200 years ago, following extensive deforestation. With few trees remaining and new seedlings being destroyed by grazing deer and sheep, woods that once covered 1.5 million hectares of Scotland have been reduced to “geriatric” forests of old trees. Today less than 1 per cent of the former Caledonian Forest survives in 35 isolated patches, and conservationists fear the impact of global warming and deadly diseases could see the remainder being wiped out.

The Scots pine is ­crucial to the forest ecosystem by providing an important habitat for other species. Trees for Life is now extending the geographical range of its restoration beyond its flagship Dundreggan Conservation Estate, a biodiversity hotspot covering 1,000 square miles near Loch Ness, and is 
looking at regenerating derelict Caledonian pinewoods in other parts of the country.

One element will see a special area created to protect the dwarf birch, one of the nationally scarce “wee trees” that is set to feature in a broader plan to create a woodland link between Glen Affric and Glenmoriston. It’s hoped this new habitat will attract endangered birds including black grouse, ptarmigan and golden plover and rare insects such as the wood ant and strawberry spider.