Hundreds of native trees are set to be planted at a “living laboratory” in the Scottish Highlands next month.
The move is part of a five-year project that will employ cutting-edge technology to help monitor and manage the restoration of a former forestry plantation near Loch Ness.
A mixture of tree species, including aspen, Scots Pine and birch, are being planted at the 100-acre site, near Whitebridge on the eastern side of the loch.
The work is the first step for the Natural Capital Laboratory, a rewilding scheme that aims to bring back indigenous forest and reintroduce locally extinct wildlife.
The initiative, run by global infrastructure firm Aecom with support from the Lifescape Project conservation charity, is setting out to demonstrate and quantify the environmental, social and economic benefits of restoring nature.
“As part of our plan to rewild the site, 420 native trees will be planted in November, helping to restore the habitat that provides a home for important wildlife such as red squirrels, pine martens and wildcats,” said Roger Leese, trustee for the Lifescape Project.
“We also want to bring salmon and trout back to the river on site and to explore the exciting opportunities for reintroducing species such as the iconic capercaillie, which were once widespread in the Highlands.
"To do this we want to involve people and landowners in the local area to help build a landscape which works for everyone.”
Aecom will use virtual reality, artificial intelligence, drones and satellite communications for monitoring work at the site.
Chris White, the firm’s principal environmental economist, said: “As a global business working across different sectors, the Natural Capital Laboratory allows Aecom to use its broad expertise to better understand the environment and encourage conservation.
“Specifically, the lab aims to explore how emerging technologies such as AI, drones and robotics could be used in an environmental project.
"These new approaches will also allow us to work with partner organisations to develop new, cost-effective solutions that can be used by our clients to make sure they have a positive impact on the environment."