Conservationists isolate in remote Highlands glen to save trees

A team of conservationists has opted to self-isolate in a remote glen in the Scottish Highlands in a bid to save more than 100,000 young trees from being lost due to the coronavirus crisis lockdown.

Six volunteers from the charity Trees for Life have chosen to isolate themselves at the organisation’s estate at Glenmoriston, near Loch Ness, to look after the saplings.

The trees – including Scots pine, rowan, juniper, hazel, holly and oak, as well as rare mountain species such as dwarf birch and woolly willow – have all been grown carefully from seed at a special nursery at Dundreggan estate and were due for planting out on the hills this spring.

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The trees are being planted as part of a major rewilding project, which aims to restore areas of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife.

Glenmoriston where conservationists are isolating to save up to 100,000 treesGlenmoriston where conservationists are isolating to save up to 100,000 trees
Glenmoriston where conservationists are isolating to save up to 100,000 trees

But concerns were raised that they might not survive without regular care.

“We were all set for another busy season of preparing thousands of young native trees for planting on the hills by our volunteers when the coronavirus crisis forced the postponement of this spring’s tree-planting, meaning tens of thousands of young trees have not left our nursery as planned,” said Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Dundreggan manager.

“But nature isn’t in lockdown. All these precious trees have been coming into leaf and we need to take care of them – especially in the dry weather we’ve been having.

“Without regular watering they would all die.

“We also needed to start sowing new seed now to ensure a supply of trees for future planting seasons.”

So he and colleagues Abbey Goff, Emma Beckinsale, Patrick Fenner and trainees Catriona Bullivant and Louise Cameron opted to isolate themselves at Dundreggan rather than at their homes when the national lockdown was announced.

The team is remaining on site at Dundreggan, only leaving for essential reasons such as collecting prescriptions.

Food is being brought via deliveries from supermarkets and local suppliers.

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Mr Gilbert added: “No one has visited us for weeks now, except for delivery drivers and the postie. We’re here in isolation for the long-haul if needs be – together with a growing forest for the future.”

As well as being an internationally important forest restoration site, Dundreggan is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species.

Important discoveries made there include several species never recorded in the UK before or previously feared extinct in Scotland.

The estate has over the years employed some unconventional methods to optimise the growing conditions in the glen – including letting loose a pack of “human wolves” in the woods at night to scare off marauding deer, which cause damage to young trees.

Trees for Life has announced plans to open the world’s first rewilding centre at Dundreggan in 2022.

The pioneering enterprise is expected to welcome more than 50,000 visitors each year, encouraging people to explore the wild landscapes, discover Gaelic culture and learn about the region’s unique wildlife - such as golden eagles, pine martens and red squirrels.

As well as an all-weather visitor centre with café and events space, it will provide child-friendly forest experiences and accessible trails as well as more challenging walks.

A range of activities for visitors to the area and groups with specific needs will also be on offer.

It’s hoped these will enable more people to get outside to experience nature up close and encourage an interest in rewilding.

It’s thought around 15 new local jobs will be created at the centre.

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