An appeal launched today by the local community and the Woodland Trust Scotland (WTS) aims to raise £500,000 to buy Loch Arkaig Pine Forest near Spean Bridge from the Forestry Commission.
Campaigners say the move could lead to new forest-related jobs in the Lochaber area.
The forest covers 2500 acres over two areas, representing ten per cent of the remaining ancient Caledonian pine forest in Scotland.
Elite commandos from Britain and other allied nations including the US, Norway, France, Belgium, Poland Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands used the forest as part of their training ground while based at Achnacarry Castle, the ancestral home of the Camerons, between 1942 to 1945.
Hundreds of scorched Scots pine trees burned during a training exercise can still be seen.
The forest is being sold as surplus through the National Forest Land Scheme to give community organisations and recognised non-governmental organisations the chance to buy or lease National Forest Land where they can provide increased public benefits.
The forest is home to some of Scotland’s iconic wildlife such as ospreys, sea eagles and red squirrels. It is also linked to hidden Jacobite treasure, known as ‘Lochiel’s Gold’.
If the appeal is successful the WTS will work with Arkaig Community Forest (ACF) to restore the forest back to native woodland. ACF will take ownership of around 120 acres.
Parts of the forest are so remote trees may have to be barged across Loch Arkaig to reach the public road, a technique rarely used in Scotland.
Gary Servant from ACF said the local community would take a leading role in managing the forest.
“We are delighted to have recently entered into partnership with Woodland Trust Scotland to acquire and manage these forests.
“The local community will be directly involved in the management of the site and we hope that local people and businesses across Lochaber will benefit from new forest and land-based jobs, as well as from improved opportunities to access and enjoy the amazing woodlands.”
Carol Evans, WTS director said: “It is an immense challenge that will take decades to complete but we will be safeguarding a large proportion of the dwindling area of ancient pine forest left in Scotland, and helping to increase employment in a fragile rural area.”