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Bid to restore Scotland’s mountaintop forests begins

Words: Laura Edgar
Scotland's mountaintop forests / iStock-511114284

Trees for Life has launched a bid to save Scotland’s ‘almost vanished’ mountaintop forests and their wildlife by creating an area of rare high-altitude woodland.

Centuries of overgrazing by sheep and deer have seen a decline in ‘montane’ species of trees once common in Scotland, such as dwarf birch and downy willow, highlights the charity.

The project aims to reverse the loss of such trees and woodland habitats, which are home to creatures including the golden eagle and the ring ouzel.

Trees for Life plans to establish a 700-acre mountaintop woodland of 100,000 trees at its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, near Loch Ness. The site – Carn na Caorach, meaning ‘sheep cairn’ – is 450-600 metres above sea level on Dundreggan’s north-eastern edge.

“Montane woodlands are a vital part of Scotland’s precious Caledonian Forest, but are often restored over only small areas, if at all. To bring these special ‘wee trees’ back from the brink, and create habitats for the wildlife that depends on them, we need something bigger – and that’s what we’re setting out to achieve at Carn na Caorach,” said Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Dundreggan manager.

A fence was erected at the site earlier this month to protect young trees from grazing animals. It was supported by money from the Scottish Natural Heritage Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

The conservation charity said its volunteers would begin the first phase of planting next spring – with trees including downy willow and dwarf birch on the higher ground, and Scots pine and juniper on the lower slopes. Self-seeded saplings should also be able to thrive in the grazing-free enclosure while the project would see the return of plants such as wood cranesbill, globeflower and alpine sowthistle, in turn supporting mammals, birds, and pollinating insects.

High woodlands take longer to establish than those in sheltered locations, the charity noted, therefore the project is long term. It will take 50 to 100 years before the forest is fully established, if grazing levels are kept low.

Image credit | iStock