The Woodland Trust Scotland has launched a public appeal to raise £4.5 million to purchase and restore ancient Caledonian forest in Lochaber in partnership with the local community.
The Loch Arkaig Pine Forest near Spean Bridge is home to rare wildlife and was a training ground for Second World War Commandos.
The forest covers 2500 acres over two areas, representing a significant proportion of the remaining ancient Caledonian pine forest in Scotland. The forest is in a degraded condition but it is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife including ospreys, sea eagles and red squirrels and may host species such as wildcats and Scottish crossbill.
If the appeal is successful the Woodland Trust Scotland will work with Arkaig Community Forest to restore the forest back to native woodland. Arkaig Community Forest will take ownership of around 120 acres (50 hectares) of the site.
As well as helping wildlife the restoration of the forest will benefit local people through improved access and involvement in woodland management, creating local jobs and livelihoods in a remote rural area.
The forest was a training ground for the first Commando units formed during the Second World War, who were based nearby at Achnacarry Estate. Hundreds of scorched Scots pine trees that were burned in a forest fire started during a training exercise can still be seen.
Restoration will be achieved through gradual thinning of non-native conifers such as larch and lodge pole pine to recreate a more natural mix of woodland dominated by pine, birch and oak. Parts of the forest are so remote that trees may have to be barged across Loch Arkaig to reach the public road, a technique rarely used in Scotland.
The forest is being sold as surplus through the National Forest Land Scheme, introduced in 2005 to give community organisations and/or recognised non-governmental organisations the chance to buy or lease National Forest Land where they can provide increased public benefits.
Carol Evans, director of the Woodland Trust Scotland said: ‘Restoring this forest is a spectacular opportunity to benefit both people and wildlife. 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.’
Gary Servant from Arkaig Community Forest said: ‘Thanks to the hard work of our members and supporters over the past two years we are delighted to have recently entered into partnership with Woodland Trust Scotland to acquire and manage these forests, and we hope that together we can make a real positive difference to this important native pinewood site in the years to come.
‘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 which surround us.’
Simon Hodge, chief executive of Forest Enterprise Scotland said: ‘We’re delighted that Arkaig Community Forest is working with support from the Woodland Trust Scotland to purchase this land through the National Forest Land Scheme (NFLS). We are hopeful that this pioneering partnership will inspire similar arrangements among other community organisations and recognised NGOs in Scotland.’
To find out more and view a short film about why the project visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/pineforest