Forestry Grant Scheme to expand rare Scottish rainforest
Environmentalists are celebrating today following news that more than £1 million will be used to plant additional trees on the slopes of a Highland mountain.
Woodland Trust Scotland is to receive the money from Scottish Forestry over a five year period. It will be used to help plant an area which covers nearly 650 acres.
Ben Shieldaig in Torridon currently hosts a pine rainforest on one flank with a birch rainforest on another. Woodland Trust Scotland is separately providing funding for additional planting in an area covering more than 200 acres.
In total, it’s envisaged that nearly half a million native trees will be planted. These will be mostly consisting of Scots pine, birch and willow. Managers say there will also be oak, aspen, alder, hazel and juniper.
Scotland’s rainforest is made up of the native woodlands found on the west coast in the ‘hyper-oceanic’ zone.
High levels of rainfall and relatively mild year round temperatures provide just the right conditions for some of the world’s rarest bryophytes and lichens.
By themselves, the trees alone don’t immediately create a Scottish rainforest. It’s the range of mosses, liverworts, lichens, ferns and other species that will characterise it.
It’s expected these plants will be able to spread out and colonise the new areas of woodland over a period of time.
Ben Shieldaig and its surrounds teem with iconic Scottish wildlife including sea eagles, golden eagles, red squirrels, pine martens and otters.
Scotland’s rainforest area: ‘full of biodiversity’
The UK’s smallest dragonfly, the black darter and the vulnerable azure hawker dragonfly have been recorded here alongside the hover fly Callicera rufa.
‘Scotland’s rainforest area is a hugely important habitat, full of biodiversity and home to some of the world’s rarest lichens and bryophytes. Protecting and enhancing this unique woodland area in Scotland is essential,’ says Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon.
‘The £1 million in public funding will help Woodland Trust Scotland kickstart a major revival of the rainforest habitat in this mountainous landscape.’
‘Our aims at Ben Shieldaig are to protect, expand, connect and diversify the forest,’ says Malcolm Turner, Estate Manager.
‘We want to protect the existing woodland which is a remnant of what once covered much of the landscape of the west Highlands.’
‘We will expand it – by planting in some areas and encouraging natural regeneration in others. We will connect up our woods to those on neighbouring estates and link up stands currently isolated in gullies and crags.’
‘A wider range of native tree and shrub species will be grown to make the woodland more diverse and therefore resilient in the face of changing climate, pests and diseases.’
‘This grant kicks us off for the planting component of our plans, and work will begin in the coming winter.’
‘Since taking on the site four years ago we have been in ongoing discussion with the local community about the best way forward – for people, the forest and its wildlife.’
‘There is a general groundswell of support for expanding the woodland. People are proud of the woods that are here, with heritage stretching back to the last ice age, and would like to see them continue to thrive.’
Volunteers helped to collect more than 1.5 million seeds
Almost all the trees being planted will be grown on from seed which has been collected on or immediately around the site so the saplings will be suited to local conditions.
Woodland Trust Scotland says that local volunteers have helped to squirrel away more than 1.5 million seeds.
‘We have been sending the seeds through the post to the nursery,’ says Graham Rennie, a volunteer from nearby Strathcarron. ‘It is very satisfying to be part of this revival of the woodland.’
The grant from Scottish Forestry will make a significant contribution to the costs of the trees, tree planting, ground preparation and protection measures.
It includes an annual maintenance payment for five years to the ensure the successful establishment of the new woodland.
Woodland Trust Scotland purchased Ben Shieldaig in 2019 with the help of its members and supporters, and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
It acquired the neighbouring Couldoran Estate in 2021. Its long term plans are to expand woodland in both areas. Further planting and natural regeneration schemes are in the pipeline across the now combined estate (known as Glen Shieldaig).
Photography: Steve Carter, provided courtesy of Woodland Trust Scotland.