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/nor thshots c airns r contentious i s sue Over in Wester Ross, the Mundays have planted about half a million tree stems, using a combination of culling and fencing to prevent damage to saplings by deer and sheep. The local community has been very supportive of the scheme, despite the loss of a significant area of informal sheep grazing. What was originally a privately owned estate has now been restructured as a charitable trust with family, professional and community members.

The right to pasture sheep is a contentious issue in the Highlands as a result of the clearances of the 17th and 18th centuries, when crofters were driven off the land in numbers. The Crofters’ Holdings Act of 1886 granted those that remained security of tenure, but there is still tension between some crofters and conservationists over grazing access.

Thanks to Common Agricultural Policy reforms enacted in 2003, most crofters have fewer sheep now, so grazing pressure has been reduced, but traditional practices are difficult to give up entirely. ‘The 1886 Act and subsequent legislation means crofters have indisputable rights to graze,’ says Marina Dennis, vice chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation. ‘There shouldn’t be any tree-planting activity on arable in-bye [mixed field and woodland] areas set aside for crops or grazing. But some areas of common grazing tenanted by crofters are ideal for tree planting. And there are lots of grants available to crofters today under the Forestry Commission’s Woodland Creation scheme.’

Despite the apparent conflict over land use, Dennis believes that direct competition between crofters and forest-regeneration schemes is rare. ‘It’s vital that we retain our cultural connection to forests, and well-established trees are crucial winter shelter for farm animals,’ she says. ‘Cattle in particular love to stravaig [Gaelic for ‘to wander freely’] through the trees, browsing occasionally.’

costly bus i ness As for the Mundays, their work continues, and almost imperceptibly, pine needles, birch leaves and rowan berries are stretching upwards into the galeblown Western skies. ‘When we first started, there was opposition,’ says Richard. ‘We had to get the local

The Scottish Forestry Strategy

Most reforestation currently taking place in Scotland involves uniform plantations of fast-growing non-native species such as Sitka spruce. When mature, there trees are then clear-felled for pulpwood and other uses. Native species make up just 29 per cent of Scottish forests. The Scottish Forestry Strategy ‘aspires to increase this figure to 35 per cent by the mid-21st century’, says Paul Munro, ‘but the bulk of the increase over the next 20 years will be from conifer plantations, mainly of Sitka spruce.’ The strategy is partly aimed at developing timber as a low-cost, high-carbon-storage building resource; £250million of new wood-using developments have been either commissioned or committed in the past five years in Scotland. Even so, Finlay Macrae argues that Sitka spruce grown in Scotland is of poorer quality than Norway spruce and is largely grown to satisfy our hunger for paper.

‘Beauty doesn’t come into the strategy,’ says Macrae. ‘I would never dream of walking in

Sitka spruce plantations. France and Germany can teach us a lot – they’ve had forest services for more than 500 years, and their ancient forests are intact. Unless we refocus our obsession away from fast growth and concentrate on retaining the natural look of this country, Scotland’s future generations will never walk in big old woods. Looks may not be as profitable as paper, but how can you put a price on beauty?’

community onside. But I think it would be fair to say now that most people locally support us – the land is held in trust by the community, we’re just responsible for managing it.’

This means excluding deer, a highly expensive business: fencing just one hectare of new riparian seedlings costs £3,000. Once the saplings are established, deer fences must be taken down again to allow animals to pass through and reduce grazing pressure on neighbouring areas.

Yet by breathing new life into an allbut extinct ecosystem, today’s forestrestoration pioneers aspire to leave Scotland a long-term legacy. They hope their work will attract not only future generations of conservationists, but also encourage responsible custodianship of Scotland’s ancient natural heritage.

‘A hundred years ago, people would have considered planting these kinds of trees a bad idea. In 100 years’ time, we may have changed our minds again,’ says Richard.

‘But right now, it’s a good idea,’ he continues. ‘It’s returning an area to its natural state – since the last ice age at least – and it’s providing a place for animals and plants to live. The crucial thing is to make sure all of this public investment isn’t going to be wasted. It’s no good if, in 20 years’ time, we decide to cut the trees down again. It has to be a long-term commitment.’


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