PREVIOUS SPREAD: sun filters through the morning mist in Rothiemurchus Forest , Cairngorms National Park; BELOW: Trees for Life volunteers plant trees on open moorland in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Corrimony Reserve near Cannich in the Scottish Highlands. The RSPB acquired the site in 1997 in order to help restore the Caledonian Forest, especially for the benefit of black grouse; BOTTOM: Richard Munday, a partner in the Kinloch Woodlands Trust, and a visitor inspect a deer fence in Wester Ross. the fence will have to stay up for about 35 years, until young trees can resist damage by deer. Active management through culling is also required here because deer can swim around the fence at the bottom of the hill; RIGHT: mature pine forest in Wester Ross
38 www.geographical.co.uk january 2011
ichard Munday and his wife Claire run a small bed and breakfast on 1,600 hectares of windswept, bog-bound mountain facing out towards the Atlantic in Scotland’s remote Wester Ross. Their land has negligible agricultural or sporting value, but it’s this very lack of value that has enabled the Mundays to embark on an ambitious project that they hope will outlive them by centuries.
The stereotypical image of the Scottish Highlands is barren, a ‘wet desert’ of Munros where only heather and moorland species survive. But 2,000 years ago, the Highlands were home to some of the richest forests in Britain, with bear, lynx, elk, wolf and boar thriving beneath a pine-needleand-broadleaf canopy that stretched over an area of 1.5 million hectares,
from Loch Shin in Sutherland as far south as Argyll, a stone’s throw from the site of modern Glasgow.
Today, around one per cent of the original Caledonian Forest remains. But the Mundays and their partners in the Kinloch Woodlands Trust are part of a growing movement, made up of charities, communities and individuals, that’s working to re-establish Scotland’s natural heritage, planting out stands of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, oak and ash in country traditionally given over to sheep, deer and grouse.
These projects may sound admirable, but land use is a highly complex issue in Scotland, and there is an array of groups, including gamekeepers, crofters and farmers, that are less enthusiastic about ancient forest restoration. Meanwhile, due to a combination of poor soils, grazing pressure and a harsh climate, new native woodlands will take at least 200 years to mature. So why, when faced with so many obstacles, are these people out planting trees? ambitious plan The vision of a reforested Scotland is nothing new, but much of the recent progress has been accelerated by a 2006 Scottish government plan (the Scottish Forestry Strategy) to increase overall forest cover in Scotland by 640,000 hectares to around two million hectares. If successful, it would see roughly a quarter of Scotland’s land area under trees by the latter half of this century.
Climate change incentives are the big drivers. Meeting the Scottish Forestry Strategy’s tree-planting target could lock up an extra 4.4 million tonnes of carbon each year. New woodlands would also theoretically deliver an additional one million tonnes of dry wood fuel a year and help to sustain and grow Scotland’s 31,000 existing forestry jobs.
However, these targets require the planting of up to 15,000 hectares per year, whereas current rates hover around 4,500 hectares per year. ‘Grant aid under the Scotland Rural Development Programme hasn’t proved to be a sufficient incentive,’ says Paul Munro of Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). ‘So we’re considering alternative approaches to increase afforestation.’
In the heart of the Cairngorms, one such approach has been under way for more than 30 years. The Royal Society peter
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