The Findhorn-based Trees for Life conservation charity — which has been described as “the most ambitious rewilding project in the UK” – celebrates its 25th anniversary on 25 May.
The long-range plan is nothing less than to restore the ancient Caledonian Forest to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness to a wilderness area of 1,000 square miles – and to support the return of wildlife that is under threat or extinct locally.
Trees for Life’s founder and executive director Alan Watson Featherstone has warned: “Without urgent action, key parts of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest could be lost forever, and forest-dependent wildlife such as the Scottish wildcat and capercaillie could become extinct in the UK”.
“As we celebrate 25 years of pioneering conservation action – including the planting of more than a million trees by our volunteers, and the creation of 10,000 acres of new Caledonian Forest – we aim to increase the impact and scale of our work. We want to ensure that our children and grandchildren also have the opportunity to enjoy Scotland’s wild landscapes and its rare and spectacular wildlife.”
Trees for Life’s flagship Dundreggan Conservation Estate, a biodiversity hotspot in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness, will welcome visitors on 25 May between 10.30am and 5pm. Entry is free and the day of celebration – which is targeted at adults and children alike – will include the official launch of a Forests of the Commonwealth photographic exhibition, guided walks, tree planting, a talk by Alan and opportunities to feed wild boar. Food and merchandise will also be on sale.
While it feels appropriate to honour 25 years of committed and consistent action – mostly by volunteers – the challenges remain considerable.
Less than half of Scotland’s native woodlands are in “satisfactory condition for biodiversity” and much must be done to reverse centuries of damage, according to Scotland’s first complete survey of these important habitats, published by Forestry Commission Scotland recently. The report found that natural regeneration of native pinewoods is scarce.
The need for concerted conservation action – and the lack of young trees to replace mature specimens when lost – is also being highlighted by threats posed by climate change and extreme weather, and the risk of disease affecting the Scots pine, which forms the forest ecosystem’s ‘backbone’ on which many species depend.
“We want people to get involved through volunteering or financial support. Wildlife tourism generates millions of pounds every year, so bringing new life to impoverished woodlands and barren glens can bring economic as well as environmental benefits,” Alan said.
The charity’s major plans for 2014 include an ambitious project at Dungreggan to convert a 300-hectare commercial plantation of non-native trees planted by a previous owner back to native woodland. This will involve the felling of the alien conifers and a pioneering mire restoration scheme, funded by a grant from Scottish Natural Heritage.