Mountaintop forest to tackle loss of high-altitude woodlands

A mountaintop forest is to be created near Loch Ness to reverse the loss of high-altitude woodlands across Scotland.

Trees for Life, a conservation charity, is establishing a 700-acre site of 100,000 trees at its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, Highlands.

It is hoped the initiative will lead to the return of waist-high species known as montane plants, which would support mammals, birds and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Mountain hare
Mountain hares are among the mammals that can be found on the estate (Mark Hamblin/PA)

Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Dundreggan manager, said: “Montane woodlands are a vital part of Scotland’s precious Caledonian Forest but are often restored over only small areas if at all.

“To bring these special ‘wee trees’ back from the brink, and create habitats for the wildlife that depends on them, we need something bigger – and that’s what we’re setting out to achieve at Carn na Caorach.”

Montane species grow near mountain summits despite harsh conditions but have suffered from centuries of overgrazing from animals such as sheep and deer.

The site – Carn na Caorach, meaning sheep cairn – lies at 450 to 600 metres above sea level on Dundreggan’s north-eastern edge, with sweeping views over Glenmoriston and Glen Affric.

It is thought to have been an important place for grazing livestock for hundreds of years and is now home to wildlife such as golden eagles, ring ouzels and mountain hares.

Volunteers will begin the first phase of planting next spring – with trees including downy willow and dwarf birch on the higher ground, as well as Scots pine and juniper on the lower slopes.

Further planting will continue over the next few years and self-seeded saplings will also be able to thrive in the grazing-free site.

High woodlands take longer to establish than those in sheltered locations, meaning the project has to be long-term.

It could take between 50 and 100 years before the forest is fully established – if grazing levels are kept low.

Once complete, the charity believes the project will be the country’s largest planted area of rare high-altitude woodland.

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