Watt on the Wildside: search the forest for elusive troll

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Spring has well and truly sprung. The gorse is in bloom, there are daffodils growing in every roadside nook and cranny, there’s a green tinge to the trees and primroses carpet the forest floor. It’s a great time to be out in the woods.

You might then ask why Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) has chosen this time to restrict access to Beinn Lora. Forests are ideal places for folk to walk, cycle and ride but they are also workplaces. Forestry is an important part of the rural economy so we need to balance public access with the need for people’s safety during forest operations.

We try to do this with minimal disruption by carefully planning our operations and by telling people what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and when we’ll be finished. A crucial responsibility of the public is to not hinder this work and, by law, FCS must take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that the public is not put at risk by our work.

FCS’s responsibility is to undertake our operations in a way that takes account of access rights and minimises the time and area affected by any necessary restriction.
We’re doing our best to keep that time to as short a period as possible and we’re well on course to finish within the six-month timescale we originally said we would take.

If you would like to see the kind of work that’s happening at Beinn Lora, take a look at our ‘Forestry Works and Your Safety’ page on the FCS website (http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/activities/trees/forestry-works- safety).

This features information about forest machinery and a video which gives an up-close view of the scale and speed of forest operations.

When we take the trees out, we’ll be replanting them with broadleaves. This means that future tree-felling operations will be kept to a minimum and the woods will be full of hundreds of tiny species that will benefit from the light, open environment that you don’t always get under a conifer canopy. You can still reach the summit of
Beinn Lora by coming in through the forest from Barcaldine.

Because the forest estate is a national asset that belongs to the people of Scotland, you can have a say about the way it is managed. That could include telling us what you think about forestry plans in your area, or contributing to our policies and strategies.

If you would like to get involved in the future of Barcaldine Forest (including Beinn Lora and Sutherland’s Grove), FCS is holding an open consultation on Tuesday April 25 from 2pm until 7pm in the Victory Hall in Benderloch.

While there’s currently no access at Beinn Lora, why not travel a few miles further north to Sutherland’s Grove? Route 78 of the national cycle network will take you right there.

At Sutherland’s Grove, you can marvel at the mighty and majestic fir trees, the oldest of which were planted in 1870. More were planted in 1921 to commemorate Lord John Donald Sutherland, one of the founders of the Forestry Commission and a partner in an Oban-based firm of solicitors which are still in practice today (Hossack and Sutherland). Some of the trees tower 53 metres high (that’s more than five double-decker buses stacked on top of each other).

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can search for the troll, hidden on one of the trails up the gorge of the Abhainn Teithil burn whose curiously-sculpted rocks create entrancing water­falls. Or you can meander through the grove itself which, at this time of the year, is carpeted with emerging bluebells and wild garlic.

I headed up the gorge on my search for the elusive troll. I eventually found him while I was standing on the bridge, the river thundering by beneath my feet. He wasn’t too scary so I stood there for a while, enjoying the sight of the rocks and the trees, the sounds of the river and the birds and the smells of the plants and fresh air all around me. I knew the air was clean and fresh because of the abundance of hairy-looking lichens on the trees.

Every spring my grandad used to say: ‘Oak before ash, in for a splash, ash before oak, in for a soak.’ This spring, I’ll be watching those two trees in particular with a keen interest – I’m hoping for a dry summer.

Helen Watt

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