Barges considered for Loch Arkaig Pine Forest project

East Block woodland, Loch Arkaig, Scotland, looking south.

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The Woodland Trust has been considering using barges as a way of transporting felled timber as part of its scheme to restore the ancient Loch Arkaig Pine Forest.

Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council heard on Tuesday night from two trust representatives of the progress being made on the project management plan so far.

Project manager Jessica Maxwell and site manager Steve Morris outlined the challenges ahead for the project, which is being carried out in conjunction with the Arkaig Community Forest (ACF) local charitable organisation.

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest consists of two blocks of native Caledonian woodland: Coille a Ghuibhais (the pine forest), known as South Loch Arkaig; and An t-Seann Fhrith (the old deer forest), known as Glen Maillie.

Those attending Tuesday night’s meeting heard that the 2,537-acre forest is one of the UK’s most significant remaining fragments of native Caledonian pinewood.

It was acquired by the trust and ACF in 2016 for £500,000 following a public appeal for funds.

The forest and loch is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including pine marten, red deer, wild boar, osprey and sea eagles.

The Loch Arkaig scheme is the largest restoration project ever undertaken on the trust’s own land, and the Loch Arkaig Pine Forest Appeal is raising £4.5m to restore the forest to its former glory.

This restoration process will involve clear felling swathes of non-native sitka spruce which have sprung up in the forest.

Mr Morris said one of the major plus points for the project was the long and detailed historical records about the area.

‘There is an Achnacarry Estate map dating from 1772 – that’s just one example of a considerable amount of map history and which is a fantastic resource,’ he said.

‘It is almost unprecedented for the Forestry Commission to sell off an ancient pine forest such as this – in fact the commission is still acquiring others.

‘That makes this a pretty unique project.’

While some restoration work was carried out in the 1990s, much remains to be done over the next 15-year timeframe, including the upgrading of a track and a bridge to allow timber vehicles to access one of the forestry blocks.

‘But this will only be made 3.5m wide and will be a low specification road to keep the impact to a minimum,’ added Mr Morris.

‘And as the forestry block on the south side of the loch has no road, we have been looking at barges as a way of moving any felled timber out of the forest.’