Skye estate gets £1M for major woodland creation scheme

The MacLeod Estate on Skye is to have another 372,000 trees planted. NO-F50-Dunvegan-01-scaled.jpeg

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A total of 372,000 trees are to be planted as part of a £1million scheme to create a new native woodland at Dunvegan on Skye.

After more than a year and a half in development, the MacLeod Estate’s new native woodland creation scheme has been awarded the grant from the Scottish Government and EU.

The project is being overseen by Scottish Woodlands Ltd, which will plant the scheme on the estate’s behalf by the end of 2021.

This project is the first phase of the MacLeod Estate’s evolving rewilding strategy which estate director, Hugh MacLeod, has been working on for the last few years.

It is the most ambitious project of its size on Skye, with this first phase focusing on transforming the marginal land of Dunvegan’s former home farm, Totachocaire, into a 240 hectare (593 acre) native woodland area that will treble the size of the existing contiguous woodlands around the Clan MacLeod’s iconic family seat of Dunvegan Castle and Gardens.

A total of 372,000 trees will be planted with different species mixtures to suit the land’s terrain and ecology. The carbon offset is estimated to exceed 40,000 tons over a 65-year period.

This is in addition to the 60,000 native trees planted by the estate a decade ago, to replace a monoculture coniferous plantation dating back to the post-war years, with further rewilding and peatbog restoration plans in development.

As the largest native woodland project of its kind on Skye, this will bring the total number of native trees planted on the MacLeod Estate since 2010 to 432,000.

This is a modest start, but  the hope is that this will encourage others to take on rewilding initiatives large and small to restore parts of Skye’s unnatural ‘wet desert’ landscape which is a legacy of centuries of depredation caused by over grazing and high numbers of deer.

In common with other Highland areas, some aspects of Skye’s current lunarscape appearance may be beautiful, but it is not natural. The extensive peatbog on the island is clear evidence of ancient and extensive woodlands.

This project aims to restore this piece of marginal land and the estate hopes that it will have a positive ripple effect for the local community beyond the obvious ecological benefits, creating more jobs in sustainable eco-tourism and more rewilding initiatives to help combat climate change.

Mr MacLeod told the Lochaber Times: ‘In a difficult year of persistent bad news, I am thrilled that the MacLeod Estate has been awarded this grant for the largest and most ambitious native woodland creation project on the Isle of Skye to date.

‘I had the idea over 10 years ago, when I decided to stop farming at the estate’s Totachocaire Farm, which is not only marginal land, but was also loss making for almost every year of its operation since it was revived by my late father in the 1970s.

‘This is the first phase of our nascent rewilding plans and once the woodlands are established, this will create an extensive and biodiverse habitat to support a number of native species.’

Ben Goldsmith, an environmentalist and CEO of Menhaden PLC, a London-listed investment firm which focuses on energy and resource efficiency, explained: ‘Politicians, communities and landowners across Britain are coming to the realisation that restoring the terribly depleted natural fabric of our landscapes offers a pathway for ecological, economic and social renewal.

‘Hugh MacLeod’s ground-breaking nature restoration project at the historic Dunvegan Castle on Skye is one of the most exciting rewilding stories in Britain today.’

John Laing, Chair of Dunvegan and District Community Council, added: ‘The community council welcomes the MacLeod Estate’s ambitious plans to improve and enhance the Dunvegan Castle amenity woodlands.

‘We are all aware of the many benefits that woodlands bring to our wellbeing and increasingly to our environment and wildlife. The new woodland will, in time, be a tremendous asset for Dunvegan and for Skye. It will bring pleasure and enjoyment for locals and visitors for generations to come.’