Planting starts on Skye’s largest ever woodland creation scheme

NO F16 Dunvegan 01
One of the new deer fence enclosures. NO F16 Dunvegan 01

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This month is expected to see the planting of almost 100,000 trees on the MacLeod Estate on Skye as part of the first phase of the island’s largest ever woodland creation scheme.

It is the most ambitious project of its kind on Skye, with this first phase focusing on transforming just under half of Dunvegan’s former home farm, Totachocaire, into a 240-hectare (593-acre) native woodland that will treble the size of the existing contiguous woodlands around 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 in 2010, to replace a monoculture coniferous plantation dating back to the post-war years, with further rewilding and peatbog restoration plans in development.

Ben Taylor of Scottish Woodlands, which is the MacLeod Estate’s agents on this project, said the tree planting itself would start this month, but groundworks actually commenced in December.

Mr Taylor added: ‘The first phase of this native woodland creation scheme will generate two full time employees in the first year, 12 part time staff – four fencers, six planters, who will also undertake maintenance works and one Scottish Woodland managing assistant and one local stalker – who will be employed for the first three years at least.

‘This excludes other jobs supported by this ambitious project including tree nurseries and fencing material suppliers, local accommodation providers etc.

‘The work to date has focused on tidying up large areas of scrub vegetation to clear the way for tree planting, removal of now redundant agricultural fencing across the entire area, and commencement of ground preparation works.

‘The intention is to plant approximately 25 percent of the 372,000 native trees by this spring, with the remainder following in the period from October to the end of the year. This will allow time for saplings of local provenance to be grown specifically for the scheme.

‘With the relatively low levels of native tree planting taking place on Skye in the recent past, seed availability for the local provenance zone is currently very low.’

Estate Director Hugh MacLeod, 30th chief of Clan MacLeod, said: ‘I am pleased with the speedy progress which has already been made on the first phase of the MacLeod Estate’s progressive native woodland creation and rewilding project.

Estate director Hugh MacLeod. Photograph: Lucy Howard-Taylor. NO F16 Hugh MacLeod
Estate director Hugh MacLeod. Photograph: Lucy Howard-Taylor.
NO F16 Hugh MacLeod

‘In light of the climate emergency the world is facing, this is a very modest project but at least it is a step in the right direction.

‘According to the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS), there are currently only 3,200 hectares of native woodland on Skye (which has a total land area of 1,656 km2 or 165,600 hectares) – which means the native woodland coverage on the island is just two per cent.

‘This compares to a Scotland-wide estimate that native woodland covers only four per cent of the land area – with a further one per cent of ‘nearly native’ woodland.

‘Only 13 per cent of the UK’s total land area is covered in trees, compared with the European average of 35 per cent, which is one reason why the Scottish Government has set ambitious annual tree planting targets to address this.

‘One of the main obstacles to natural regeneration and nascent native woodland schemes in Scotland, is that the current deer population far exceeds that which the geographical land area can support.

‘With no natural predators, a herd of 300 deer has the potential to grow to 3,000 in the space of 13 years if left undisturbed.

‘The estate has been actively managing deer numbers for over a decade, which is important because one of the conditions of this EU/Scottish government grant-aided project requires 45 deer to be culled in this native woodland area annually.’