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The ancient woodlands of Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil have been worked since before the Middle Ages, but much has changed since the days when people could be fined sixpence for the so-called crime of just collecting firewood to keep their crofts warm.
Now these 67 hectares are a remaining fragment of only 1.4 per cent of ancient woodlands still surviving in the UK.
But today they boast an extraordinarily rich and complex ecosystem, primarily of oak, ash and birch trees with extensive niche habitats of mosses, lichens, fungi and bryophytes and are home to a myriad of wildlife.
They have also provided a much-valued sanctuary for the local community, particularly during the Covid lockdowns, and have now received national recognition in this year’s Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.
Treslaig and Achaphubuil Woodland Trust looks after the woods at Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil which won second place and picked up a much-coveted Highly Commended plaque in the small community woodland group category.
Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards winners – nicknamed Scotland’s ‘Tree Oscars’ – were announced recently at the first online awards ceremony.
The woodlands at Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil, which are shown on Roy’s map of 1750, were bought from Forestry Commission Scotland after the organisation announced in 1995 that it planned to dispose of land in Achaphubuil which it had bought in 1961.
After a great deal of work, with support from influential Highland politicians, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – now NatureScot – ‘sponsored’ the purchase of the woodlands by a group of local crofters from the townships of Treslaig and Achaphubuil- a national first for SNH as well as for a crofting community.
But after 20 years of use, a path through the woods had become eroded and boggy, so a plan was drawn up by three of the crofters – Michael Foxley, Ewen Morrison and Tony Boyd, with assistance from Angus Campbell – which involved repairing the existing path and building two additional looped links totalling 1km.
Ardgour Community Council was fully supportive, providing a grant and making the application to the Ardgour, Glensanda Trust.
Follow news of the award, Ardgour Community Council chairperson Sam Thomson told the Lochaber Times: ‘During the Covid-19 lockdown, I am not sure how we would’ve coped without the woodland and crofter’s walks.
‘It was our daily escape from being cooped up inside and I truly believe that the fresh air, trekking, woodland smells, noises and sights really aided our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
‘Every day you see and hear something different. My children and I love the history, nature and wildlife of the walks and hope to visit for many more years.’
Between December 2020 and March 2021, work has been carried out on the path, using local machinery and drivers.
The work, costing £8,000, was difficult and slow, to minimise any damage to the woodland and habitats, prior to birds nesting. Now open, this woodland path network is used by local people, as well as many visitors.
It means there is now a series of paths built, accessible for the communities in the parish of Ardgour, within Ardnamurchan and Morvern, as well as for visitors coming to Lochaber. It is also on the long-distance cycle route from Lochgilphead to Inverness.
The awards scheme’s executive director Angela Douglas said the judges had given a Highly Commended award to Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil woods after being highly impressed by the way the woodland natural heritage had been secured and had evolved with little in the way of professional forestry input.
‘The natural regeneration was extraordinary and exemplary in how to sustain a native woodland,’ she added. ‘It is unusual for crofters to manage a woodland such as this for community benefit but this was a most impressive example.’
Mr Foxley told the Lochaber Times this week: ‘As an exemplar, it shows what a committed and determined group of local crofters can do, working with the
community, to safeguard an ancient woodland, ensure its future and allow the public to enjoy it.’
Delighted at the recognition for the woodlands are, from left, Michael Foxley, Ewen Morrison and Tony Boyd. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F41 Woodlands award 01
Extra pic: Hoping for success with their next project in having this 250 year old oak tree named as a Queen’s tree are, from left, Ewen Morrison Tony Boyd and Michael Foxley Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO F41 Woodlands award 02