Battle on to save Lochaber’s ‘Commando’ pinewood from spruce threat

Want to read more?

We value our content and access to our full site is only available with a  subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device.  In addition, your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards.

Just want to read one issue? No problem you can subscribe for just one week (or longer if you wish).

Already a subscriber?

 

Problems logging in and require
technical support? Click here
Subscribe Now

Battle is raging once more across a wartime Commando training ground in Lochaber, but this time the fight is to save spectacular remnants of ancient Caledonian pinewood.

Felling and extraction of 70,000 tonnes of non-native timber has started at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest near Spean Bridge in Lochaber. The mammoth effort will free remaining native trees to take back the site in one of the biggest Caledonian pinewood restorations ever attempted.

Woodland Trust Scotland and local charity Arkaig Community Forest bought the spectacular 2,500 acre site in 2016.

Site manager Henry Dobson said a huge amount of preparation had been required since then to allow timber extraction to begin.

Site manager Henry Dobson at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML. NO F52 Arkaig commando -Henry Dobson 07
Site manager Henry Dobson at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML.

‘The bridge over the River Arkaig had to be strengthened and the access track into Glen Mallie upgraded to accommodate the vehicles removing the timber.  Covid-19 delayed us by a year but we have finally reached what is a major turning point for the restoration of the site,’ Mr Dobson explained.

Timber extraction is now underway at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML. NO F52 Arkaig commando 05
Timber extraction is now underway at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML.

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest has five of just 84 remaining fragments of ancient Caledonian pinewood in Scotland.

Its ancient, wide-crowned ‘granny’ pines were in danger of dying out without reproducing – squeezed out by non-native commercial conifers planted in the 1960s.

Some 70,000 tonnes of mainly Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine will be removed over the next five years to allow the remaining Scots pine and other native trees to repopulate the landscape.

Spruce trees being removed at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML. NO F52 Arkaig commando 04
Spruce trees being removed at Loch Arkaig. Photograph: Jessica Maxwell/WTML.

The project is being partly funded thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery Laura Chow added:  ‘This is an exciting leap forward for this extraordinary place. I’m delighted that funding raised by our players is contributing to the comeback of the magnificent Caledonian pinewood and is helping to make sure these unique woodlands can have a thriving future.’

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest comprises two blocks off woodland – Glen Mallie which can be reached via the new upgraded track, and The Gusach which is usually visited by boat.

Woodland Trust Scotland plans to take timber out over the loch via barge from this more remote block starting in 2022.

Woodland Trust and Arkaig Community Forest bought the site in 2016 from Forest Enterprise Scotland under the National Forest Land Scheme, with the aim of restoring native woodland habitats; re-connect local people with the management and stewardship of the site; and use the woods to underpin sustainable rural development in the nearby communities of Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and Clunes.

Gary Servant of Arkaig Community Forest commented: ‘It is great to see progress with harvesting the commercial timber on site and we look forward to seeing the benefits.

‘We look forward to working together to ensure that Loch Arkaig Pine Forest continues to produce a regular and reliable supply of marketable timber – increasingly of native species such as pine, oak and birch – in future years and for future generations.’

Ten tree seed collection volunteers have been recruited for a two-year pilot project to supply seeds for direct seeding, enrichment planting, and woodland creation in and around Loch Arkaig Pine Forest.

Their efforts will also support the establishment of a local tree nursery based at Clunes run by Arkaig Community Forest. All demands for local provenance seedlings will be met.

Arkaig Community Forest has also been developing a deer larder and a woodlot scheme adding value to these local resources.

Ghost Pines and Fire Lichen – The Second World War Legacy

British Commandos and Allied Special Forces, including the Free French, trained at Loch Arkaig during the Second World War. They were based at nearby Achnacarry, which was used as the Commando Basic Training Centre for the British Army and others. During exercises with live ammunition in 1942 forest fire raged across the hillside. Scots pines cooked in their own resin were preserved and still stand today. Pale in colour they have been dubbed ‘ghost’ pines.

Commando training at Loch Arkaig during WW2 included live firing exercises. Photograph: National Army Museum. NO F52 arkaig commando 03
Commando training at Loch Arkaig during WWII included live firing exercises. Photograph: National Army Museum.
Commando training at Loch Arkaig during WW2. Photograph: National Army Museum. NO F52 arkaig commando 02
Commando training at Loch Arkaig during WWII. Photograph: National Army Museum.
NO F52 arkaig commando 02

Scientists have discovered rare ‘fire’ lichen growing on the stumps of trees destroyed during the war. Carbonicola anthracophila only grows on charred conifer trees and has been recorded at just three other locations in the UK –  Glen Affric, Glen Quoich and Glen Strathfarrar.

Fire lichen on a burned tree. Photograph: Andy Acton. NO F16 fire lichen and burnt tree
Fire lichen on a burned tree. Photograph: Andy Acton.
Harry Potter Location

Loch Arkaig was the location for a sequence in the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry, Hermione and Ron cling to a dragon as it flies above the forest before jumping off into the loch below. Filming on the shore was cut short because the midges were too fierce!

Jacobite Treasure

According to legend, there is a buried treasure chest in the wood containing gold brought from France to support the Jacobite Rising of 1745. It was  destined for Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose allies reputedly hid in the woods, but he fled before the gold reached him. Gold coins found in the forest in 1850 support this tale.

Bonnie Prince Charlie. Photograph: Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland. NO F16 Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie. Photograph: Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland.
Wildlife

The forest is home to wildlife including pine marten, badger, red deer, red squirrel and wild boar.  Some of the UK’s most impressive birds of prey – osprey, sea eagle and golden eagle – can be spotted swooping over the loch. An osprey nest camera streams online from March to September.

The standing deadwood is home to a wide variety of lichens and invertebrates. The azure hawker dragonfly, found only in Scotland, has been recorded in the forest. The rare chequered skipper butterfly, which is confined to this area of Scotland, is also likely to be spotted at Loch Arkaig.

Loch Arkaig is in the rainforest zone running down Scotland’s west coast. Where conditions are right the clean, warm, moist air coming in from the Atlantic supports a lush growth of lichens, mosses and liverworks under the tree canopy. The restoration of native woodland on the site will also expand rainforest habitat.