Forest and Woodland
Forestry and woodland management are important and significant land uses in Wester Ross. The area has some key examples of native woodland remnants, and the establishment of new native woodlands has increased over the past few years as incentives have developed and the crofting community has sought to diversify. The location and condition of woodlands has been shaped by both environmental factors such as climate, soil type and browsing pressure, and by past and present management practices.
The area is well known for its Caledonian pinewood at Shieldaig, Coulin, Torridon, Beinn Eighe, Rhidorroch, Achnashellach and the Loch Maree islands. Though small in total area, these pinewoods are an internationally important habitat in their own right, and support other tree species such as birch and rowan. The western pinewoods are a genetically distinct group from those of central or eastern Scotland.The pinewoods contain a highly characteristic flora and fauna including several rare mosses and lichens, as well as important populations of insects such as the Scottish wood ant and the Northern ant. In addition they act as important potential habitats for red squirrel and black grouse. In some places, a natural treeline has formed, with a transition from pinewood into montane scrub comprising juniper species, dwarf birch and dwarf willow.While non-native conifer plantations are not dominant in this area, they are present. In some cases they are large and dominate the landscape, e.g. at Lael, and provide another habitat for wildlife. Much restructuring of these woodlands has taken place recently and many will be converted to new native woodlands in the future.
There are a number of important broadleaved woodland habitats in Wester Ross. These include the oak woodlands of Letterewe and Coille Dubh at Shieldaig which were once managed to produce charcoal and have survived since that industry has declined, as well as ash woodlands, such as those at Rassal and Dundonnell. Birch woodland is by far the most common and woods of all sizes can be found from sea level up into the mountains where small pockets or individual trees survive on ledges and in gullies. Small pockets of aspen occur around hill crags and coastal areas. These trees and isolated stands support a particularly wide range of insects, fungi and lichens.All these woodlands have distinctive assemblages of lichens, mosses and liverworts (e.g. Wilson’s pouchwort) that thrive in the oceanic climate of the West, but are unable to survive the drier conditions further east. The woodlands provide important habitats for priority species such as the spotted flycatcher, bullfinch and song thrush, as well as butterflies such as the pearl-bordered fritillary, which live in woodland glades and clearings and require bracken litter for shelter. Stands of dead and dying trees provide an important habitat for fungi and invertebrates. Rassal Ashwood is believed to have been a site of wood pasture. Wood pasture trees in the uplands are likely to be descendants of the post-glacial natural woodland. The process of opening up this woodland would have been started by wild herbivores such as elk, deer, cattle and boar. Black cattle became the major economy for Rassal.
Families would move to the hill shielings with their cattle for summer grazing, while the clearings in the woodland were used for arable crops. They would move back down into the woodland for the winter months with the cattle that remained after the drove to market in autumn. This seasonal grazing provided good conditions for the development and continuation of wood pasture. Cattle are about to be reintroduced to Rassal Ashwood for seasonal grazing, to keep the bracken and scrub levels down just enough to allow the regeneration of the woodland and increase its biodiversity. The grazing of a large herbivore, like a cow, is important for recycling plant material, for increasing plant biomass and for diversifying plant communities.
Riverine or riparian woodlands, i.e. woodlands found in association with fresh water, are often the only native woodland remaining in upland areas. They play a role in maintaining the health and productivity of rivers, burns and lochs by helping to protect and stabilise river-banks, to capture and recycle mineral nutrients, and the invertebrates and leaves that fall into the water help increase stream biodiversity.They benefit fisheries by reducing siltation of spawning grounds, supplying invertebrates and leaf-litter for food and providing cool shady areas. Riparian woodlands can be varied, and usually consist of a mixture of birch, Scots pine, oak, and alder. In places where the underlying rocks enrich the soils ash and wych elm can also be found.
Safeguard and extend areas of semi-natural and ancient woodland, together with their associated fauna and ground flora, with the aim of developing a network of interconnecting woodlands. Extend the coverage of riparian (river bank) woodland and the formation of a natural tree line incorporating montane scrub, and raise awareness of associated management issues. Promote sustainable woodland management to generate products for local commercial, craft or fuel use where possible and provide employment, education and recreation for the local community. Create more interpretation, education and recreational opportunities within woodlands.
The age structure of existing woodlands is tending towards older trees and because of over or under-grazing, is incapable of regeneration. Sustained overgrazing reduces biodiversity within woodlands through removal of seedling trees and damage to ground flora. Conversely, some ground flora depends on a certain amount of grazing, while some ground disturbance by cattle or deer can help tree regeneration. Every site is different, and the right balance needs to be found. There is a need for long-term management of woodland through management plans and forest design plans.
The Forestry Commission has agreed long-term management plans that incorporate an element of native woodland restoration within the context of multiple use forests at their plantations at Lael and Slattadale. The National Trust for Scotland has created a large enclosure at Inverewe Estate to prevent grazing and encourage natural regeneration of woodland and willow scrub, with assistance from the Woodland Grant Scheme.
- Secure funding for and manage broadleaved shelterbelts for their biodiversity benefit, e.g. at Leckmelm Farm. (Suggested partners: Land managers, Forestry Commission, Scottish Executive Environment & Rural Affairs Department)
Recreation and Lack of Awareness
Increased use of woodlands for recreation has many associated benefits. At the same time, negative effects including the erosion of paths, disturbance to wildlife (particularly by dogs not on leads during Spring and early Summer) and removal of species, such as plants and fungi need to be monitored. By creating paths within woodlands, access can be managed to avoid disturbance to wildlife and damage of sensitive sites.One of the main issues facing Wester Ross woodlands is the risk of fire, caused by inappropriate recreational use (e.g. litter, cigarettesor camp fires) and by the spread of muirburn from adjacent ground. Current projects: Members of Aultbea and Laide Community Woodland Group are undertaking a wildlife survey of their woodland.
It is hoped that the results of the audit will inform future management of the wood. The National Trust for Scotland has felled nonnative plantations as part of a phased management plan to restore native woodland at Corrieshalloch Gorge. The next phase will include the creation of footpaths and provision of new interpretation. The Trust is also constructing a forest trail at Inverewe, with an interpretative leaflet that explains the historical role of trees within the Wester Ross environment. Forestry Commission Scotland has recruited a Recreation Ranger to a new post covering the Lael and Slattadale plantations. Lael Forest Garden is a biological reserve where the Ranger has held a number of interpretative recreation events.A bird and bat box building project has been established with the National Trust for Scotland Ranger Service at Inverewe and local schools.
- Progress the Council-owned woodland near Kinlochewe as a Community Woodland Project (management, recreation, access, raise awareness). (Suggested partners: local community, Highland Council)
- Promote the development of an environmental audit booklet in two additional languages, comprising a very basic audit identifying the most common species on a particular forest walk. The booklet would be forwarded to all accommodation providers in the area and additional copies for retail sale. (Suggested partners: local woodland groups, Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board, Tourism & the Environment Forum)
- Develop a trail along the riverside in Ullapool with interpretation and bracken removal. (Suggested partners: local community, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council)
Lack of Linkages
Lack of linkages between existing woods make it harder for woodland species to broaden their range, and riparian woodlands are often used as wildlife corridors to enable animals to move between sites. Conversely, it can be argued that isolated woodlands have their own ecological distinctiveness which would be lost if joined up, and linkages can be a conduit for introduced species such as grey squirrel or sika deer.
Beinn Eighe is the subject of an ongoing woodland regeneration project led by Scottish Natural Heritage. A number of major forest areas, including those on the Applecross peninsula, are part of regeneration projects funded through the Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS). The AmBaileMorWoodland Regeneration Scheme attracted major funding for the planting of 2.5 million native trees including scots pine, alder, birch, hazel, holly, rowan and willow over the next five years. Other areas of native pinewoods have been planted in Flowerdale Glen and at Bad na Sgalag. The Isle Martin Trust has undertaken surveys of birds, plants and lichens, which will appear in booklets. They are working to manage the sparse natural woodland and the pockets of 18-25 years planted trees in order to increase native woodland cover to the advantage of birds, insects and flora. Croft related forestry and riparian woodland schemes are supported through the Woodland Grant Scheme, which has now been replaced by the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme (SFGS). Scottish Native Woodlands is encouraging the planting and regeneration of riparian woodlands through its Catchment Riparian Woodland Project.
- Promote the new Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme and encourage woodland managers to include biodiversity management within new planting and forest plans, e.g. species mixes, deadwood, riparian woodland, restoration of wetlands. (Suggested partners: Forestry Commission, woodland and land management advisers)
- Encourage planting of a wide range of nativ species in new native woodland schemes. (Suggested partners: Forestry Commission)
- Develop corridor woodlands on areas suh as the Strathain Burn (subject to approval). (Suggested partners: land managers, Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage)
- Investigate historical distribution of red squirrels in Wester Ross and consider need for habitat management. (Suggested partners: Highland Red Squirrel Group, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission)
Spread of invasive species
The spread of invasive non-native species such as Rhododendron ponticum present a threat to biodiversity in some areas, and these rhododendrons should be controlled outwith gardens.
The National Trust for Scotland has eradicated Rhododendron ponticum from the semi-natural woodlands on its properties at Inverewe Estate and at Corrieshalloch Gorge. Forestry Commission Scotland has a programme of rhododendron control at Lael Forest, and is working on eradication of rhododendrons on their land at Slattadale.
- Eradicate or control Rhododendron ponticum where possible, e.g. in Flowerdale, Talladale / Loch Maree, Achnashellach and Torridon. (Suggested partners: land managers, Forestry Commission, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council)
- Set up an exchange scheme for gardeners,whereby Rhododendron ponticum can be replaced by an equally colourful, non-invasive species or cultivar (e.g. R. 'Cunningham's White'). (Suggested partners: National Trust for Scotland)