A SCOTS conifer forest is set to be transformed in a landscape restoration project aiming to help restore the habitat for woodland critters.
The landscape scale restoration project starts this month, and will see the old conifer forest transformed into a modern, “mosaic” forest.
Located in a part of West Sutherland, Forestry & Land Scotland’s (FLS) West Sutherland land management plan will restore blanket bog and plant new native woodland as well as new, mixed species and productive forestry.
Boosting biodiversity is a key aim of the 67 square kilometre project that stretches from Ledmore to Oykel Bridge, with hopes to restore important habitats for species of all kinds.
The River Oykel Special Area of Conservation lies at the heart of the project, acting as home to many of Scotland’s iconic native species.
Atlantic salmon, Golden and White Tailed eagles, osprey and otters can all be found in the area.
FLS’s vision is that in ten years’ time, much of the diseased and windblown forest of non-native conifers will have been removed and the first stage of restoring some 1,400 hectares of blanket bog will have been completed.
Areas of native woodland that have been felled will be replanted and entirely new native woodlands will be created.
Native riparian woodlands will also be established on the banks of the burns, rivers and lochs.
FLS also expects that by the end of 2032, it will have harvested mature conifer forests and altered the hydrology of the area to enhance the habitat needed by wading birds such as plover and dunlin.
Alongside this, FLS will plant the next rotation of smaller scale, mixed species, productive compartments of conifers.
These will be planted in a “mosaic” of tree species which helps to make forests more resilient to damage from storms and diseases and implement its deer management plan.
This project exemplifies the landscape scale interventions required if the UK is to reach its net zero goals and become more resilient to climate change, as suggested last week by the UK Environment Agency in its report, Working with Nature.
Neil McInnes Planning Forester – Caithness and Sutherland for FLS spoke on the changes the West Sutherland project will involve.
He said: “Over the period of this plan we will begin land management restructuring on a landscape scale to change from 1970s and 80s style, conifer forest to a modern, biodiverse forest in an area of huge importance for tourism, wildlife and water protection”
Praising the plan, RSPB said how pleased they are to see a such a significant and ambitious proposed change in land use across the West Sutherland plan area.
The commended FLS for a “forward-thinking, ecosystem-led approach….[that] will create a more natural landscape and ….which will support biodiversity.”
The local Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust said they believed that the plan “represents a sea change in forestry practices and should act as an exemplar for future management plans.”