Loch Arkaig’s forest is one of the most notable restoration projects Tilhill Forestry has ever been involved with and the largest ancient woodland restoration undertaken by the Woodland Trust on land under its direct care.
Loch Arkaig is a body of freshwater approximately 12 miles in length located near Spean Bridge in The Highlands around 10 miles from Fort William. The vision is for Loch Arkaig’s 2,700 acres of nationally important ancient Caledonian pinewood to be fully restored.
There are many rare species of plants associated with the trees, as well as wildlife such as osprey, which means the area is considered a priority habitat and is on the Scottish Biodiversity list and protected under the European Habitat Directive. Other species include black grouse; sea eagles; eagles; pine marten; red deer and wild boar.
The forest was sold by Forest Enterprise Scotland under the National Forest Land Scheme which gives community organisations first refusal to buy land where this will provide increased public benefit.
The Woodland Trust bought the Forest in partnership with local group Arkaig Community Forest. Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are the lead funders of the Loch Arkaig Pine Forest restoration fund contributing over £1.5 million.
Tilhill Forestry is working with the Woodland Trust to analyse and develop proposals for harvesting and extracting the non-native trees on the site as part of a long-term management plan over the next 20 years. At the heart of the proposal was the aim of restoring and enhancing the pinewoods for future generations.
In 1970 much of the site was planted with non-native trees including Sitka Spruce and Japanese Larch in line with the Government objective of the time. Around 70,000 tonnes of non-native timber now needs removing as part of the restoration.
Due to the complexities of access timber removal from site will require a bespoke solution. Options including specialist barging across the loch and sensitive roading are currently being considered.
One of the reasons why Tilhill won the work was the company’s track record of working with local communities on similar projects and finding workable solutions to challenges. Some recent examples include working partnerships with Kilfinnan Community Woodland in Cowal, South West Mull Community Woodland and North West Mull Partnership. These projects included the design and implementation of new forest roads, new bridges, development of low-impact road haulage vehicles and innovative timber extraction including piers and the use of landing craft to unlock timber from previously inaccessible areas.
During February, a team from Tilhill visited the site with Steve Morris of the Woodland Trust to discuss the project’s progress. The trip involved a speedboat ride up the Loch to access the remote location, landing at one of the potential timber landing points.