The Caledonian Forest is one of our most important forest ecosystems, providing a home for spectacular wildlife. However, the forest is severely fragmented, and in many places consists entirely of old trees. Trees for Life is working to expand and link these ancient pinewoods by using three strategies:
The first part of our Action Plan is to facilitate the natural regeneration of native trees, by fencing deer out of areas on the periphery of existing remnants of forest. This allows seedlings to grow naturally to maturity again, without being over-grazed. This is the simplest and best method of regenerating the forest, as it involves the minimum of intervention and allows nature to do most of the work. However, this only works for locations where there is an existing seed source nearby, which is not the case in the treeless expanses which make up most of the Highlands today.
Planting native trees
The second part of our Action Plan comes into effect in situations where natural regeneration cannot occur, and it involves planting native trees in barren areas where the forest has disappeared. To do this, we collect seed from the nearest surviving trees, to maintain the local genetic variation in the forest.
The resulting seedlings are then planted in a random, non-linear pattern inside fenced exclosures, replicating the natural distribution of the trees. We are working with all of the native trees from the forest, and are paying particular attention to the pioneer species such as birch, rowan and aspen, as they have an important role to play in the succession of the forest as it gets re-established.
Removing non-native species
The third part of our Action Plan involves the removal of non-native trees, which in some areas have been planted as a commercial crop amongst the old trees of the Caledonian Forest remnants, preventing their regeneration.
Trees that we remove include lodgepole pine, Sitka spruce, western hemlock and larch, either by cutting down or ring-barking, as appropriate. We also remove non-native Rhododendron ponticum, an extremely invasive shrub.
Combining these three strategies, our intention is to re-establish areas, or 'islands', of healthy young forest scattered throughout the barren, deforested glens. As these new trees reach seed-bearing age they will form the nuclei for expanded natural regeneration in the surrounding area. While the trees in these `islands' are growing, it is important to reduce the numbers of deer, so that the forest restoration process can become self-sustaining, without the need for further fences.
Gordon Buchanan, Trees for Life Patron