There are few things more iconic than the Christmas tree when it comes to the festive season, and it’s easy to forget the work that goes into growing a first-class product that will serve as the centrepiece of countless families’ homes. Here, Colin Palmer of Coddington Christmas Trees tells Fraser Rummens about his 40-year career in tree planting and marketing and shares some advice for the prospective grower.

TREES are a decidedly uncommon sight in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides or Western Isles. The windswept island landscapes have long been regarded as beautiful but barren, making a stark contrast to the wooded mainland. However, efforts to reforest the islands are already underway and the scale of local interest has proved hugely encouraging.

There have been 413 inquiries into tree planting through the Croft Woodlands Project since it was set up in 2016, and it is currently on course to have planted 100,000 trees across the Outer Hebrides by 2020.

Forestry Journal: The greatest concentration of tree planting under the Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project has been in the Point and Sandwick Trust area.The greatest concentration of tree planting under the Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project has been in the Point and Sandwick Trust area.

Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust supports the Western Isles Croft Woodland Project to the tune of around £70,000 a year, making it one of its flagship projects. Scottish National Heritage (SNH) chief executive Francesca Osowska recently described it as “inspiring” and the project is to be extended for a second five-year phase due to its success.

Geographically, although schemes have been planting from the Butt to Barra, the Point and Sandwick districts have seen the greatest concentration of plantings. 11 croft planting schemes have been planted so far, with another two scheduled for this winter and more in development.

Five free tree packs, supplied by the Woodland Trust, have been given out and planted around football pitches – one pack around the Sandwick pitch on East Street, Stornaway, and four packs around Point FC’s pitch in Garrabost – to give screening and shelter. Free tree packs can contain between 30 and 420 trees and most people have been choosing packs of 420 trees.

Viv Halcrow, Western Isles Croft Woodlands project officer, said: “There has been a huge amount of interest in tree planting in Point and Sandwick. Of course, people are also planting trees without help from the project. With the continuation of the Croft Woodlands Project I hope to be able to help many more people to plant areas of trees on the croft, develop schemes suitable for common grazings, and help community groups with free tree packs.”

Viv said there had been a planting scheme in most of the townships in Point and Sandwick, with particularly good engagement in Garrabost, Lower Bayble, Aird, Aignish, East Street and North Street – and more than one scheme in several of these villages.

Viv believes Point and Sandwick Trust’s strong public engagement is part of the reason the Croft Woodlands project has been so successful in the area. However, she noted that people had been keen for more trees to be planted before the project was established and these views had emerged in the trust’s original community consultation about how people wanted to spend the profits from the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm. She also believes there is a knock-on effect as more and more people see others planting trees.

“As people see trees being planted on their neighbour’s croft they think, ‘Ooh, I could do that’,” she said. “Maybe word is getting around and when the original community consultation was done the idea of having a lot more woodland – native woodland, particularly – came out very strongly. People are looking to diversify their crofts, but it’s the Point and Sandwick Trust’s involvement locally that’s brought it to people’s attention and to people’s minds.”

Viv is delighted the scheme is being extended and said people with influence sat up and took notice when Point and Sandwick Trust announced the second phase at the Croft Woodland conference in May.

“It’s a fantastic commitment on Point and Sandwick Trust’s part and it has encouraged the other partners that support the Croft Woodlands project in the rest of the crofting counties to also come on board and commit to the next five years.”

The project was set up by Point and Sandwick Trust in partnership with the Woodland Trust and also involves Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Viv said: “I think it’s been really popular and seems to be working in helping people do something they’ve maybe been wanting to do for quite a while.”

The key is being able to provide advice, practical help and access to grant schemes, added Viv.

Forestry Journal: Angus MacRitchie and son, Craig.Angus MacRitchie and son, Craig.


Angus planted 500 trees on his croft to function as a windbreak for his sheep – and also because he likes trees and believes the island will be a better place with more of them.

He said: “It was really a practical reason – to provide a practical shelter for the sheep at the bottom of the croft. It’s good to have a shelter for them in winter.”

Angus planted his trees in November 2016, on the same weekend as the Point and Sandwick Trust AGM when 420 trees were also planted around the pitch at the local clubhouse. He recalled how he and a group of volunteers went up to his croft after helping with the planting session.

“I think my croft was the guinea pig,” he said.

Three years on, he said most of the trees are doing okay – and he is planning to put more in the ground soon.

“On the whole, most of them have taken. Some of them have grown three or four feet. Some of them have really stretched. The main problem is that they’re too thinly spread out. I could do with planting more of them.”

Angus, whose 14-year-old son, Craig, is taking an interest in the croft, put in a mixture of trees on Viv’s advice.

“It makes a difference because we got expert advice,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about trees really, anything at all. I just went by her advice on which ones to plant.”

Angus, who works in the Comhairle, has around 20 sheep and believes the Croft Woodlands project is an excellent one. “It’s over time, after a few years, that we’ll see the benefit and the landscape does look better with some trees. Lewis is renowned for having no trees and wind is what you’re up against. But the practical reason (for planting) was the shelter in the winter – that’s important.”

Angus, who has three children, added: “I enjoyed the whole experience and it was good for my children as well to get involved. Craig helped plant them and we put the guards round them to protect from rabbits, and the rest of the children got involved a bit as well.

“It’s good to get family involved in things like this to get them away from the broadband and to spend more time outdoors. Craig is interested in all sorts of things to do with crofting. He understands the whole idea of why they are planted, for the sake of shelter for the sheep.

“It’s a positive experience whichever way you look at it and it’s nice to look on the landscape and see trees rather than just bare croft.”

Forestry Journal: Planting in action.Planting in action.


Approximately 600 trees were planted around the Sandwick football pitch in East Street, Stornaway, as well as nearly 2,000 as a shelter-belt system across a few crofts in the part of the village nearest Point.

East Street resident Sandy Morrison arranged to get the trees with the help of Viv and these included a free tree pack for a community group for the pitch.

The maximum number in a tree pack is 420, so Sandy and a couple of his neighbours contributed some trees from what they had obtained for their own crofts, in order to boost the coverage around the pitch.

Sandy also believes it is an excellent experience for the younger generation to be involved in.

He said: “My oldest boy, Noah, said, ‘What’s this going to be like, daddy? Will it be like the Castle Grounds (at Lews Castle) in 100 years?’ I said ‘Yes’.”

With Viv’s help, Sandy had obtained the tree pack for the pitch plus 2,145 trees for the village.

He said: “Viv’s brilliant. I’m a novice. I can dig a hole in the ground but this is what she does for a living. She understands it. We took Viv’s guidance. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what trees I planted in what gardens.”

Sandy got the idea for planting trees on a number of crofts in East Street from the Point and Sandwick Trust AGM, where Viv gave a presentation on the project’s progress so far.

He had bought trees privately for his own garden the previous year but learned from the AGM that big discounts could be accessed if they were being obtained for croft land. It is an investment in the future, according to Sandy.

“We’re putting a little bit back for the younger generation. We are changing the landscape for a generation because once you have your windbreak you can grow things behind it.”

Forestry Journal: Roddy Read planted 1,000 trees on his croft in Aignish under the MOREwoods scheme.Roddy Read planted 1,000 trees on his croft in Aignish under the MOREwoods scheme.


Kite turbine inventor Roddy Read planted 1,000 trees on his croft in Aignish under the MOREwoods scheme, having seen the difference trees had made on his mother’s croft in Harris and as a way of paying back to the environment for the damage caused by mankind.

Roddy said: “I’d say it’s a really good use of crofting. There’s a lot of diversity there, with what comes along. It benefits not only the birdlife but you get otters and more fish near lochs where you have trees hanging over.”

The trees were planted in March 2017 and the vast majority have survived.

“In the first year, a good few died – about 10 per cent initially – in the dry conditions and you’ve got to keep on top of weeding and pests. Slugs were an issue this year. There’s a bit more maintenance than leaving a croft bare, that’s for sure, but it’s a much better use of one.”

Roddy continued: “I’m a big hippy eco-warrior type. I’m very much into recognising the effect humans have had on the environment and on the Isle of Lewis humans got rid of trees. We did that. As a wee bit of redress and balance to the state of the world, I’ve got this kite power project and trees are very much a part of that. Trees are one of the best things we can do to combat the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Concentrations of carbon dioxide are going up and up and up, said Roddy, but the 100,000 trees being planted under the Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project was a good start.

He said of the project: “It’s phenomenal that people are pushing it and getting it done. I’m not green fingered, I’m clueless about trees, but Viv is brilliant. I know why a tree is so incredible in terms of how it grows and the structure of it but in terms of how to keep it alive or what to put there in the first place . . . no.”

The renewables project Roddy is working on is called a ‘daisy turbine’ – so named because its petals are arranged from the core of the plant and can be chained together. It’s a wind turbine that works by tension. As tension is more efficient for large structures, these turbines could potentially be kilometres tall, Roddy explained. Despite being at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs in the battle against climate change, Roddy said the Croft Woodlands Project gave him hope that natural solutions would help.

He added: “I’m full on for technical solutions but the natural solutions exist as well, for climate change issues.”