AN Ayrshire estate, a farm in Aberdeenshire, and a community woodland in Edinburgh were among the winners at this year’s Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards. It was also a year of firsts, with the first Climate Change Champion prize, the first time the Awards were held online in almost 40 years, and the first award for early years woodland education.

Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill, near Straiton, Ayrshire – owned by Andrew and Lynne Sinclair – won the new award, sponsored by CarbonStore. Professor Chris Quine, chief scientist at Forest Research, who led the team assessing the Climate Change Champion entries, said: “The judges were very keen to find a worthy winner for the new award and we certainly did find one, in Balbeg Estate.

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“Bennan Hill was a well-planned and well-executed case study, drawing on guidance and expert knowledge to address the climate emergency by establishing trees to sequester carbon and contribute to a decarbonised future.

“Even more noteworthy was the way the estate demonstrated an integrated approach to tackling climate change throughout its activities with actions relating to mitigation, adaptation and knowledge exchange. The owners demonstrated a strong commitment and a real consistency of vision which made this site a very worthy champion.”

Other 2021 winners ranged from a small playgroup in Perth and a high school in Pitlochry to Scotland’s largest landowner, Anders Holch Povlsen, who won the New Native Woods Award for Killiehuntly Woodland in the Cairngorms.

Forestry Journal: Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill in Ayrshire was crowned the inaugural Climate Change ChampionBalbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill in Ayrshire was crowned the inaugural Climate Change Champion

Balbeg Estate, winner of the Climate Change Champion Award, also won the Quality Timber Award and John Kennedy Trophy for Multi-purpose forestry for a whole forest or estate.

The two Climate Change Champion runners-up were Borders Forest Trust’s ecological restoration project at Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire (also Highly Commended behind Killiehuntly in the New Native Woods category) and Aylsa Leslie (with forestry consultant Simon Jacyna) for Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire – also winner of the Quality Timber Award for silvicultural excellence in a single stand or compartment of trees, or small wood.

There was wide geographical coverage, with Laide and Aultbea Community Woodland in Ross-shire winning the Small Community Woodland Group Award.

Craigmillar Castle Park in Edinburgh, which won the Large Community Woodland Group prize, was praised by judges for its community engagement programme, run by Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust.

In the Farm Woodland Awards, the Young People’s Award went to James and Nikki Yoxall from Howemill, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire, while the overall Farm Woodland Award went to Wendy Seel and Anne Taylor at North Tillydaff, Midmar, Aberdeenshire. Runners-up in the category were spread widely, from Skye to Stirling and Peterhead.

The New Commercial Woodland award (part of the Quality Timber Awards) went to the 560-ha Larriston Forest scheme near Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders. In total, the planting used 1.3 million trees and incorporated 80,000 broadleaves and 127 ha of vegetatively propagated Sitka spruce. The property is managed by Tilhill's Central Borders team. 

David Edwards, Tilhill’s forestry director, said of the win: “I am absolutely delighted that Tilhill has once again been announced as winners at the Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.

"I am extremely proud of the hard work and effort that has been put into both the winning properties on behalf of our clients. Congratulations to everyone involved and in particular, Andrew Fisher as Larriston’s forest manager.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the schools and early years prizes for Pitlochry High School and Perth Outdoor Playgroup. She said: “I’m delighted to be able to support these fantastic Awards again, and to see young people in Scotland, from nursery through to secondary school, engaging with trees and nature in such a positive way. 


“In the year that COP26 comes to Scotland, it’s important that our schools and early years settings continue to encourage young people to enjoy and value our woodlands. By learning about woodlands, taking part in activities, and sometimes also by planting new trees and protecting our woodlands, our young people are creating a greener, better future for Scotland. Congratulations to all the awards winners and everyone involved in celebrating the very best woodlands in Scotland.”

Angela Douglas, executive director of Scotland’s Finest Woods, commented: “The high standard and number of entries in the Schools Award made it hard for judges to separate schools and early years settings. As a result the Outdoor & Woodland Learning Scotland team at Scottish Forestry agreed to provide an early years trophy – a beautiful carved wooden acorn reflecting the saying ‘From little acorns mighty oaks grow’ – and prize money.”

The number and quality of entries for the 2021 awards was very strong overall, Angela Douglas added.

Forestry Journal: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced one of the awards First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced one of the awards

“The strength of the awards depends on maintaining very high standards and recognising entries that truly deserve the title ‘finest woods’. I’m delighted we have been able to bounce back with such a high-quality programme – and I would especially like to thank our 23 volunteer judges who put in so much work in difficult circumstances to ensure the quality standard was maintained.”

The Climate Change Champion Award was selected from entrants to other categories who specified that they would also like to be considered for the prize. They had to show that their woodland had contributed to mitigating climate change, adapted to the changing climate or raised awareness about the issue.

“We had a strong winner and two strong highly commended entries in this new category, which is so important for any forest or woodland – and us all,” Angela Douglas added.


Winner: Andrew & Lynne Sinclair, Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill, Straiton, Ayrshire;
Highly Commended: Borders Forest Trust, Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire;
Highly Commended: Aylsa Leslie, Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

Winner: Wendy Seel & Anne Taylor, North Tillydaff, Midmar, Aberdeenshire;
Highly Commended: Elaine Booth & Peter Robertson, Ednie Farms, St Fergus, near Peterhead;
Commended: Walter & Margaret Dalgleish, Parks of Garden, Arnprior, near Stirling;
Commended: Phil Knott, Wildlife Croft Skye, Sleat, Isle of Skye.

Winner: James & Nikki Yoxall, Howemill, Huntly, Aberdeenshire.


Winner: Craigmillar Castle Park, Edinburgh (Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust); 
Commended: Tiroran Community Forest, Isle of Mull, Argyll (South West Mull & Iona Development).

Winner: Laide & Aultbea Community Woodland, Laide, Ross-shire 
Highly Commended: Camusnagaul & Achaphubuil, Near Ardgour, Highland (Treslaig & Achaphubuil Crofters Woodland Trust);
Commended: Hannahston Community Woodland, Drongan, East Ayrshire (Friends of Hannahston Woods & East Ayrshire Woodlands) and
Lochend Woods, Dunbar, East Lothian (Dunbar Community Woodland Group).

Winner: Anders Holch Povlsen, Killiehuntly Woodland, Cairngorms;
Highly Commended: Eriboll Estate, Loch Hope Woodlands, Eriboll Estate, North West Sutherland;
Highly Commended: Forestry and Land Scotland (Central Region team), Balgownie Woods, West Fife;
Highly Commended: Borders Forest Trust, Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire
Commended: Torwoodlee & Buckholm Estates Co. Ltd., Halkburn Woodland, Torwoodlee Estate, Galashiels, Scottish Borders;
Commended: Hector MacLean, New Spott Wood, near Kirriemuir, Angus.


Winner: Mrs J C Hands, Larriston Forest, Newcastleton, Scottish Borders; 
Highly Commended: James Jones & Sons Ltd., Tillyrie, Milnathort, Perth & Kinross;

Winner: Aylsa Leslie, Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire
Highly Commended: William Urquhart for Craigston Castle, Turriff, Aberdeenshire.

Winner: Andrew & Lynne Sinclair, Balbeg Estate, Straiton, Ayrshire

Winner: Pitlochry High School, Perthshire
Runner-up: Robert Douglas Memorial School, Scone, Perthshire

Winner: Perth Outdoor Playgroup, Perth
Runner-up: Middlefield Nursery, Aberdeen