DUNVEGAN Castle & Gardens on the Isle of Skye has been awarded a £1 million grant for an 'ambitious' native woodland creation scheme.

After over a year and a half in development, the MacLeod Estate’s new native woodland creation scheme has been awarded the grant from the Scottish Government and EU. The project is being overseen by Scottish Woodlands, which will plant the scheme on the estate’s behalf by the end of 2021.

This native woodland creation scheme is the first phase of the MacLeod Estate’s evolving rewilding strategy which Hugh MacLeod, Estate director, has been working on for the last few years. This first phase will focus on transforming the marginal land of Dunvegan’s former home farm, Totachocaire, into a 240-ha native woodland area that will be treble the size of the existing contiguous woodlands around Dunvegan Castle & Gardens.

A total of 372,000 trees will be planted with different species mixtures to suit the land’s terrain and ecology. As one of the largest native woodland projects on the Isle of Skye, this will bring the total number of native trees planted on the MacLeod Estate since 2010 to 432,000.

Hugh MacLeod, Estate director, said: “In a difficult year of persistent bad news, I am thrilled that the MacLeod Estate has been awarded this grant for one of the largest and most ambitious native woodland creation projects on the Isle of Skye.

“I had the idea over ten years ago, when I decided to stop farming at the estate’s Totachocaire Farm which is not only two marginal land, but was also loss making for almost every year of its operation since it was revived by my late father in the 1970s.

“This is the first phase of our nascent rewilding plans and once the woodlands are established, this will create an extensive and biodiverse habitat to support a number of native species.”

John Laing, chair of Dunvegan & District Community Council, said: “The Community Council welcome the MacLeod Estate’s ambitious plans to improve and enhance the Dunvegan Castle amenity woodlands. We are all aware of the many benefits that woodlands bring to our wellbeing and increasingly to our environment and wildlife.

“The new woodland will, in time, be a tremendous asset for Dunvegan and for Skye. It will bring pleasure and enjoyment for locals and visitors for generations to come.”

Sarah-Jane Laing, CEO of Scottish Land & Estates, commented: “This scheme is testament to Hugh’s vision, drive and ongoing commitment to an environmentally and economically sustainable future, not only for the estate but for Skye and indeed the whole of Scotland. SLE members such as the MacLeod Estate, continue to be at the forefront of innovative and progressive land management, making a huge contribution to Scottish prosperity and wellbeing.”

John Risby, Scottish Forestry’s Highland & Islands conservator, added: “We were pleased to be able to approve this important woodland creation scheme which will contribute to the Scottish Government’s tree planting targets. Planting of 239 ha will be predominantly of native broadleaves which will greatly expand the existing native woodland habitats in this beautiful part of the world.

“Scottish Forestry has awarded £1 million for the scheme which will be planted over the coming year, starting this winter. It was a sensitive application in terms of landscape, heritage and bird species. Detailed surveys were undertaken by Scottish Woodlands, the Estate’s agent, and we worked with them to ensure all potential impacts were properly mitigated and the benefits of the new woodland maximised.”

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