STEEP ground felling of "over-mature" conifers is more important than ever in the wake of Storm Arwen to protect Scotland's timber industry and the wider community, authorities have said. 

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) chiefs have warned the damage and impact on forests could have been "significant" were measures not in place to mitigate winds of up to 100 mph, which blew down around 8 million trees in late November 2021. 

Pointing to ongoing work in the Great Glen - where 100 year old trees are waiting like dominoes for the wrong kind of push - FLS' North Region team say the planned extraction of the conifers is vital to limit the potentially serious interruption to traffic on the A82 and on local communities, businesses, the emergency services and on the rural economy.

Forestry Journal: Storm Arwen wreaked havoc across the country Storm Arwen wreaked havoc across the country

Keith Black, FLS regional steep ground Manager in the north, said: “The forests on the hillsides above the A82 alongside Loch Ness were planted nearly 100 years ago  and have reached a size where they are susceptible to windblow.

“That’s the main reason that we are engaged in this long-term programme to fell and extract the over-mature conifers in a planned manner and see them replaced by native woodlands that will, over time, increase the stability of  the hillside.

“It will make the landscape – including the A82 and the  infrastructure that runs alongside it – more resilient to the sorts of events, like Storm Arwen, that we may be seeing more of in the years to come.

“Our operations are carefully planned to the smallest detail and catch-fencing is in place at each site we work on to protect the roadway and utilities.

“However, while these protection measures work well and have been designed to very high tolerances, a storm of that ferocity could have resulted in damage to the road, power lines and fibre optic cabling that could have taken weeks, potentially even months, to resolve. The potential disruption to telecommunications, electricity supply and to traffic flows would have had far-reaching consequences.

“There would also have been a significant impact on habitats in and around the Loch, some of which carry special designations." 

Storm Arwen battered the east coast and south Scotland with winds of up to 100mph at the end of November, resulted in around eight million trees being blown over, families left without power for days and many popular forests closed for public safety reasons. Had the storm funnelled down the Great Glen, the damage to its forests could have been significant, with the potential for serious interruption of traffic on the A82, and major impacts on local communities, businesses, the emergency services and the rural economy.

READ MORE: Storm Arwen: Mairi McAllan warns Scotland's forests will take 'centuries' to recover

Keith added: “We’ve all seen the damage that was done by Storm Arwen across the east and south of Scotland and while we’re all grateful that it didn’t come our way, it has sharpened our focus on completing the job as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Early estimates suggest around 20 per cent of Scotland's annual timber harvest was blown down by Storm Arwen, which is less than the 100 per cent needed to instigate the Scottish Windblow Action Committee (SWAC). A new mapping system is among the tools being used to fully assess the damage.