ACCESS could soon be provided again to Aberdeenshire woodlands amid a major operation to clean-up the Storm Arwen-damaged forests.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) chiefs hope to reopen the carpark at the Bennachie Visitor Centre by Friday, January 21, on a temporary basis, giving locals and tourists alike use of its trails and hill, until a permanent solution is found. 

With the effects of Storm Arwen - which sent winds of up to 100 mph across the UK in late November 2021 - expected to last months, if not years, it could be some time before FLS' woodlands return to 'normal'. Forestry teams up and down the country are working to clear windblown trees and salvage any useable timber. 

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

Justin Livesey, FLS’ regional visitor services manager, said: “We know how popular Bennachie is with visitors and local residents and understand that the lack of access must be frustrating.

“However, the job of clearing up the damage is not a simple one and needs to be handled with care. Windblown trees can twist, roll, pivot and fall at the least disturbance, which presents obvious challenges when we are trying to cut away and remove the downed trees.

Forestry Journal: Storm Arwen damaged trees across the country Storm Arwen damaged trees across the country

“We are tackling the job in such a way as to first of all restore access for visitors but there will still be a number of unsafe trees around the carpark and by the trails that will need to be cleared at a later date.

“Anyone visiting the Centre once the carpark is re-opened must avoid the windblown trees and obey all safety signage.”

The condition of some of the remaining trees around the centre and the trails might also require that FLS close the carpark at short notice in the event of further strong winds from the North.

READ MORE: Storm Arwen: FLS ramps up tree planting programme

Jackie Cumberbirch, chair of Bailies of Bennachie, said: “The Bailies of Bennachie, and many visitors to the hill,  are very glad and grateful to see that FLS is now starting to clear some of the trails and some of the car parks on Bennachie after a six week wait.  

“We appreciate the patience of many member and non-members during these exceptional times.”

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.