A LANDSCAPE scale restoration project that will see an old conifer forest transformed into a modern, ‘mosaic’ forest, starts in earnest this month.

Located in a part of West Sutherland renowned for its mountainous landscapes made up of the oldest rocks in Europe, Forestry and Land Scotland’s (FLS) scheme will restore blanket bog and plant new native woodland, as well as new, mixed species and productive forestry.

Boosting biodiversity is a key aim of the 67 square kilometre project that stretches from Ledmore to Oykel Bridge. It will restore important habitats for species of all kinds.

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Neil McInnes, FLS planning forester – Caithness and Sutherland, said: “Over the period of this plan we will begin land management restructuring on a landscape scale to change from 1970s and 80s style, conifer forest to a modern, biodiverse forest in an area of huge importance for tourism, wildlife and water protection.

“Areas of native woodland that have been felled will be replanted. Entirely new native woodlands will be created and native riparian woodlands will be allowed to establish on the banks of the burns, rivers and lochs.

“The River Oykel Special Area of Conservation lies at the heart of the project and many of Scotland’s iconic native species can be found here including Atlantic salmon, Golden and White Tailed eagles, osprey and otters.Over time, natural regeneration in the Einig Caledonian Forest will tilt more heavily towards native woodland of pine, birch, aspen and rowan." 

FLS also expects that by the end of 2032, it will have harvested mature conifer forests and altered the hydrology of the area to enhance the habitat needed by wading birds such as plover and dunlin.

Alongside this, FLS will plant the next rotation of smaller scale, mixed species, productive compartments of conifers, planted in a ‘mosaic’ of tree species which helps to make forests more resilient to damage from storms and diseases and implement its deer management plan.

Neil added: “The vision is that in ten years’ time, much of the diseased and windblown forest of non-native conifers will have been removed and the first stage of restoring some 1,400 ha of blanket bog will have been completed.”