THE "most challenging" phase of a long-running steep-felling programme near Loch Ness will begin next week. 

Large conifers - up to 50 metres-tall - will be removed from the A82 hillside on a slope that is 80 to 90 per cent sheer in places, posing significant challenges for forestry officials. 

Lasting until June and carried out by specialist contractor Duffy Skylining, the work has previously been delayed due to bad weather in recent months. 

Ian Allsop, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) planning manager, said: “This is without question the most challenging phase of the work that we have undertaken.

“Harvesting is generally a hazardous business. Factor-in bad weather and it becomes trickier still. But add to that some incredibly steep ground and you are faced with a job that needs to be done slowly, with exceptional attention to detail and by people who are absolutely at the top of their game.

“Safety precautions are always in place and of the highest standard no matter where on the hillside we have been working.

“This continues to hold true for the work our team will be doing over the next few months. However, the only thing that will affect rod-users will be the ongoing traffic management, which is a key element of our safety measures.”

The latest phase of forestry operations – again between Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston – is the first time this year that FLS and Duffy Skylining will have carried out felling work on site.

Delays to the programme have arisen because of bad weather, safety inspections and work to stabilise the hillside.

The felling will clear the mature conifer from the steep hillside to make way for the establishment of native woodland. The 100 year-old conifers need to be felled because they are at increasing risk of windblow and are of such a size – 50m tall and weighing 10-12 tonnes – that they could cause significant damage to infrastructure were they to be blown over in a storm.