Forest to Be Restored to Scottish Highlands

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Habitat for native species has already been aided by the addition of 75,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of woodlands over the past 15 years in Scotland. Biologists say the forest cover provides wildlife a habitat corridor to use for westward migration.

A Growing Trend

The Forestry Commission pledges to recreate another 75,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of Caledonian pinewood by 2005.

This year, a new Scottish forestry plan seeks to provide more incentives for private landowners to plant Scots pine and broadleaf trees over commercial, non-native species such as Sitka spruce. Unlike the current program, a higher rate of payment will go to landowners who create woodland of ecological and recreational value.

Baile Mor Forest represents a growing trend in Scotland. In 1503, the nation's woodland was utterly destroyed according to historical records. By 1900, woodlands covered just five percent of the country. Today the figure is 17 percent and rising. The target, say government planners, is 25 percent by 2050.

The success of these regeneration schemes isn't guaranteed, however. While human activity had a major impact in the Highlands throughout history, the Caledonian Forest's demise was hastened by climate change.

Climatic conditions like the "Little Ice Age," which occurred between 1320 and 1750, brought low summer temperatures, high rainfall, and ferocious winds to the Scottish Highlands. These conditions encouraged the formation of peaty moorland at the expense of trees.

But for now, at least, the new pinewoods are doing well. An earlier 2,500-acre (1,000-hectare) project on the Gairloch Estate is already bearing fruit after just five years.

This winter, young mountain ash trees are weighed down with scarlet berries while Scots pine saplings flourish alongside their ancestors' gnarled remains. John MacKenzie's ancestors might not believe their eyes as a ghost of the old forest springs back to life.

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