VOLUNTEERS are being sought by an environmental organisation to help protect trees from new developments.
Woodland Trust Scotland is recruiting “tree threat detectors” to spot planning applications which will harm or destroy ancient trees and woodland.
It cites a recent case in an Inverness neighbourhood where residents became aware that a row of mature oaks were threatened with the axe to make way for the city’s new east link road.
George Anderson, the charity’s communication officer, said the trust had 12 volunteer threat detectors in Scotland but wanted to add a further 10.
Most were based in the central belt and although it wanted to hear from people in any part of the country, the charity was particularly keen to find tree champions for Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire and the Borders.
“Wherever ancient woods and trees are under threat, we step up to defend them,” he said. “
“We are very efficient at mobilising once we know about a threat – but we need help to spot them first.
“It is no good if we only hear about a damaging proposal after councillors have voted to approve it.
“The trust needs people around the country to be our eyes and ears on the ground.”
He said two recent cases at opposite ends of the country highlighted the importance of alert tree champions.
He referred to the case where 17 trees, thought to be 100-years-old, were at risk under plans to widen Caulfield Road North in Cradlehall as part of the A9 to A96 east link project in Inverness.
Mr Anderson said it was only when a local resident spotted the detail in planning papers and began protesting that Woodland Trust Scotland was alerted to the threat.
Transport Scotland agreed to modify its plans to save most of the trees, following a vigorous campaign by local people backed by the trust.
The other case involved a planning application to establish a poultry unit at Begbie Wood in East Lothian.
It was turned down by councillors after the charity mobilised its supporters in the area.
“We have to make sure we are not missing proposals like this until it is too late,” Mr Anderson said.
“That is why we want to nearly double our network of threat detectors who can monitor council planning applications.
“Then, where a threat is identified they can help us gather evidence and motivate others in the area to speak out.
“Volunteer threat detectors will be at the forefront of protecting our dwindling ancient woodlands from further losses.
“ It is very satisfying work and training will be given.”
Mr Anderson said that in Scotland, woods that had been under tree cover since 1750 were regarded as ancient.
It was impossible to replace them by planting new areas with trees because they had developed soils, plant and animal communities over centuries.
The Highlands were home to significant ancient pine woodlands and rare Atlantic oakwoods, in particular.
“We are not against development, but once these woodlands are gone they are gone,” he said.
“We want to make sure their importance is always taken into account in the planning process.”
The Woodland Trust cares for and manages 80 woods in Scotland covering 8500 hectares stretching from Stranraer in the south and up to Sutherland in the north.
Anyone wanting to be a tree threat detector can find further details of what it involves and how to apply on the charity’s website at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.