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Mountain tree project run by Trees for Life conservation charity at Glen Affric in the Highlands receives £125,000 for reintroduction work

By Gregor White

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Trees for Life are working to reintroduce important habitat to the the Glen Affric area. Picture: Sarah Kent
Trees for Life are working to reintroduce important habitat to the the Glen Affric area. Picture: Sarah Kent

A project to reintroduce important wildlife habitat in the Glen Affric area has received a Scottish Government grant for its work.

The Trees for Life project in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland aims to establish new seed sources for rare mountaintop trees in Glen Affric has received more than £125,000.

The conservation charity is working to reverse the loss of the tough, waist-high trees such as dwarf birch and downy willow, which were once widespread in Scotland but have now almost vanished following centuries of overgrazing by sheep and deer.

The specialised trees – known as ‘montane’ species because they can grow near mountain summits, despite harsh conditions – form wildlife-rich high-altitude forests found between lower-lying woodlands and mountaintop heaths.

Trees for Life’s West Affric Woodland Habitat Expansion project has now been awarded £125,538 from the Scottish Government's Biodiversity Challenge Fund to plant the montane trees, strengthening the existing but fragile foothold of these unique woodlands in the glen.

Trees for Life chief executive Steve Micklewright said: "With this funding from the Biodiversity Challenge Fund we can begin to ensure the return of these special ‘wee’ trees to their mountaintop homes in western Glen Affric.

“Now sadly missing from much of the Scottish Highlands, these precious high-altitude trees are a vital part of the Caledonian Forest.

"They provide a natural and biologically-rich link between glens, and offer a fantastic source of food, shade and shelter for wildlife.”

By working in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, Trees for Life will plant clusters of the trees within deer-proof enclosures to secure a seed source for the future, and provide a habitat for species such as golden eagle, ring ouzel and mountain hare.

Willie Fraser, National Trust for Scotland property manager, West Affric and Kintail, said: "We're delighted to be working in partnership with Trees for Life on this positive conservation project, because there's a real urgency to bringing these precious 'wee trees' back from the brink. They're sadly all too rare now, but they form a wonderful habitat on which a wide range of wildlife depends."

The new woodlands will also benefit people by helping to tackle climate change by locking away carbon dioxide, and reducing flooding by improving the soil’s capacity to retain water.

The Biodiversity Challenge Fund specifically encourages applicants with innovative projects that improve biodiversity and address the impacts of climate change, by increasing the resilience of most at-risk habitats and species and by creating large areas of brand-new habitat.

Trees for Life’s West Affric Woodland Habitat Expansion is one of 16 successful projects across Scotland announced in the second round of the £4 million Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

Scottish Natural Heritage chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “As lockdown conditions lift, green recovery projects like the Biodiversity Challenge Fund put nature and nature-based solutions at the heart of rebuilding our economy.But it’s not just about conservation – enriching our nature is also part of the solution to the climate emergency. People know that climate change is a big issue, but not as many know that biodiversity loss is also a global and generational threat to human wellbeing.

“Nature is at the heart of what we do, and we will continue to deliver the transformational change needed to bring a nature-rich, sustainable and more economically secure future for Scotland.”

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