Wind farm to plant 100,000 trees in Outer Hebrides
A community wind farm company in Lewis claims it is putting Westminster to shame – by planting 100,000 trees at a fraction of the cost.
In May, the UK government announced a £10 million fund aimed at planting 130,000 trees across England's towns and cities.
But Point and Sandwick Trust says the 100,000 trees it will have planted in the Outer Hebrides by 2020 have cost just £280,000.
Its Croft Woodlands Project, which launched in 2016, was described as "inspiring" by SNH chief executive Francesca Osowska during a recent visit to the Isle of Lewis.
She was accompanied on her visit by David Maclennan, SNH’s area manager for Argyll and Outer Hebrides, and they met with wind farm developer Calum MacDonald, one of the architects of the Croft Woodlands Project, and project officer Viv Halcrow, who has been advising island crofters on how best to plant trees and how to access grant support.
The theme of Francesca and David’s visit was around climate change. David, who is also chair of the newly-formed Climate Change Group in the Outer Hebrides, said they had been looking at a range of issues from Vatersay to Lewis.
The issues included coastal erosion, drainage, dune management, peatland restoration and woodland creation.
Mr Maclennan said: “It was inspiring to hear about the level of interest to date throughout the Outer Hebrides and the number of projects that have been supported from the Butt to Barra. Small areas of woodland on good ground are exactly what we need to see in the Outer Hebrides – they will, over time, have a positive landscape impact, and by using largely native trees there will be benefits for biodiversity.
“With over 100,000 trees expected to be planted by 2020, that’s a significant contribution – and there is clearly potential to do a lot more.
“As well as the landscape and biodiversity benefits, these new trees will also help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and contribute to our collective efforts to respond to the climate challenge. We’re now looking forward to further engagement with the Croft Woodland Project, and considering what role we can play in supporting the project going forwards.”
The Western Isles Croft Woodland Project was set up by Point and Sandwick Trust in 2016 in partnership with the Woodland Trust. It was a five-year project and in May this year both parties made a commitment to extend the project – which also involves Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation – for a further five years.
At the time the second phase was announced, 103 schemes had been planted across the Outer Hebrides, comprising 17 Forestry Grant Schemes, 67 MOREwoods schemes and 19 school and community packs. The schemes range in size from 0.1 hectare to 3ha.
More than 50 villages across five islands – Lewis, Harris, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist – have taken advantage of the opportunity and the project is on course for planting 100,000 trees in four years.
As Point and Sandwick Trust funds the project to the tune of around £70,000 a year, it means these trees will have cost just £280,000 – compared with the Urban Tree Challenge Fund announced earlier this year by the Westminster Government, which is providing £10 million to encourage the planting of around 130,000 trees across England’s towns and cities.
The Croft Woodland Project is aimed at getting more trees planted on croft land and offers free advice and support and also help with making grant applications.
Local versions of the project exist in all the crofting counties but Point and Sandwick Trust is thought to be leading the way in its early commitment to funding a second phase of the project in the Western Isles and earmarking a budget for it of £400,000 over five years.
Calum MacDonald, the former Western Isles MP who piloted the first Crofter Forestry Act through Parliament in the 1990s before turning community wind farm developer and creating Point and Sandwick Trust’s award-winning Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, is delighted the new wave of crofter forestry is proving so successful.
He said: “This shows that community wind farms are in the vanguard of the fight against climate change. Not only has Beinn Ghrideag funded the planting of 100,000 trees and more through the Croft Woodland Western Isles Project but we also followed best practice in terms of peat restoration during the construction phase of the wind farm in order to minimise the peat disturbance and the amount of carbon it released.
“This method was so successful, in fact, that research by Lews Castle College at Beinn Ghrideag showed it had a carbon payback time of just 47 days – a drastic reduction on the previous estimate for wind farms of 2.3 years.”