A PROJECT has been launched to save remnants of ancient Caledonian pinewood which is located on a World War Two commando training ground.

Felling and extraction of 70,000 tonnes of non-native timber has started at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest near Spean Bridge in Lochaber. The effort will free remaining native trees to take back the site in one of the biggest Caledonian pinewood restorations ever attempted.

Woodland Trust Scotland and local charity Arkaig Community Forest bought the 2500 acre site in 2016.

Site manager Henry Dobson said: “A huge amount of preparation has been required since then to allow us to start extracting timber. The bridge over the River Arkaig had to be strengthened and the access track into Glen Mallie upgraded to accommodate the vehicles removing the timber. Covid-19 delayed us by a year but we have finally reached what is a major turning point for the restoration of the site.”

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest has five of just 84 remaining fragments of ancient Caledonian pinewood in Scotland. Its ancient, wide-crowned “granny” pines were in danger of dying out without reproducing – squeezed out by non-native commercial conifers planted in the 1960s. A total of 70,000 tonnes of mainly Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine will be removed over the next five years to allow the remaining Scots pine and other native trees to repopulate the landscape.

The project is being partly funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. Laura Chow, the organisation’s head of charities, said: “I’m delighted that funding raised by our players is contributing to the comeback of the magnificent Caledonian pinewood and is helping to make sure these unique woodlands can have a thriving future.”

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest comprises two blocks off woodland – Glen Mallie which can be reached via the upgraded track, and The Gusach which is usually visited by boat. Woodland Trust Scotland plans to barge timber out over the loch from this more remote block starting in 2022.

Woodland Trust and Arkaig Community Forest bought the site in 2016 from Forest Enterprise Scotland under the National Forest Land Scheme.

Gary Servant of Arkaig Community Forest said: “It is great to see progress with harvesting the commercial timber on site and we look forward to seeing the benefits. We look forward to working together to ensure that Loch Arkaig Pine Forest continues to produce a regular and reliable supply of marketable timber.”

Ten tree seed collection volunteers have been recruited for a two-year pilot project to supply seeds for direct seeding, enrichment planting, and woodland creation in and around Loch Arkaig Pine Forest.