A NATIVE tree planting project in the Western Isles is proving to be a continuing hit with crofters, who have planted more than 171,000 trees in the last seven years.

The Croft Woodlands Western Isles Project is a partnership between Point and Sandwick Trust, Woodland Trust Scotland, Scottish Forestry, and the Scottish Crofting Federation, and works with crofters to plant native woodland on their crofts. Planting native trees such as rowan, alder and birch on crofts offers many benefits for the future including shelter, wildlife habitat, soil improvements and landscape diversity.

The success of the project disproves the notion that trees can’t grow in the Outer Hebrides. Woodland croft adviser Viv Halcrow said: “We’ve seen for ourselves that trees will grow on Lewis, Harris, Barra, Benbecula and the Uists very successfully when the right species are planted in the right place.

“Our role in this project is to advise crofters on where and what to plant and to guide them through the process for available grants. Between myself and croft adviser Robin Reid, we’ve handled 750 enquiries regarding planting on crofts since 2016.”

Plantings have been backed by Scottish Forestry grants and the Woodland Trust MOREwoods schemes which the croft woodland advisers work to deliver, helping crofters through each stage from ground preparation to maintaining the trees as they grow. A recent visit from representatives from Scottish Forestry and Woodland Trust Scotland gave Halcrow and Reid the opportunity to show first-hand some of the planting schemes that have been successful in Lewis.

Point and Sandwick Trust also accompanied the group on a two-day trip which included visits to woodlands planted in Siadar and Ranish, both of which were undertaken as part of the Forestry Grant Schemes.

Both plantings showed how well the trees are establishing under the care and regular maintenance of the crofters.

The visitors also went to the two tree nurseries now operating in Lewis – Stark’s Ark, based in Leurbost, which is in its fifth year and has scaled up production to grow up to 50,000 native trees from seed each year; and the Hebridean Tree Ark at Horshader, a conservation project focused on collecting seed from remnant woodlands and producing trees of local provenance for croft planting.

Halcrow said: “Both nurseries are part of this exciting move towards protecting and restoring native woodland to the Western Isles and the crofters we are working with are seeing a 75-80% tree establishment rate. This is beyond the expectations we had when the project began in 2016 and testament to the careful attention being given to the trees.”

The 2023-24 planting season, which continues until April is set to see the planting of many more locally grown trees by crofters, helping to bring Western Isles native woodland back from the brink.