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Moray-based conservation charity Trees for Life awarded cash for 'wee trees' project

By Lorna Thompson

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A MORAY-BASED conservation charity has been awarded government cash to re-establish native mountain trees in the north.

Trees for Life, based in Findhorn, is running a project in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to establish new seed sources for rare mountaintop trees in Glen Affric. It has received £125,538 from the Scottish Government's Biodiversity Challenge Fund to further its West Affric Woodland Habitat Expansion.

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

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

Trees for Life has been awarded the cash to plant montane trees and strengthen their fragile foothold.

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life chief executive, 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."

Working in partnership with NTS, the charity will plant clusters of the trees within deer-proof enclosures to secure a seed source for the future. These will provide a habitat for species such as golden eagle, ring ouzel and mountain hare.

Western Glen Affric. Picture: Sarah Kent.
Western Glen Affric. Picture: Sarah Kent.

Willie Fraser, NTS property manager for 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 project is one of 16 across Scotland announced for 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."

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