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Creating a 200-hectare wood

Louise Alexander explains the two-year process that culminated in approval for an upland planting scheme.

Scottish Government policies have significantly pushed forestry and in particular new woodland creation up the agenda through their climate change targets. 

Forestry Commission Scotland (FC) has an ambitious target to extend woodland cover in Scotland by an additional 100,000 hectares over the period 2012 - 2022. To facilitate this, 252 million has been made available for woodland creation projects, with 40 million in 2018/19.

In early 2016 a client contacted the Inverness team to assess the viability of planting his unimproved hill ground. He had previously hoped to put a wind farm on the area but planning consent was refused so he was looking at an alternative investment plan.

After discussions with the client it was decided the long-term vision of the estate should be to establish a diverse mixed woodland creating a sustainable local timber supply, strong habitat network linkages, improved public access and enhanced local landscape values. 

A desk-based assessment using the FC Climatic Site Suitability programme and Ecological Site Classication system, determined the site was suitable for a mixed commercial and native woodland. This was followed by a site survey to identify the soil and vegetation types.  A long history of management, including articial drainage and grazing by both deer and livestock, had resulted in relatively species-poor plant communities. The soils mainly consisted of peaty surface water gleys and upland brown earths. 

The survey results allowed us to split the scheme into two main areas: native Scots pine and birch woodland on the higher, poorer quality ground and a commercial mix of Scots pine and Norway spruce on the lower slopes. The lower ground's good existing road access made the case for commercial species stronger. In total more than 277 hectares of hill ground was to be fenced o, with 204 hectares of plantable ground. 

To improve public access and aid future extraction and management of the woodland, an application was submitted to Highland Council to create a hill road to allow both 4x4 and timber vehicle access.

Fully complying with the UK Forestry Standard and the FC grant conditions meant all site-specic constraints and features had to be surveyed. These included a local bird survey, an archaeological survey and a detailed soil and vegetation survey. These surveys identied the presence of a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a local black grouse population. 

An important aspect of the application process is stakeholder consultation. The FC has placed particular emphasis on this element of the application as it allows both the applicant and the FC to identify key factors that need to be considered and to take into account local interests.

Involving relevant stakeholders at an early stage can avoid unexpected issues arising during the formal consultation, when they can dramatically slow the approval process. 

The consultation list for this site included: Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish and Southern Energy, local community councils, Forest Enterprise, Highland Council and SGRPID. All consultees were invited to a site meeting in January 2017 to go over the proposals. 

The main issues identied were landscape t, impact on the local bird population, visual and hydrological impact of new hill tracks, archaeology and protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. 

To address these issues, a full landscape appraisal of the woodland, new fence lines and the hill road was carried out. The information gathered from the bird, archaeological, soil and vegetation surveys was used to redesign the woodland scheme. The planting areas were adjusted to create more open ground and reduce hard edges through the use of species like willow to encourage nesting birds. A 20-metre buer zone was formed to protect the Scheduled Ancient Monument. The soil and vegetation data meant a more in-depth Ecological Site Classication survey could be developed and this allowed for a wider variety of tree species to be selected. 

After these revisions the application was submitted to the FC for the nal formal consultation in November 2017 and approved the following month. The nal approval was for 203 hectares of woodland creation comprising 35 hectares of commercial woodland and 168 hectares of native Scots pine and birch woodland. The total value of the grant was more than 750,000, with a prot over six years of 146,000. 

Work on ground preparation, the hill road and fencing began in January, and the site is due to be planted in September 2018.