We have a threefold strategy for the return of the forest.
The first part of our strategy is to facilitate the natural regeneration of the trees, by fencing the deer out of areas on the periphery of the existing remnants, so that seedlings can grow naturally to maturity again, without being over-grazed. This is the simplest and best method of regenerating the forest, as it involves the minimum of intervention and allows nature to do most of the work. This is one of the basic principles of ecological restoration. However, this only works for locations where there is an existing seed source nearby, which is not the case in the treeless expanses which make up most of the Highlands today.
The second part of our strategy comes into effect in these situations, and it involves planting native trees in barren areas where the forest has disappeared completely. To do this, we collect seed from the nearest surviving trees, to maintain the local genetic variation in the forest.
The resulting seedlings are then planted in a random, non-linear pattern inside fenced exclosures, replicating the natural distribution of the trees. We are working with all of the native trees from the forest, and are paying particular attention to the pioneer species, such as birch, rowan and aspen, as they have an important role to play in the succession of the forest as it gets re-established.
The third part of our strategy involves the removal of non-native trees, which in some areas have been planted as a commercial crop amongst the old trees of the Caledonian Forest remnants, thereby preventing their regeneration.
Combining these three strategies, our intention is to re-establish areas, or 'islands', of healthy young forest scattered throughout the barren, deforested glens. As these new trees reach seed-bearing age they will form the nuclei for an expanded natural regeneration in the surrounding area. While the trees in these `islands' are growing, it will be important to reduce the numbers of deer, so that the forest restoration process can become self-sustaining, without the need for further fences.
View the Trees For Life target area for forest restoration.