REWILDING charity Trees For Life has announced the establishment of a 700-acre mountaintop woodland of 100,000 trees at its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness.

Carn na Caorach, meaning ‘sheep cairn’, lies at 450-600 metres above sea level on Dundreggan’s northeastern edge. It is thought to have been an important place for grazing livestock for hundreds of years – which, according to the charity, is what has stripped the site, and indeed much of Scotland's mountain landscape, of the once-common, tough, waist-high ‘wee trees’ such as dwarf birch and downy willow.

Known as ‘montane’ species because they can grow near mountain summits, despite the harsh conditions, conservationists believe that the reestablishment of such high forests will benefit both native wildlife and the wider environment.

“Montane woodlands are a vital part of Scotland’s precious Caledonian Forest, but are often restored over only small areas if at all," said Trees for Life’s Dundreggan manager, Doug Gilbert. "To bring these special ‘wee trees’ back from the brink, and create habitats for the wildlife that depends on them, we need something bigger – and that’s what we’re setting out to achieve at Carn na Caorach,”

As a start, the charity has erected its largest-ever exclosure – a fence designed to protect young trees by keeping grazing animals out – at the site, supported by funding from the Scottish Natural Heritage Biodiversity Challenge Fund. Volunteers will begin the first phase of planting next spring – with trees including downy willow and dwarf birch on the higher ground, and Scots pine and juniper on the lower slopes. Further planting will continue over the next few years.

Because such high woodlands take longer to establish than those in sheltered locations, the project is long-term. It will take 50 to 100 years before the forest is fully established.