AFTER over a year and a half in development, the MacLeod Estate’s new native woodland creation scheme has been awarded a £1million grant from the Scottish Government and EU. The project is being overseen by Scottish Woodlands Ltd, who will plant the scheme on the estate’s behalf by the end of 2021.

This native woodland creation scheme is the first phase of the MacLeod Estate’s evolving rewilding strategy which Hugh MacLeod, estate director, has been working on for the last few years. It is one of the most ambitious projects of its kind on the Isle of Skye, with this first phase focusing on transforming the marginal land of Dunvegan’s former home farm, Totachocaire, into a 240 hectare native woodland area that will be treble the size of the existing contiguous woodlands around Dunvegan Castle & Gardens.

A total of 372,000 trees will be planted with different species mixtures to suit the land’s terrain and ecology. The carbon offset is estimated to exceed 40,000 tons over a 65-year period. This is in addition to the 60,000 native trees planted by the estate in 2010, to replace a monoculture coniferous plantation dating back to the post-war years, with further rewilding and peatbog restoration plans in development.

As one of the largest native woodland projects on the Isle of Skye, this will bring the total number of native trees planted on the MacLeod Estate since 2010 to 432,000.

Mr MacLeod, said: “In a difficult year of persistent bad news, I am thrilled that the MacLeod Estate has been awarded this grant for one of the largest and most ambitious native woodland creation projects on the Isle of Skye. I had the idea over ten years ago, when I decided to stop farming at the estate’s Totachocaire Farm which is not only two marginal land, but was also loss making for almost every year of its operation since it was revived by my late father in the 1970s. This is the first phase of our nascent rewilding plans and once the woodlands are established, this will create an extensive and biodiverse habitat to support a number of native species.”

Ben Goldsmith, an environmentalist and CEO of Menhaden, a London-listed investment firm which focuses on energy and resource efficiency, backed his sentiments, saying: “Politicians, communities and landowners across Britain are coming to the realisation that restoring the terribly depleted natural fabric of our landscapes offers a pathway for ecological, economic and social renewal. Hugh MacLeod’s ground-breaking nature restoration project at the historic Dunvegan Castle on Skye is one of the most exciting rewilding stories in Britain today.”

John Risby, Scottish Forestry’s Highland & Islands Conservator added: “We were pleased to be able to approve this important woodland creation scheme which will contribute to the Scottish Government’s tree planting targets. Planting of 239ha will be predominantly of native broadleaves which will greatly expand the existing native woodland habitats in this beautiful part of the world. Scottish Forestry has awarded £1 million for the scheme which will be planted over the coming year, starting this winter. It was a sensitive application in terms of landscape, heritage and bird species. Detailed surveys were undertaken by Scottish Woodlands, the Estate’s agent, and we worked with them to ensure all potential impacts were properly mitigated and the benefits of the new woodland maximised.”