Reforesting Scotland

Restoring the great Caledonian Forest

Project information
  • Trees planted: 17,100
  • Predicted CO2 sequestration: 4,275 tonnes
  • Categories: reforestation
  • Status: In Progress

This reforesting Scotland project aims to restore a diversity of woodland types to Scotland, prioritising the pinewood and riparian woodland habitats. Scots pine and downy birch saplings, alongside a diversity of food-producing broadleaf trees, such as hazel and bird cherry, are being planted across the valley bottoms and hillsides, while alders, downy birch, willows and other important riparian tree species are being planted alongside degraded riverbanks.


Project Timeline

October 2019

Our project is launched to restore the Caledonian woodlands with the planting of 3,000 trees.

March 2020

An additional 3,000 native trees are planted to restore the Caledonian pinewood.

September 2020

To compliment the reforestation activities, two eagle nest platforms are built in the ancient pinewoods to support the breeding of golden and white-tailed eagles.

Spring 2021

We planted an extra 6,505 native trees, including 505 aspen, to restore the pinewood and riparian habitats.

Autumn 2021

We planted another batch of trees, including a large batch of aspen trees, to restore riparian woodland habitat.

The Ecosystem

Tree species

We plant Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), downy birch (Betula pubescens), juniper (Juniperus communis), hazel (Corylus avellana), holly (Ilex aquifolium), European crab apple (Malus sylvestris), common hawthorn (Cratageus monogyna), alder (Alnus glutinosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), eared willow (Salix aurita), grey willow (Salix cinerea), goat willow (Salix caprea) and aspen (Populus tremula).

Priority species

Twinflower (Linnea borealis), black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Scottish crossbill (Loxia scotica), pine marten (Martes martes) and Atlantic salmon (Salmon salar) are all present in the area.

An elder sapling held against a backdrop of heather. Elder is one of a diversity of species we plant in the Scottish Highlands.
Elder is one of a diversity of species we plant in the Scottish Highlands.

An Ancient Wilderness

Reversing centuries of ecological damage

Historically, much of the Scottish Highlands were covered in a forest of majestic Scots pine and colourful broadleaf trees, home to a diversity of plants and animals. Today, the landscape is largely devoid of these unique woodlands and many of the species that once thrived here have been lost. Our aim is to undo some of this damage and restore the empty glens and rewild the Scottish Highlands to rich, biodiverse, wild woodlands.

A red squirrel perches on a birch tree against a sunrise backdrop in the Scottish Highlands.
Red squirrels are one of the species that will benefit from more, better quality woodland habitat

Unique pinewoods

What makes the pinewood ecosystem special?

The Scottish pinewoods are a globally unique habitat due to the absence of any other conifer tree, other than Scots pine, within the woodland. These woodlands support some of the UK’s rarest plant and animal species like the beautiful and delicate twinflower, the elusive wildcat and the impressive capercaillie. Restoring native woodlands in all their beautiful complexity will help return Scotland to wilder, richer state that a variety of species, including humans, can enjoy.

The understory of a Scottish pinewood and a glimpse of what the great Caledonian forest would have looked like.
Scottish pinewoods are a globally unique habitat

Waterside woodlands

What makes the riparian woodland ecosystem special?

Riparian woodlands are rare in Scotland, with much of Scotland's riverbanks devoid of trees. These woodlands are important for stabilising the riverbanks, preventing soil erosion and reducing flooding. They also improve the health of the river by adding nutrients to the water in the form of leaf litter and invertebrates and creating shelter and shade for wildlife. This is vitally important for Scotland's fish species, particularly salmon and brown trout, which are threatened by the rising water temperatures brought on by climate change.

A young green aspen sapling stands out amongst the grass with a mature aspen tree and river in the background

The Threats

Climate change

At the end of the last Ice Age, much of the Scottish Highlands were covered in woodland, mainly composed of Scots pine and birch. Around 4,000 years ago, the climate began to change. The natural tree line lowered, peat bogs expanded and woodland cover began to decline.

Deforestation

At around the same time, humans began to significantly change the landscape around them. Trees were felled to make room for crops and graze livestock, to harvest timber and fuelwood. By the 1700s, the great Caledonian Forest was reduced to small, isolated pockets of the Highlands. Much of the wildlife that thrived here, like lynx, bears and wolves, were lost.

Overgrazing

In the 18th and 19th century, when much of the landscape had already been cleared of forests, estate owners began to clear the land of people. Known as the Highland Clearances, local people were forcibly evicted from their homes, entire villages were cleared, to make way for sheep grazing. Today, a combination of sheep farming, unsustainable numbers of deer and intensive land management for sporting purposes is restricting the ability of native woodlands to regenerate on their own. Reforestation with native species is therefore vital to restore this unique habitat.

A stag stands against a backdrop of autumnal hills in the Scottish Highlands.
High densities of deer in the Scottish Highlands are preventing woodlands from regenerating by browsing young saplings

Our Wider Rewilding Aims

To compliment our reforestation efforts and work towards our wider ambitions of building a more resilient natural world in Scotland, we have supported the following rewilding interventions: monitoring of Atlantic salmon, restoring aspen trees, surveying freshwater pearl mussels, monitoring wildlife and a montane scrub survey at Alladale Wilderness Reserve, and the construction of eagle nest platforms.

Heart Image

the team behind the project

Team Member

Hannah Kirkland, Conservation Biologist at Mossy Earth

Team Member

Innes MacNeill, Reserve Manager at Alladale Wilderness Reserve

Team Member

Planting Team at Alexander Forestry

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. This is the potential CO2 sequestered in above ground biomass in the Scottish Highlands over a period of 100 years - Trees for LifeExternal link
  2. Rewilding–a new paradigm for nature conservation in Scotland? - Taylor & Francis OnlineExternal linkIcon Peer Review