Dunvegan castle & gardens secures £1 million grant for ambitious native woodland creation scheme

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Sky

DUNVEGAN Castle & Gardens awarded a £1 million grant from the Scottish Government and EU for an ambitious native woodland creation scheme at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.

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. This is a modest start, but our sincere hope is that this will encourage others to take on rewilding initiatives to restore Skye’s unnatural ‘wet desert’ landscape which is a legacy of centuries of depredation caused by over grazing. In common with other Highland areas, some aspects of Skye’s current lunarscape appearance may be beautiful, but it is not natural. The extensive peatbog on the island is clear evidence of ancient and extensive woodlands. This project aims to restore this piece of marginal land and we hope that it will have a positive ripple effect on the local community beyond the obvious ecological benefits, creating more jobs in sustainable ecotourism and more rewilding initiatives to help combat climate change.

Hugh MacLeod, Estate Director, 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, said: “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 Laing, Chair of Dunvegan & District Community Council, said: “The Community Council welcome the MacLeod Estate’s ambitious plans to improve and enhance the Dunvegan Castle amenity woodlands. We are all aware of the many benefits that woodlands bring to our wellbeing and increasingly to our environment and wildlife. The new woodland will, in time, be a tremendous asset for Dunvegan and for Skye. It will bring pleasure and enjoyment for locals and visitors for generations to come.”

Sarah-Jane Laing, CEO of Scottish Land & Estates, commented: “This scheme is testament to Hugh’s vision, drive and ongoing commitment to an environmentally and economically sustainable future, not only for the estate but for Skye and indeed the whole of Scotland. SLE members such as the MacLeod Estate, continue to be at the forefront of innovative and progressive land management, making a huge contribution to Scottish prosperity and wellbeing.”

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.”

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