Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust is making a “significant contribution” in the fight against climate change in the Outer Hebrides, according to Scottish Natural Heritage.
This is partly because 100,000 trees are on course to have been planted throughout the Outer Hebrides by 2020 under its Croft Woodlands Project. This number of trees will have been achieved in four years for an investment of around £280,000, compared with the £10million that has been set aside by the Westminster government to encourage the planting of 130,000 trees around England’s towns and cities.
The Western Isles project was describing as “inspiring” by new SNH Chief Executive Francesca Osowska during a recent visit to the Isle of Lewis, which she described as a “brilliant” experience.
Francesca was accompanied on her visit by David Maclennan, SNH’s Area Manager for Argyll and Outer Hebrides, and they met with wind farm developer Calum MacDonald, one of the architects of the Croft Woodlands Project, and Project Officer Viv Halcrow, who has been advising island crofters on how best to plant trees and how to access grant support.
The theme of Francesca and David’s visit was around climate change. David, who is also chair of the newly-formed Climate Change Group in the Outer Hebrides, said they had been looking at a range of issues from Vatersay to Lewis. The issues included coastal erosion, drainage, dune management, peatland restoration and woodland creation.
Due to the role woodlands play, David said they were “pleased to have the opportunity to meet Viv and Calum to hear about the Croft Woodland Project”.
He said: “It was inspiring to hear about the level of interest to date throughout the Outer Hebrides and the number of projects that have been supported from the Butt to Barra. Small areas of woodland on good ground are exactly what we need to see in the Outer Hebrides – they will, over time, have a positive landscape impact, and by using largely native trees there will be benefits for biodiversity. With over 100,000 trees expected to be planted by 2020, that’s a significant contribution – and there is clearly potential to do a lot more.
“As well as the landscape and biodiversity benefits, these new trees will also help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and contribute to our collective efforts to respond to the climate challenge. We’re now looking forward to further engagement with the Croft Woodland Project, and considering what role we can play in supporting the project going forwards.”
David added: “We can’t be certain about how our climate is going to change, but we know it is already happening, and we can expect a combination of more extreme weather events, rising sea levels – so we need to think about how we can adapt to those changes.
"Climate Change is one of the biggest global threats to nature, but a nature-rich future can be one of our best assets in our response to Climate Change – and this is especially true in the Outer Hebrides.
“Our dune systems and offshore kelp beds are vital for protecting the machair – so we need to think about how best to manage and protect them, so they protect us.
“We have vast areas of peatland in the Outer Hebrides. They are a huge store of carbon, and actively absorb carbon from the atmosphere. In some areas they are degraded, and would benefit from restoration – making them even more valuable to us in our response to Climate Change.”
The Western Isles Croft Woodland Project was set up by Point and Sandwick Trust in 2016 in partnership with the Woodland Trust. It was a five-year project and in May this year both parties made a commitment to extend the project – which also involves Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation – for a further five years due to its huge popularity and success.
At the time the second phase was announced, 103 schemes had been planted across the Outer Hebrides, comprising 17 Forestry Grant Schemes, 67 MOREwoods schemes and 19 school and community packs. The schemes range in size from 0.1 hectare to 3ha.
More than 50 villages across five islands – Lewis, Harris, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist – have taken advantage of the opportunity and the project is on course for planting 100,000 trees in four years.
Local versions of the project exist in all the crofting counties but Point and Sandwick Trust is thought to be leading the way in its early commitment to funding a second phase of the project in the Western Isles and earmarking a budget for it of £400,000 over five years.
Calum MacDonald, the former Western Isles MP who piloted the first Crofter Forestry Act through Parliament in the 1990s, is delighted the new wave of crofter forestry is proving so successful.
He said: “This shows that community wind farms are in the vanguard of the fight against climate change. Not only has Beinn Ghrideag funded the planting of 100,000 trees and more through the Croft Woodland Western Isles Project but we also followed best practice in terms of peat restoration during the construction phase of the wind farm in order to minimise the peat disturbance and the amount of carbon it released. This method was so successful, in fact, that research by Lews Castle College at Beinn Ghrideag showed it had a carbon payback time of just 47 days – a drastic reduction on the previous estimate for wind farms of 2.3 years.”