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The Croft Woodland project in the Western Isles, set up by community wind farm Point and Sandwick Trust as one of its legacy projects, has passed the 100,000 trees mark.

Despite the wind farm’s sudden loss of income in October, due to the break in the subsea power cable, the project has been able to continue due to additional emergency support from project partners Woodland Trust and Scottish Forestry.

Woodland Trust agreed to fund the project for a year, until Point and Sandwick Trust got back on its feet, and Scottish Forestry recently committed an additional £30,000 to further secure it.

These two significant commitments meant the project has been able to continue throughout this planting season – with trees going into the ground right across the island chain and the project passing its target of planting 100,000 trees in five years. 

The project, set up in 2016, would have passed this milestone in the 2019/20 season but the Covid pandemic meant a number of people had decided to put their plans on hold.

But 42,915 will have been planted this season, taking the total number planted under the project so far to 134,340.

As well as the financial support from Woodland Trust and Scottish Forestry to keeping the project running, money for many of the trees themselves came from Lloyds Banking Group this year, through its funding of the MOREwoods planting schemes and community tree packs.

That all means the project is now secure for 18 months, by which time the trans-Minch cable crisis should be resolved and the community wind farm be generating electricity and money for good causes once again. 

Croft Woodland project officer Viv Halcrow welcomed the fact that tree planting had been kept on track throughout the 2020/21 season, thanks to the input from the project partners. Since the project was launched, Viv has been assisting islanders to make funding applications to grant schemes and then providing the practical help in terms of selecting trees and how to plant and look after them.

Across the Western Isles this planting season, seven community packs have been delivered – one to Aird in Point, one to Arnol, one to Carloway, and the others to Uist: Berneray, Kilmuir, Balivanich and Daliburgh. A total of 21 MOREwoods planting schemes have gone ahead. Thirteen of these are in Lewis, four in Harris, two in Uist and two in Barra. The total of 42,915 trees planted this season includes Forestry Grant Schemes as well as MOREwoods and packs.

Former Western Isles MP Calum MacDonald piloted the first Crofter Forestry Act through the UK Parliament in the 1990s before turning community wind farm developer and creating Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, said: “To break through the 100,000 is fantastic, and to power on to over 130,000 native trees planted is a great tribute to the work of Viv Halcrow, our forestry officer, as well as all the individual crofters and their families who have done the hard graft of planting these trees on their crofts.

“This will be one of our most important legacy projects. Croft by croft, village by village, island by island, year by year, this will enhance the landscape and wildlife of the Outer Hebrides for the better. It will green the townships, increase biodiversity, and provide beautiful wood, berries and birdlife for future generations.”

One couple who appreciated the support of the project are Mary Ann and John Joe MacIntyre, who planted 1,685 on their croft in Loch Eynort, South Uist. 

The trees arrived in October and – following ground preparation and the installation of a deer fence – planting began straight away, with Viv giving advice, including where best to put the trees.

Mary Ann said: “Viv was really good at helping. If I needed help for anything, I would email her or send her a message.” In addition, she said the information from the Woodland Trust was “spot on” and “not over-complicated”, which was useful for the relative beginners. 

“I’d never planted a tree in my life. I’ve done gardening but I’m a ‘plant it and hope for the best’ kind of gardener. This is all new to us. Everything is a learning curve just now but it will get there.”

Mary Ann and John Joe planted a mix of trees, including alder, aspen, goat willow, birch, beech, hazel, elder, oak and hawthorn.

And although it took time, both in terms of the planting and the mulching to keep the weeds down, Mary Ann said it was “a great thing to do, if you’ve got the land to do it”.

She added that it was “great to see” the buds and green leaves appearing. 

“It’s looking the part and it feels fantastic, knowing that we’ve put something into the ground that in 40 or 60 years’ time is still going to be here for the next generation to see.

“You can see it already – and, wow, what a difference.”

Pictures of Croft Woodland tree planting in Loch Eynort, courtesy of Mary Ann MacIntyre