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Woodland Trust, Director for Scotland, Alastair Seaman visited a number of planted woodland schemes in the Western Isles last week. 

The visit, which was co-ordinated by Project Advisers, Viv Halcrow and Robin Reid of the Croft Woodland Project, gave the opportunity to showcase schemes planted in the last five years in both Uist and Lewis.

The Croft Woodland Project is a partnership between Point and Sandwick Trust and the Woodland Trust and focuses on planting trees of native species on croft land across the Western Isles.

By the end of April 2022, more than 163,000 trees will have been planted in the Western Isles through the Croft Woodland Project. The work is aided by Project Advisers Viv and Robin who offer practical advice, help with grant applications and ongoing support for islanders interested in the project.

In this, his first visit to the Western Isles since his appointment in August 2021, Alastair was able to see the progress made with planting schemes on several crofts, meeting with crofters who have taken advantage of the support offered under the project to plant on their land.

He also visited a potential planting site in Lewis which is set to significantly increase an area of remnant native woodland, and Stark’s Ark tree nursery which was set up in Leurbost, Lewis in 2019 to help meet demand for hardy trees.

With a family croft on Skye, Alastair is well aware of the impact of weather conditions on planting in the islands but visiting the projects first-hand has highlighted some of the specific challenges in establishing trees on the edge of the Atlantic. To ensure the trees establish and grow, it is important to plant the right species in the right locations, and this is where the Croft Woodland Project Advisers’ input is really useful.

Trees planted on crofts are supporting wildlife such as bees and other insects which help in pollination, and birds which target pests of crops, and importantly they shelter buildings and livestock. Trees also improve soil fertility, giving better forage earlier in the year which in turn benefits sheep and other livestock.  Additionally, where sheep have access to the shelter provided by trees, there has been an increase in lambing rates and a reduction in the incidence of certain diseases.

Viv Halcrow said of the visit, ‘It was really good to have Alastair visiting the Western Isles. We visited six crofts and chatted with crofters, so he got a good impression of the challenges involved but also how delighted people are with their young, developing woods. It was also really good to fit in a tour of the newly-established and expanding tree nursery Stark’s Ark. Obviously a source of hardy local planting stock is fundamental to the success of this project, and Alastair was impressed by the level of commitment to this. We hope Alastair will visit again – preferably in summer when the weather is better and the trees are in leaf!’

Alastair Seaman said: “I very much enjoyed seeing all the work that is going on. I heard from many crofters who said they wanted to increase tree cover. There is a growing recognition that trees belong in this landscape and there is growing enthusiasm for restoring them.  We greatly appreciate the vital support and enthusiasm there has been from Point and Sandwick Trust in pursuing this important work.”

Point and Sandwick Trust Board members met with Alastair to discuss the project and its long-term impact for the islands during his visit. 

General Manager Donald John MacSween commented, "Point and Sandwick Trust were pleased to welcome Alastair to the Western Isles and show him areas of native tree planting undertaken over the last five years. 

"The Western Isles native tree planting is a key project for our Board and they have recently committed to maintaining support for the next five years, building on the success of the first five years which resulted in over 150,000 native tree species planted throughout the islands, despite the difficulties of the last two years. Demand from crofters for the project is still there and we will do our best to support that demand."