Hebridean Ark Tree Project

Objective of the Project

Horshader Community Development, a charitable trust whose objectives and aspirations have the environment and the communities wishes foremost on their agenda, have created a new project called the Hebridean Ark Tree Project.

The project aims to reverse the decline of the Hebridean forests which exist in scattered areas throughout the Western Isles. In some cases one individual tree is all that remains of an original wooded area and they are confined to cliffs and small islands on freshwater lochs.

During the bronze age the Western Isles were covered in trees, however, between volcanic eruptions on Heckla-Iceland at the end of this period resulting in the cooling of the climate, followed by intensive crop growing by early settlers, tree clearances and burning by the Vikings, tree cover declined dramatically. Intensive grazing by sheep, cattle and deer in recent times also made regeneration next to impossible resulting in the original forest reduced to a tiny fragment of what it once was.

The project would ensure a continuation of local genetic stock that eventually will grow in numbers and preserve trees that are uniquely adapted to extreme conditions, sea salt and wind tolerant, ensuring that the Western Isles can in turn repopulate their tree population.

The project involves seed collecting and taking cuttings from these rare Hebridean trees, the seeds and cuttings will be grown and nurtured in two polytunnels, as well as an outdoor growing area beside Horshader Community Development’s offices, in Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis.

One tunnel will also be allocated as a teaching tunnel in order to work with the local school and the community to educate them in the propagating and growing of endangered tree species and highlight the importance of conservation work for the long-term health and biodiversity of species and the environment. This will in turn encourage knowledge and skills sharing to the next generation in order to ensure longevity of the project and the future of the Hebridean Trees. The project will also offer volunteering for members of the community for additional learning and to reduce social isolation in the area.

The main objectives of the project include:

  • Preservation of rare Hebridean Trees;

  • Conservation of our local environment;

  • Creation / education of shelter belts for the local community;

  • Opportunities for the local community to reduce social isolation;

  • Improving natural habitats for wildlife;

  • To restore a balance in the natural environment;

  • Educate school children and the community in the importance of our environment and its trees.

This project will greatly benefit the Western Isles with the aim of having a large number of locally grown trees ready for planting out by 2020 and continue for as long as it takes to readdress the decline of our native trees. We plan to eventually plant a sheltered wood that can be used as a source of seeds and cuttings for future generations and ensure the long-term survival of these rare trees.

Details of Work Already Done

Research and field work has already been carried out in order to gain a better understanding of the project and what it involves. The Hebridean Tree Ark Project have registered as a tree nursery with the Forestry Commission and our project officer has been seed collecting and gathering cuttings, identifying key sites and areas of concern for the project.

What Problem is the Project Intending to Resolve?

The project intends to resolve and reverse the decline of Hebridean woodland and highlight the importance of conservation and the environment in the Western Isles.

The trees must be saved due to the genetic adaptions as the Hebridean trees have evolved to being uniquely suited to a extreme and hostile environment and better suited to reforesting the Western Isles. This will also address the problem of reduced species biodiversity by rewilding areas, increasing wildlife and flora and fauna.

The project aims to be committed to seed collecting and cuttings and to continue to encourage rewilding of areas that were previously forested in the past. With the aid of a tree nursery growing young trees on the island, for the islands, with the help of volunteers and the local school, it would ensure the propagation of suitable island trees from what what is left of the original forest.

A major problem experienced on the islands with the loss of tree cover is the poor soil quality and erosion leaving shallow skinned ground, peat and rock. Planting new trees would help combat this issue by enriching the land and landscape. Pioneer species like Birch, Rowan, and the rare Aspen being planted throughout the island will in a few years transform these sites to be species rich and have a dramatic and positive impact on species diversity including mammals and birds as well as an abundance of insects and life forms and reinforce genetically depleted populations of trees in the wild.

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