One of the UK's largest woodland creation schemes in recent years will see 1.3 million trees being planted on a site above Menstrie, within the Ochil Hills on the border of Stirling, Clackmannanshire and Perthshire.
The main objective of the design is for quality timber production which has an added advantage of mitigating against climate change through carbon sequestration. Other benefits include: employment opportunities for local people; improved access to and interpretation of archaeological remains; flood risk attenuation; maintenance and expansion of public access and creation of a new amenity woodland for the benefit of Menstrie.
As a result of discussions with the Regional Archaeologist, the project will also fund research into the remains of 16th and 17th Century farmsteads within the property, through partnership with Stirling University. It is anticipated this will lead to a greater understanding of past agricultural practises and therefore improved interpretation of and access to the cultural heritage - potentially using the low impact of modern technology such as QR codes to facilitate quality interpretation.
Because of the number of issues to be addressed it took UPM Tilhill, acting on behalf of FIM and the landowner, around two years to secure permission for the proposed planting which included 19 different planting design iterations to try and accommodate the range of site sensitivities.
Following a wide-ranging consultation process before and after the production of a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment, the new planting scheme is being made possible through a Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) grant from Forestry Commission Scotland.
Over the next six months, 1.3 million trees involving 16 species will be planted, 30 per cent of which will be native or amenity species. Productive conifers include Douglas Fir, Norway spruce, Scots pine and Sitka spruce to provide high-quality timber. The trees will sequestrate 183,000 tonnes of CO2 in one rotation of the forest (40 years), equivalent to the emissions of 68 per cent of households in Menstrie - and therefore meeting the priorities of the Scottish Forestry Strategy.
The site will also help meet local and national demands for the supply of good-quality timber products for a wide range of markets and local end users, which are important employers.
Five full-time equivalent jobs will be created and up to 50 mainly local and experienced contractors will be employed to help with the ground cultivation, fencing, planting and maintenance. A community tree planting event, within the community woodland area above Menstrie, will also be held in the Easter holidays to promote the site to the local community.
Three UPM Tilhill managers and three supervisors will be in charge of the woodland establishment operation which includes building a new bridge and forest road and extending the existing tracks to create a network of 11km of forest tracks which will link Menstrie with Dunblane. The design scheme retains important public access routes for walkers and fell runners, as well as flight paths for the local paraglider club. Panoramic viewpoints of the Forth valley have been maintained as well as internal views of the historic farmsteads within the site and elsewhere in Menstrie Glen.
The plateau area and design of the upper edges of the new woodland is aimed at improving the habitat and prospects for Black Grouse, which have been in serious decline within the Ochils. Around 180 hectares will be left unplanted and managed with controlled seasonal grazing to allow vegetation recovery from long-term grazing impacts.
There were complex aspects of the application relating to managing the potential flood risk. Some 96kms of existing agricultural drainage ditches currently shed water from the site and, with woody debris from existing native riparian woodland, may have contributed to previous flood events in Menstrie. In the medium to longer term, establishing the woodland will naturally increase the porosity of the soils, reduce run-off and decrease the flood risk. Working closely with both SEPA and Clackmannanshire Council's flood management officer, unplanted buffer widths have been substantially increased above the minimum standard normally used and a special species mixture of low stature trees and shrubs is being used to prevent additional woody debris entering the watercourse channels. A bespoke diffuse pollution and surface water run-off control plan is in place to control flood risks that includes some of the most current thinking in this field of expertise.
A separate PhD study will assist with monitoring hydrological impacts and flood risk of the developing woodland. A separate study will measure carbon sequestration and the role of soil fungi in this process, as the woodland becomes established.
The site will ultimately be subject to UK Woodland Assurance Standard certification, generating an independent audit of the site, management plan and subsequent operations to ensure the woodland is managed sustainably. All of the work will be carried out to the highest industry standards including ISO 9001 (Quality), 18001 (Health and Safety) and14001 (Environmental).
UPM Tilhill's District Manager Andrew Vaughan explains: "The site and the proposed work were subject to intense scrutiny by a range of consultees who will retain an active interest in the establishment of the woodland. Full consideration has been given and accommodated where possible, in the woodland design, to the interests of both users of the site and the community downstream, while maintaining the owner's objectives to create a productive woodland."
FIM was established in 1979. Its principals have combined experience of over 70 years in originating, acquiring and managing both UK and international forestry investments. As the leading forestry investment manager in the UK, with sustainable assets in excess of £525 million under management, FIM is able to provide unrivalled opportunities in the UK forestry market for investors.
UPM Tilhill manages more than 200,000 hectares of forests in the UK, 18,000 of these from the Dunblane office. The professionally qualified staff have a track record of managing several similar woodland creation projects for Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust.