Tree planting scheme was on the brink of collapse

A tree planting scheme being run throughout the Outer Hebrides has been saved from the brink of collapse following the break in the power cable between Lewis and Harris and the mainland.

By John A. MacInnes
Sunday, 22nd November 2020, 12:16 pm
Had the Woodland Trust not stepped in, there was doubt over the future of the project.
Had the Woodland Trust not stepped in, there was doubt over the future of the project.

Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust set up the Outer Hebrides Croft Woodlands Project in 2016, in partnership with the Woodland Trust and others, but has been left without any income for up to 18 months as it cannot export its power due to the cable failure.

The disaster forced the wind farm organisation to suspend its programme of grants to good causes, including the Outer Hebrides Croft Woodlands Project.

But the Woodlands Trust has now stepped into the breach, agreeing to fund the project for a year to allow the work to continue.

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The move keeps Croft Woodlands Project Officer Viv Halcrow in post, secures the plantation of around 50,000 trees in croft land throughout the Hebrides in the 2020/21 planting season, and enables the momentum of this ‘legacy’ project to continue.

Calum Macdonald, development manager for the community wind farm, said: “This is fantastic news and we are very grateful to the Woodland Trust for stepping into the breach and allowing the momentum of this scheme to be continued.

“It’s a great example of partnership working and we are determined to continue leaving a legacy for the islands and future generations.”

Eleanor Garty, Outreach Manager for the Woodland Trust, said they hoped that the decision to fund the project for one year would provide “one small ray of light in a gloomy situation”.

She explained: “The reason the Woodland Trust stepped in is that it’s a fantastic project but really because Point and Sandwick Trust has led the way with the project.

“They’ve been a key part of making it happen, both with their funding and their enthusiasm for it, and Viv’s work has just been tremendous and is producing great results.

“From our point of view, we didn’t want that to fold. We wanted to build on all the work that has been done so far.

“When you get impetus going with a project, it develops its own momentum and if you stop then it takes longer to pick things up again.

“Point and Sandwick Trust has really led the way and through no fault of their own there’s this hiccup and it behoves us to step up to the plate and carry it for the time being.”

Project Officer Viv, who works out of the Point and Sandwick Trust office in the Old Knock School said she was “vastly relieved” by the Woodland Trust’s intervention.

Since the project was launched in March 2016, Viv has been assisting islanders to make funding applications to grant schemes – the Scottish Rural Development Programme’s Forestry Grant scheme and the Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods scheme – and then providing the practical help in terms of selecting trees and how to plant and look after them.

The numbers of trees being planted every year has steadily increased, with a total of 40,990 planted in the first two years (16/17 and 17/18) and 32,030 last year (the 19/20 season).

At the end of last season the total number of trees planted was 91,425, slightly short of the 100,000 target by 2020 due to the impacts of lockdown, particularly the closure of nurseries.

However, that milestone will be passed soon, with a projected 142,245 trees in the ground under the project by 2021.

Viv said the cable failure had been “devastating” and said the Woodland Trust’s action “shows the benefit of partnership working.”

Had the project folded, the MOREwoods schemes would definitely not have proceeded this year, at a loss of 10,000 trees, nor would the eight free packs for schools and communities.

In addition, two new island nurseries – Stark’s Ark in Leurbost, and Hebridean Trees in Manish, – would have been impacted by the drop in demand for local trees for the project and there are fears they would have struggled to sell their stock.

Viv said: “This will be the fifth planting season. It’s a very positive project, and it would have been sad if it had folded.”