There have been 413 inquiries into tree planting through the project, since it was set up in 2016, with 73 of them from Point and Sandwick townships – making 18 per cent of the interest.
The rate of interest has been revealed by the Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project following the news the project is on course to have planted 100,000 trees across the Outer Hebrides by 2020.
Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust support the Western Isles Croft Woodland Project to the tune of around £70,000 a year, making it one of their flagship projects, and announced earlier this year that it would be extended for a second five-year phase due to its success.
SNH Chief Executive Francesca Osowska has hailed the Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project as “incredibly inspirational in terms of its reach into crofts across the Outer Hebrides, the number of trees planted, the practical support that is being offered to crofters” and the “drive and enthusiasm” of Project Officer Viv Halcrow.
Francesca added: “I was really impressed by the commitment of Point and Sandwick Trust to using wind turbine revenue to support the local community.”
Geographically, although Croft Woodlands schemes have been planted throughout the islands, Point and Sandwick districts have had the greatest concentration of them.
Eleven croft planting schemes have been planted so far. Another two are scheduled for this winter and more are in development.
Five free tree packs, supplied by Woodland Trust, have been given out and planted around football pitches – one pack around the Sandwick pitch on East Street and four packs around Point FC’s pitch in Garrabost – to give screening and shelter.
Free tree packs can contain between 30 and 420 trees and most people have been choosing packs of 420 trees.
Viv Halcrow, Western Isles Croft Woodlands Project Officer, said: “There has been a huge amount of interest in tree planting in Point and Sandwick. Of course, people are also planting trees without help from the project.
“With the continuation of the Croft Woodlands Project I hope to be able to help many more people to plant areas of trees on the croft, develop schemes suitable for common grazings, and help community groups with Free Tree packs.”
Viv said there had been a planting scheme “in most of the townships” in Point and Sandwick, with particularly good engagement in Garrabost, Lower Bayble, Aird, Aignish, East Street and North Street – and more than one scheme in several of these villages.
Viv believes Point and Sandwick Trust’s strong public engagement is part of the reason the Croft Woodlands project has been so successful in the Point and Sandwick Trust area.
However, she noted that people had been keen for more trees to be planted before the project was established and these views had emerged in the Trust’s original community consultation about how people wanted to spend the profits from the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm.
She also believes there is a knock-on effect as more and more people see others planting trees.
“As people see trees being planted on their neighbour’s croft they think ‘ooh, I could do that’,” she said. “Maybe word is getting around and when the original community consultation was done the idea of having a lot more woodland – native woodland particularly – came out very strongly. People are looking to diversify their crofts but it’s the Point and Sandwick Trust involvement locally that’s brought it to people’s attention and to people’s minds.”
Viv is delighted the scheme is being extended and said people with influence “sat up and took notice” when Point and Sandwick Trust announced the second phase at the Croft Woodland conference in May.
“It’s a fantastic commitment on the Trust’s part and it has encouraged other partners that support the Croft Woodlands project in the rest of the crofting counties to come on board and commit to the next five years.”
The project was set up by Point and Sandwick Trust in partnership with the Woodland Trust and also involves Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation.
Viv said: “I think it’s been really popular and seems to be working in helping people do something they’ve maybe been wanting to do for quite a while.”
The key is being able to provide “advice, practical help and access to grant schemes”, said Viv.