The Trust carries out a range of activities to ensure that the woodland areas across the peninsula are properly managed. This includes tree planting, controlling the spread of imported species and the promotion of native species. In 1995 the North Applecross Woodlands Company (NAWC) was established as a partnership between the Trust and some of the crofting townships. It has gone on to establish 900 hectares of native woodland plantations at a cost of almost £2.4 million, and remains the largest single crofter initiative of its type ever undertaken in the country.
Forest management covers a wide range of habitats from gnarly old native woods to majestic, but aging, formal policy woods around Applecross House, and upland conifer plantations. In the last 10 years, new enclosures have been created to restore native woodlands, with some conifers felled to improve the landscape and environment.
Current work is focused on several areas:
- Managing the old Policy trees at Applecross house and its driveways. The original trees, dating back to the mid-19th century, are becoming increasingly fragile in old age and need to be safely maintained for public access, while new formal tree planting is carried out to replace them.
- Felling the 45-year old conifer plantations, which have started to blow down in the extreme climate of the Atlantic coast. Some plantations create difficult working conditions requiring innovative felling solutions.
- Planting new native woodlands that link into the existing tree cover, providing new habitats for a range of plants, public access and shelter for deer and other wildlife.
- Managing the threat of forest diseases arising from climate change, population mobility and imported plants & timber.
Rhododendrons at Applecross were introduced during the 18th and 19th centuries from the Iberian Peninsula, to add exotic foliage and colour to the grounds of Applecross House, becoming part of the Estate’s wider, distinctive plant collections. The plants would have given the owners of the time much pleasure, but their success in the mild, wet climate of the west coast has been rampant and they are now very difficult to control. Over time, they have spread themselves from the garden over a distance of up to 3 miles, and can now be found in about 2.5 square miles around Applecross house.
Whilst not unattractive plants, rhododendrons shade and suppress native trees and vegetation, reducing the amount of habitat available to other plants and animals. Natural ecosystems and cycles are then destroyed to leave a much less diverse environment than what had been there before.
The programme of eradicating rhododendrons at Applecross has been active for over a decade and is expected to continue for a further decade, due to the widespread and tenacious nature of the plant.
New Tree Planting
In recent years, new tree planting at Applecross has fulfilled two objectives:
- Replacing the distinctive but aging policy woodlands
- Linking into the established native woodlands through a programme of larger scale planting of native species
Many of the policy woodlands date back over 200 years, and include a variety of distinctive native and exotic species that show an amazing array of colour, size, shapes and textures.
Many of these trees are approaching the end of their natural lives. A programme of regular monitoring and scheduled replacement involves trees being selected, planted and protected to ensure that the distinctive feel of the environment is maintained.
Native woodlands provide an important habitat for many plants and animals, through a complex network of interconnected relationships. Gradual woodland loss, taking place over time, has had an adverse impact on the animals and plants associated with them, as well as the soils under their roots and the air that passes through them.
A programme of new planting and regeneration is aimed at restoring the landscape, including the conversion of conifer plantations to native woodland.
The Applecross woodlands are of diverse origin, some originating from an ancient forest that covered the area in past millennia. The native broadleaved species include silver & pubescent birch, sessile oak, hazel, holly, wych elm, ash and various willows. Scots pine and juniper are native conifers that would have grown on the slopes of hills and mountains, reaching higher elevations in sheltered valleys. These local trees can only be sustained by natural regeneration from the semi-natural remnants that survive in the sheltered straths and tributaries within “Applecross Forest.”
Coastal exposure reduces tree cover to the south and north of Applecross village; the hazelwoods around Milltown are the most westerly example of their type and there are other small, semi-natural areas – birchwoods at Loch Toscaig, Uags and Arigh-drishaig, and an ancient wood in the sheltered valley southeast of Culduie.
To the north, the sheltered south west shore of Loch Torridon has remnants in the vicinity of Kenmore, Ardheslaig and Inverbain. These have been protected within the deer fence, associated with the larger North Applecross native woodland planting scheme established in 2000.