Pictured (above): Glen Affric // Featured Image Credit: Grant Willoughby
In the middle of March 2020, while the rest of us were wondering if we had enough black beans or whether the neck gaiter we used for snowboarding would work at the local Co-op, Doug Gilbert was in the Scottish Highlands, with a more pressing concern. He had 100,000 saplings that he needed to get in the ground quickly or risk losing the lot.
“Nature wasn’t in lockdown… We stayed in isolation growing forest for the future”
This wasn’t just any old tree planting mission, identikit rows of the same fast-growing species to tick off a target. These young trees were a mix of diverse native woodland species, including Scots pine, rowan, juniper, hazel, holly and oak, as well as rare mountain types such as dwarf birch and woolly willow. Saplings that Doug and his team on the Dundreggan Estate, where he is operations manager for Trees for Life, had been nurturing carefully for years.
Just sourcing the seeds in the first place is a lot of work. The goal is to use species that once thrived here, so they spend a lot of time in autumn collecting berries and seeds to grow in their tree nursery. One mission, for a seed called rock whitebeam, involved a boat expedition to the east side of Loch Ness and a lot of scrambling, and perhaps even monster dodging, to retrieve it. They also had other rare trees including Aspen, which were germinating and in need of constant care for future tree planting seasons.