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Rowling back the years

December 2003

How is the creator of Harry Potter helping to conjure up the ancient Dark Forests of Scotland?

Rowling back the years

J.K. Rowling has donated £200,000 to a community led bid to acquire 1,100 acres of Scottish Highlands. The community aims to restore the Caledonian Forest once dominant on the land (The Times, December 1 2003).

The land in question was until recently the Glengoulandie deer park, and put on the market in 2001. It was described by a spokeswoman of the Highland Perthshire Communities Land Trust as being 'overgrazed' and 'overbrowsed'. With the land purchased in May 2002, the Trust was able to start developing it as a community resource. This has included removal of the sheep, wild goats and deer introduced on the land. Already golden eagles, osprey and hen harriers have returned there.

The forest

The Caledonian forest once covered large areas of Scotland. However, by 1947 forest accounted for only 7% of the land area. The huge reduction would have occurred from about the 15th Century, a trend seen across much of the UK, with increasing demand for land for sheep and cattle. In Scotland, the 18th Century saw timber used for the Royal Navy and in building construction. The forests were characterized by the presence of native species, notably Scots Pine on northern slopes, Birch on southern slopes, with Oak occurring in the 'better' soils. In 1959, 26,800 acres of original forest remained, and today Caledonian forest accounts for only 0.14% of Scottish forest. The intention to restore the Glengoulandie estate will give a significant boost to the amount of forest.

The Challenge

Part of the problem of regenerating the forest is getting the native trees to grow. Introduced species (of Conifer) tend to grow faster than the Scots Pine, thus blocking its light and hindering growth. The method adopted by the Scottish Forestry Commission has been to clear foreign species from around native ones, allowing seed falls to produce saplings that are unimpeded. 'Exotic' saplings need to be removed to avoid those invading the cleared areas. In Glengoulandie, removal of grazing animals formerly eating saplings is encouraging growth of native trees. Current debate within this project is focussing on whether forest regeneration should be 'natural' or if selective tree planting should occur.

Local Project

One interesting point about this project is that it is community led and driven. The failure of an application for financial assistance to the Scottish Land Trust, mean that the project has had to rely on finance and physical support from within the community. From summer 2002 a volunteer survey has been recording flora and fauna and planning the future woodland management. This includes planning for visitors including issues such as access and car parking. The inflow of tourists to the new forest could benefit the local community, as well as supporting the upkeep and restoration of the forest. Initial input from the community should be sustainable over the long-term.

One of the theories of 'sustainable development' on a local scale is the involvement of the communities who live there. This is an ideal example illustrating the challenges involved. However, without the involvement of Ms Rowling - described as "our very own wizard" by a community representative - it is questionable whether or not the land would have been purchased at all. Do all communities have such a person within them to support local projects?

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