Li and Coire Dhorrcail

Rewilding on the Knoydart peninsula is bringing back native forest, bird song and a host of other species

Li and Coire Dhorrcail
Trees such as oak, birch, hazel, juniper and Scots pine are thriving again on Knoydart. Photo by Susan Wright

The John Muir Trust bought 3,000 acres of land on the remote Knoydart peninsula 30 years ago. Knoydart had suffered the fate of so much of Scotland. This included deforestation, clearance of the human population in the 1850s, large scale sheep farming and heavy grazing by deer. In 1987, the land was bare for the most part, grazed to the bone first by sheep and then by high populations of deer.

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There was a lack of seed source because there were so few trees, so the Trust had to plant thousands of trees by hand. This included Scots pine, birch, juniper, hazel, rowan, ash and oak. They fenced off the trees initially for protection. But the ambition was always to create a naturally regenerating woodland where deer could interact with the habitat they need.

Today, the planted trees tower above head height. The wind, birds and animals have blown and scattered their seed, expanding the woodland cover. The Trust has been able to remove part of the fence to allow deer in. By keeping the deer numbers at a level the land can sustain, the trees are able to regenerate. Wildlife that’s been missing for decades is now returning. This includes pine marten, roe deer, bats, insects and a whole host of birds. It’s small scale but this is true rewilding in action.

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