The foresters who came to manage Affric from the 1950s onwards inherited a place that still had scraps of Caledonian Forest, but they were in poor condition.
Back in the 1920s, those foresters might well have set about planting as many rows of fast-growing, non-native trees like Sitka spruce as they could. But forestry was changing. There wasn’t such a pressure to grow timber quickly, and many people were beginning to realise the value of the forest that survived in Glen Affric.
Finlay Macrae, one of Affric’s first Forest Managers, had been inspired as a student by French and German forests: large woodlands with trees over 300 years old, and plenty of young seedlings growing beneath them.
Supported by his senior managers, Finlay started planting new native trees in Affric.
They were grown from seed collected in the glen, and he remembers telling his former teacher, Professor Stevens, that he chose trees with straight trunks from which to collect the seed. "But he told me not to be so choosy!". A more random mix of growth shapes would keep a better range of genetic diversity.
About 8 million trees
Finlay reckons his teams planted about eight million trees, and he took a very open approach to what actually grew: "When the regeneration started, it wasn’t just pine but birch, rowan and aspen too. I accepted anything that came in as part of the natural sequence of events".
That radical approach continued and grew with other foresters. Malcolm Wield was involved with the glen from 1993 until to 2006: "Finlay had established a good relationship with the stalkers, encouraging them to shoot more deer in the area of fenced off pine reserve. But I don’t think we realised just how hard we were going have to control the deer if the trees were to thrive".
Malcolm oversaw a programme of removing fencing inside the forest and tighter deer control, combined with cutting down non-native species that had been planted not long before.
"It looked messy in the short term, and we got some bad press. But now we’ve got robust woodlands with good regeneration – and they’ll take higher populations of deer. The reward for the whole programme was the recognition of Glen Affric as a National Nature Reserve."