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Forestry - Balnagown Highland Estate Luxury Retreats

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Forestry

The total area given over to forestry across the three estates is 4,400 acres (1,780 ha) and this is broken down as follows:

Balnagown

  • Commercial conifer 114 acres (46ha)
  • Mixed broadleaf/conifer 148 acres (60ha)
  • Native conifer and broadleaf 370 acres (150ha)
  • Open ground 280 acres (114ha)
  • Policy woodland 45acres (18ha)

Invercassley and Duchally

  • Mixed broadleaves 153 acres (62ha)
  • Commercial conifer 227 acres (92ha)
  • Native conifer and broadleaf 2,300 acres (931ha)
  • Open ground 766 acres (310ha)

The majority of the woodland across the estates is native species with a predominance of Scots (or Caledonian) pine, which is the principle conifer species that originally colonised the Highlands following the retreat of the last ice age.
The woodlands across Invercassley and Duchally are the scattered remains of this native woodland which, when combined with native broadleaf species such as birch, rowan, alder, hazel, aspen and willow, originally covered much of the Highlands up to a height of 1500 feet. The only exception to this was the largely-treeless Flow Country which lies further north and east of both Invercassley and Duchally. However, centuries of over grazing by sheep and deer, coupled with poor management for fuel and other uses, has resulted in extensive areas of degraded habitat and drastically reduced the native woodland cover. This position is something that has motivated the owner and management of the estate to invest in major planting programmes and restoration projects.

As an example of this work, a large native pine wood was planted on Invercassley in 2000 and this has established well, creating an excellent habitat mosaic with native Scots pine and birch, together with open heath and species-rich grassland and heather. Most encouragingly, there are already indications that black grouse have recolonized this woodland area as a result of the right varied habitat.

Other areas of birch woodland on Invercassley estate are considered ancient and long-established. These woods are dominated by large mature trees, many of which are dying (though note that birch is a relatively short-lived broadleaf and rarely goes much past 100 years). There is currently little or no natural regeneration in these areas as a result of grazing pressure from sheep and deer. Rowan, willow and alder are also present in these woods, but overall the remnants have lost much of their diversity.

With the above in mind, new planting schemes are now being carried out and the remaining areas of woodland are to be fenced and allowed to naturally regenerate, or to be restocked with native species which will include aspen, hazel, holly and wych elm. The new schemes will total 3,500 acres (1,450ha) and will also include an element of commercial hardwoods – e.g. oak and ash. These schemes will enhance and enlarge the old remnants of native woodland that, for too long, have been allowed to deteriorate and decay.

An especially impressive Caledonian pine forest remnant along the southern boundary of Invercassley, on the banks of the River Oykel, is listed by the Forestry Commission on their Caledonian Pinewood Inventory of genetically viable native pinewoods, and includes some magnificent specimens – some estimated to be over 300 years old.

At Balnagown there are woods consisting largely of Scots pine, downy birch and other natives. There are several very large specimen beech, Douglas fir and oak trees growing along the banks of the Balnagown burn. In the late 1990s several small plantations were established to improve the habitat network in the policies of the Castle. The main species planted include ash, oak and wild cherry, as well as other hardwood species.

A new planting scheme is being undertaken in 2012/13 to enhance the existing woods at Balnagown and improve the biodiversity. The scheme amounts to 167 acres (67.5ha) and will make use of areas of poor quality grassland and agricultural land that has been unmanaged for a number of years.

As well as the new woodland establishment at Balnagown, a 20 year management scheme has been put in place to improve the existing woods, and the thinning produced will be sold for firewood and used to help heat the estate’s own properties.