21 JUNE 2024

Extensive tree planting to help conserve endangered wild Atlantic salmon populations

  • 72,000 native trees – the first of up to a million that it is aimed will be planted – will help to regenerate the land as well as support a landscape, ecosystem-wide conservation project, benefitting wild Atlantic salmon populations

  • The planting will also help to restore a globally rare habitat, often described as Scotland’s temperate rainforest

Efforts to restore endangered wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout populations in the Highlands have been boosted after 72,000 native trees – the first of a planned million – were planted at Grosvenor’s Reay Forest Estate, Sutherland, helping to regenerate the land and support a landscape, ecosystem-wide conservation project.

The native trees, a diverse mix of species including aspen, birch, hawthorn, holly, oak and rowan, that were grown in the UK and sourced from local nurseries in Scotland, have been planted across 80 hectares of the estate.

The planted area has been restocked with native species to return it to a near natural state. The land is also part of three management units within Project Laxford, a 10-year partnership with conservation charity the Atlantic Salmon Trust, that aims to restore 118km2 of the landscape, planting up to a million trees, enhancing biodiversity and benefitting wild Atlantic salmon.

As part of the project, one of the largest fish telemetry systems in Scotland has been installed to enable the project team to monitor changes to the salmon population over time in response to habitat improvements. Project Laxford aims to be an exemplar in river catchment conservation, ensuring the knowledge gained can be shared benefiting wild salmon restoration efforts across the Northern Hemisphere.

The west coast of Scotland contains swathes of damp and dense woodland that is rich with lichens and mosses. This globally rare habitat is often described as Scotland’s temperate rainforest. Enhancing and restoring this ecosystem, particularly in the River Laxford catchment, will benefit wild Atlantic salmon populations by attracting the insects that the young salmon feed on, providing nutrients through leaf litter, help to stabilise riverbanks, shelter from fallen trees and branches and, importantly, shade to keep the water cool in the face of climate change, as well as benefitting biodiversity more widely.

Dan Amos, Lead Forester, Grosvenor’s Reay Forest Estate, said: 

“The land was planted with non-native species in the 1950s to be managed commercially, creating employment for former soldiers returning from the second World War. As part of our long-term stewardship of the estate, in the last decade this historic planting was cleared to enable the woodland to be restored and returned to native woodland species.

“By planting the trees in protective enclosures, it will reduce grazing pressure, accelerate the recovery of these vital riverside habitats and, in the years to come, help to provide the best possible conditions for salmon and sea trout to thrive.”

Chris Conroy, Technical Project Manager for Project Laxford, said: 

“It’s truly fantastic to see native trees going in at this scale. With wild Atlantic salmon now an endangered species in Britain, it’s vital that we take measures like this to boost biodiversity and build climate-resilience into the landscape so salmon can adapt to the future.’’

Paul Mannion

Public Relations and Communications Manager

+44 (0)1244 684400

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