Isle of Mull

A community forest association on the Isle of Mull has begun to extract value from a former Forestry Commission plantation and a nearby woodland hosts an ‘art in nature’ project which continues to inspire generations of island dwellers and visitors.

North West Mull Community Forest Association

About 6 years ago a small community in one of the most remote corners of the Isle of Mull took a bold step. After much local deliberation it decided to take over the management of a large area of former Forestry Commission plantation. With the support of the community council, about a dozen local people came together to form a steering group and after a few months of discussion, a charitable trust and company limited by guarantee was established. Funding, support and advice from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board was supplemented by a grant from the Scottish Land Fund.

The Forest Asssociation has quickly got down to work. In November 2012 it was well advanced with the harvesting of a substantial area – more than a third of the total area of 650ha – of sitka spruce, larch and lodgpole pine. Using contractors Tillhill Forestry, the wood is expected to go primarily for pulp but will also help supply the firewood needs of local people. This is a large operation and grants have been needed to construct temporary forest roads to enable the extraction of the timber.

At the heart of all this is a desire to revitalise the woodland so that it is more sensitive to the local area. A Forest Design Plan has been prepared to guide the replanting of the forest which will include more native species and open space. This will include a plan to reveal and promote understanding of a settlement abandoned in the eighteenth century which was almost totally obscured by the tree planting carried out in the 1950s.

The group has exciting plans for the future. As well as addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the area, it is looking to develop renewable energy resources, mainly micro-hydro power, to meet local needs and contribute to action to tackle climate change. There are also plans to create a woodland burial site. Perhaps most exciting of all is their aim to establish new ‘woodland crofts’ in the locality to give livelihoods to local families and provide a long term economic future for the forest.

Calgary Art in Nature

Just a mile or so from the main access to the Community Forest is an inspiring initiative centred on a hundred year old beech woodland attached to a farmstead at Calgary. The farmhouse was converted about 20 years ago into a hotel by owner Matthew Reade. The Calgary ‘Art in Nature’ project originated at the same time, the idea being to provide a sculpture trail from the hotel to the nearby beach.

As well as more than 4,000 newly planted trees from a nearby organic tree nursery, the woodland now hosts 20 sculptures all of which seem to grow out of the location. They include a labyrinth made out of scallops and sand, a flotsam and jetsam log and a group of oystercatchers made from steel and coastal finds. It has been the home of numerous events over the years, many involving local schoolchildren and musical activities. The latest event called ‘Giants in the Forest’ was one of a series of linked activities which took place across the country and used atmospheric lighting and large ‘green man’ heads to bring the woodland to life.

Websites: North West Mull Community Forest | Wood Crofts | Woodland Burials | Calgary Art in Nature | Giants in the Forest