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19 Nov 2020

Woodland regeneration project at Ben Lomond

Written by Alasdair Eckersall, Property Manager/Senior Ranger
A view of the mountain Ben Lomond, from the west side of Loch Lomond. A large area of the lower slopes has been marked out with a red line. Pine trees and bracken grow in the foreground.
A view of Ben Lomond from the south-west, with the project area boundary shown in red.
Work is nearing completion, after a coronavirus-imposed break, on an exciting woodland regeneration project on the lower Ptarmigan slopes of Ben Lomond. This particular area was identified as having significant natural regeneration potential for woodland, and scrub in particular.

The area covers around 55 hectares and had been heavily grazed by sheep until they were removed in 2010. After this, we saw good recovery of plants such as heather, blaeberry and some tall herb species. However, monitoring showed that deer browsing was continuing to have an impact in the area, preventing tree growth.

In October 2019, work began on a fence to keep the deer out and protect the growing and established plants. When completed, each section of the fence was marked with canes to help protect against bird strikes, so that wildlife such as black grouse were not negatively affected by the fencing. The fencing was almost two-thirds complete when work was put on hold due to the pandemic. Now, the work will be completed by the property team, volunteers and local contractor at the end of November.

Sam Gallacher, Operations Manager, says:

‘This is an incredibly important project and one of many across the country which seeks to support the regeneration of native woodlands. A great deal of effort has been put into this project over many years, from careful planning and preparation to helicopter drops of fencing materials, and, of course, hours of labour from dedicated volunteers and staff, as well as from skilled local specialist contractors.’

Quote
“This work is a real achievement. As the rich variety of native flora fully repopulates the site, future generations will continue to enjoy this important contribution from the National Trust for Scotland to the improvement and expansion of biodiverse habitats in one of Scotland’s most-visited landscapes.”
Sam Gallacher
Operations Manager, National Trust for Scotland

Across the 55 hectares of the slope, it’s expected that somewhere between 25–30 hectares will develop as natural woodland cover, and that about 10 hectares or so are likely to remain open and relatively bare of trees. The remaining 15–20 hectares are likely to see significant establishment of scattered trees and scrub, plus the dwarf shrubs such as heather, blaeberry and bog myrtle will recover height and extent. There’s a good level of seed source across the low to mid slopes, and surveys have shown that there are already significant densities of suppressed trees that will get a chance to develop.

A closer view of the mountain Ben Lomond, from the west side of Lock Lomond. The mountain is capped in snow, against a pale blue sky. A large area of the lower slopes, just above the existing treeline, is marked out by a red line.
A well-known view of Ben Lomond from the west, with the project area marked in red.

It’s been great to see the growth so far. The main tree species coming through naturally include birch (downy birch), rowan, grey willow and eared willow, and hawthorn. There are also plenty of other species occurring though, including holly, oak, ash, alder, creeping willow, crab apple, blackthorn, aspen ... and the last surviving old Ben Lomond juniper, surrounded by around 80–100 junipers planted near it in 2013.

The change to the landscape will be remarkable, affecting the way Ben Lomond is seen by many visitors to the area. This is because although lower Ptarmigan is a relatively small area of just over half a square kilometre, it faces out towards Loch Lomond and the A82. The steepness of the slope means it’s a large part of the mountain that’s viewed by so many visitors to the area. The development of extensive woodland cover across the slope, with significant scattered trees petering out into a natural tree line at around 400m altitude, will give a much more natural look to the wider Ben Lomond landscape when seen from the south-west. The woodland development will also blend with that already achieved around Tom Eas and the steep burn gorges to the south of the area.

An OS map of the lower slopes of Ben Lomond, showing existing paths and deer fencing, as well as the projected area for natural woodland cover.
A map showing the boundary of the project area, alongside the predicted woodland cover

This project was funded by the McLintock Fund, with a donation specifically to support project work on countryside properties. We anticipate that this work will result in a much more natural view of Ben Lomond for the many hundreds of thousands of visitors who pass along the A82, or visit the western shores of Loch Lomond. For those who walk on the hill, ascending or descending the Ptarmigan path, a mile of their walk is going to be transformed over time.

Thanks to the fencing, the interruptions to deer movement have already brought changes, with willow and birch growing in some areas unhindered by browsing, bringing a different feel to the hillside. It’s early days yet, but it’s hoped that the project will also have a positive impact on wildlife – one or two bird species have already been recorded this year further up the hill than ever before.

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