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Aerial view of the windblow, January 2005

Laide Wood was planted in stages between 1963 and 1967 as a commercial forest consisting predominantly of Lodgepole Pine and Sitka Spruce but with small stands of Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Scots Pine and edged by Hybrid Larch. Once planting was completed there was very little management carried out and it was finally sold by the Forestry Commission in 1993.

After changing hands several times the Wood was once again put on the market late 2002. With the assistance of the Scottish Land Fund and the Community Land Unit, along with generous donations from locals and visitors, the Wood was finally purchased in February 2003. A local Community Steering Group had been formed to take it to the purchase stage at which point a Company Limited by Guarantee was established with recognised Scottish Charitable Status. The main aim of the company was to develop Laide Wood in areas of conservation and recreation. Our members are the strength behind any progress in developing the Wood and we have enjoyed a healthy membership since the project began.

A five year management plan was created prior to purchase to show our prospective funding sources and members that we meant business.

Everything went well for two years. Laide Wood was at last open to those who wished to venture inside and trails were being created, although the dense planting was proving difficult ground on which to establish good paths. The task was not one for the feint hearted but those involved continued with enthusiasm and conviction.

Unfortunately in the January storms of 2005 we lost a quarter of the Woodland through wind blown damage and two years of work was lost in one twenty four hour period. To cope with this a recovery plan was put into action which, through necessity, looked beyond the five year plan we had in place already. This new management plan not only dealt with the current problems but embraced the existing five year plan and bolted on new ideas which had been discussed at previous meetings. What we had considered, might be worth while thinking about at some future date went on the immediate agenda. The recovery plan soon developed into a major development plan for the Woodland which would probably take at least a decade to achieve. This was called the Phoenix initiative 2005.

It began by dealing with the impenetrable mess the hurricane force winds had left behind when they ravaged across Western Seaboard of Scotland and on into Scandinavia devastating many commercial forestry units. In this storm Laide Wood was the worst affected Community owned land in the CWA (Community Woodland Association).

Harvesting

It was clear from the start that selective removal of just the damaged trees would prove almost impossible so areas would have to be clear felled to make the land safe and doing so would leave behind fully mature tall stands which had once been sheltered by the trees that had taken the brunt of this last storm. These now vulnerable stands would also have to be removed leaving the remaining trees shaped to resist future high winds.

Fortunately Andrew Jackman a director of Laide Wood and professional forester was able to survey and plan the whole operation and, assisted by other board members, this was achieved by September 2006. Andrew has been instrumental in redesigning Laide Wood. The late Dame Sylivia Crowe was involved in the original planting design and went on to greater things in Woodland and garden design. Towards the end of her career, assisted by her friend Sally Race, she designed the roof garden for the Scottish Widows Head Office overlooking Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. Bearing in mind Dame Sylvia's design was for a commercial unit, there is no doubt that Andrew's design will be the winner from both a conservation and recreational point of view.

Cutting the tape at the Grand Opening of the trail

During 2005, we replanted using broad leaves and indigenous trees which would improve the bio-diversity throughout the woodland. One of last year's tasks was to replace the fencing, some of which was at least forty years old and showing its age. Areas had been demolished by storm damage, and other parts succumbed to the West Coast weather. Plenty of evidence of deer activity within the existing dilapidated perimeter fencing meant this would have to be addressed before any planting could commence. Whilst one day we may welcome the deer back once the woodland is mature enough to sustain them, for now they are unwanted guests.

As the new fencing was being constructed we wanted to make start on the recreational side of the woodland development. A good well finished trail starting and ending at the main car park looping the heart of the Wood taking in Loch na Cathrach Duibhe would serve several purposes:

  • give the public and our members an opportunity to walk safely and easily to one of the lochans and return to the car park
  • create a route for our own management purposes allowing us to access most areas quickly and comfortably
  • in the event of someone becoming ill or injured we would have an easy casualty evacuation route

Working almost in reverse, the fencing and trail construction commenced in January 2007. Once completed, the area for the log storage during the felling operation (which had been partly cleared and hard surfaced) had to be redesigned and completed as a car parking area.

Visitors begin to walk along the trail

The deadline for all this work was April 2007 and after a final tidy and brush up the official opening of the wood took place on May 5th. This was our first major event staged since the purchase of the wood and it proved a great success. Many of the people who had helped us, particularly since the storm damage, attended and over a hundred and thirty people walked around the main trail in the first three hours of opening. Setting off to the skirl of the pipes, our intrepid pioneers were delighted to find a buffet awaiting at Loch na Cathrach Duibhe and we all enjoyed a good céilidh despite the high winds!

Having reached this stage, it seemed we should allow the remaining summer months for people to enjoy and for nature to do her best. Whilst trees and flowers are presenting their summer show for our benefit, the animals and birds are looking for pleasant places to carry on their daily tasks and in 2007 we have seen an increase in the abundance of our flora and fauna, adding several species to our database.

The summer fallow strategy has proved successful and one we will continue to adopt in the future, leaving any major projects to the end of Autumn through the Winter months. This increase in tree species and establishing riparian zones along the water courses will improve the biodiversity even further.