The Croft Woodland project in the Western Isles is to be extended for a further five years after its first phase resulted in 100,000 trees being planted in 51 villages.

The community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust has now committed to funding a second phase with a budget of £400,000 over five years.

The project has seen Point and Sandwick Trust work with woodland and crofting experts such as the Woodland Trust, Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

A total of 103 schemes have been planted so far, comprising 17 Forestry Grant Schemes, 67 MOREwoods schemes and 19 school and community packs.

The 51 villages which have taken advantage of the opportunity are spread across five islands – Lewis, Harris, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, and North Uist.

Former MP Calum MacDonald who piloted the first Crofter Forestry Act through Parliament in the 1990s before turning community wind farm developer and creating Point and Sandwick Trust’s award-winning Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, is delighted at the new wave of crofter forestry in the islands supported by the Trust.

“The first wave of crofter forestry was on common grazings and it transformed the budgets of many grazings committees as well as bringing substantial benefits in terms of biodiversity and sustainable development. 

“This new wave, sponsored by Point and Sandwick Trust, is more focused on individual crofts and native woodlands like rowan and hazel and it is designed to make productive use of the large areas of in-bye land in each village that are now lying fallow.

“But although each individual planting is smaller, because it is focused on crofts and even parts of crofts, when it is replicated across the islands and over a long period of time, the overall effect will be huge. Taken together, it will have what they call a ‘landscape impact’ that will transform the look and feel of our communities for the better.”

“We will continue to work with all our Croft Woodland partners, working together – and we’re going to make it even bigger and better.

“It’s obvious from the first phase of the scheme that there is a huge amount of pent-up demand in the islands and that’s why we’ve decided now that we shall renew the scheme and confirmed the funding for the next five years – but eventually we are probably talking about a 20-year commitment, that will have a transformative effect on the biodiversity and the landscape of the Western Isles and the amenity for the communities.”

The Woodland Trust will also be supporting the second phase of the Western Isles Croft Woodland project by investing £5,000 a year and providing back office support for Project Officer Viv Halcrow, whose post is funded by Point and Sandwick Trust as well as the delivery of the project.

Woodland Trust CEO Beccy Speight said: “Woodland Trust has been amazed at the huge level of enthusiasm for woodland creation across the crofting counties, but especially on the islands. It is terrific news that Point and Sandwick Trust is extending its funding and we look forward to continuing our successful partnership.”

Eleanor Garty, the Woodland Trust’s Croft Woodland Project Manager and North Scotland Outreach Manager, called it “a very forward-thinking initiative from Point and Sandwick Trust”.

She said: “They have had this long-term vision for positive landscape change and had the vision to deliver this project not only for their own community but for the whole of the Western Isles.”

Eleanor paid tribute to Project Officer Viv Halcrow for the skills and knowledge which have seen her achieve such impressive results in three years. “One of the things that I think has been really important has been having a local person on the ground who is able to connect with people. Viv’s ability to connect with people and communities and share enthusiasm for trees has made the project hugely successful.”

The Western Isles Croft Woodlands project offers free help and support to crofters in creating and managing woodland.

Through Viv, the project helps crofters access funding from various grant schemes and educates people on what kind of trees do best in the climate and how to look after them.

It launched in the Western Isles in March 2016 and the island chain is the only area so far where another five years has been confirmed.

Eleanor said Point and Sandwick Trust was “setting an amazing example."

Croft Woodlands trees have been planted in places including Tolsta in Lewis.

Picture by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.