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Trees for Life


Trees for Life is a Scottish charity based at Findhorn Bay on the Moray Firth coast in the north-east of Scotland. We derive our name from the recognition that trees are essential for the wellbeing of all life on the planet, and for the Earth itself. At a time when deforestation is a critical global problem, we see the return of natural tree cover to more of the world's land surface as a vital step in creating a sustainable future for humanity, and for all the other species we share the planet with.


Trees for Life began in 1981 as part of the Findhorn Foundation a centre known for its pioneering work in co-operation with nature. Our forest conservation work has developed considerably since then, and in May 1993 Trees for Life was established as an independent charity specifically dedicated to the regeneration of Scotland's natural forests. Our primary goal is to regenerate and restore the native Caledonian Forest to a large contiguous area in the Scottish Highlands, and eventually to reintroduce the missing species of wildlife which formerly lived in the old forest. In this we seek not only to counteract the centuries of deforestation which have led to the almost complete loss of Scotland's native woodlands, but also to be pioneers in the newly-emerging field of ecological restoration.


Trees for Life receives some funding from Forest Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage but also raises a larger percentage of its income through appeals to Trusts and Foundations. In addition, it generates income through a range of its own merchandise including its `Plant a Tree for Life` Scheme whereby for a minimum of 10 donation an individual can have a tree planted as a gift for a friend or for a special occasion. Trees for Life will forward a map grid reference of the planting and a frameable certificate to mark the occasion.


The Caledonian Forest originally covered much of the Highlands of Scotland, and takes its name from the Romans, who called Scotland 'Caledonia', meaning 'wooded heights'. As the map on the right shows, the native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the boreal forest in Europe, are estimated to have covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pines, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. On the west coast, oak and birch trees predominated in a temperate rainforest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens. Many species of wildlife flourished in the forest, including the European beaver, wild boar, lynx, moose, brown bear and the wolf, as well as several notable species of birds - the capercaillie , the crested tit, and the endemic Scottish crossbill, which occurs nowhere else in the world apart from the pinewoods.


However, there has been a long history of deforestation in Scotland, and clearance of the land began in Neolithic times. Trees were cut for fuel and timber, and to convert the land to agriculture. Over the centuries, the forest shrank as the human population grew, and some parts were deliberately burned to eradicate 'vermin' such as the wolf. More recently, large areas were felled to satisfy the needs of industry, particularly after the timber supply in England had been exhausted. The widespread introduction of sheep and a large increase in the numbers of red deer ensured that once the forest was cleared, it did not return.


We have a threefold strategy for the return of the forest.


The first part of our strategy is to facilitate the natural regeneration of the trees, by fencing the deer out of areas on the periphery of the existing remnants, so that seedlings can grow naturally to maturity again, without being over-grazed. This is the simplest and best method of regenerating the forest, as it involves the minimum of intervention and allows nature to do most of the work. This is one of the basic principles of ecological restoration However, this only works for locations where there is an existing seed source nearby, which is not the case in the treeless expanses which make up most of the Highlands today.


The second part of our strategy comes into effect in these situations, and it involves planting native trees in barren areas where the forest has disappeared completely. To do this, we collect seed from the nearest surviving trees, to maintain the local genetic variation in the forest. The resulting seedlings are then planted in a random, non-linear pattern inside fenced exclosures, replicating the natural distribution of the trees. We are working with all of the native trees from the forest, and are paying particular attention to the pioneer species, such as birch, rowan and aspen as they have an important role to play in the succession of the forest as it gets re-established.


The third part of our strategy involves the removal of non-native trees, which in some areas have been planted as a commercial crop amongst the old trees of the Caledonian Forest remnants, thereby preventing their regeneration.


Combining these three strategies, our intention is to re-establish areas, or 'islands', of healthy young forest scattered throughout the barren, deforested glens. As these new trees reach seed-bearing age they will form the nuclei for an expanded natural regeneration in the surrounding area. While the trees in these `islands' are growing, it will be important to reduce the numbers of deer, so that the forest restoration process can become self-sustaining, without the need for further fences.


We've been implementing our vision and strategy through practical work on the ground for over ten years now, and some of our most significant accomplishments to date include:

  • Over 150,000 naturally regenerating Scots pine seedlings and other native trees have been protected from overgrazing by fences which we've funded.
  • Almost million Scots pines and native broadleaved trees have been planted by our staff and volunteers.
  • We've funded the fencing of 458 hectares (1,132 acres) of land in Glen Affric for forest regeneration and expansion.
  • We've made proposals for forest regeneration work to various other landowners in Glens Affric, Cannich and Moriston, and many of these have been carried out, although we haven't been directly involved in their practical implementation.
  • We've initiated special projects for the regeneration of rare trees in the forest, such as aspen, and for specific threatened parts of the forest ecosystem, including the montane shrub community and riparian or riverside woodland.
  • In 1991, in recognition of our work, we were declared the UK Conservation Project of the Year in an annual competition run by the Conservation Foundation.
  • In 2000, after 5 years of monitoring and assessment, Trees for Life received the prestigious Millennium Marque Award which was given to projects which 'demonstrate environmental excellence for the 21st century'.
  • We are propagating all of the native trees from the Glen Affric area, from seeds we have collected ourselves. This includes the propagation of aspen from root cuttings in our Aspen propagation unit at our field base, as it seldom reproduces from seed and is consequently quite rare now.
  • Over a thousand volunteers, from teenagers to seventy year-olds, have taken part in our forest restoration work. Coming from both the local area, and as far away as Canada, Argentina and Australia, the volunteers receive a powerful experience of working together in a group with like-minded people to do something practical and positive for the planet. See Volunteer participation.
  • In 1993 we produced a 30 minute film about the Caledonian Forest and our work to restore it. Available as a VHS video, this inspiring educational resource illustrates the beauty and diversity of the forest, and is designed to communicate our vision of returning it to a large area in the Highlands.  (This is available from Trees for Life address or can be ordered on-line at Merchandise order form for 10 (ten pounds Sterling ) plus postage and packing.)
  • We acted as a catalyst for the purchase in 1993 by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) of the West Affric Estate, which encompasses the entire headwaters of the Affric River. In partnership with NTS we are working to facilitate forest restoration on West Affric, through a series of exclosures for natural regeneration, some planting of native trees and a reduction of deer numbers.
  • In 1995 we produced a special educational pack for schools, entitled 'The Disappearing Forest', featuring worksheets on the importance of trees, and a story to colour about a wolf and a bear, who lose their homes as the forest disappears. These were distributed to every primary school in the Grampian and Highland regions of Scotland. An updated and revised edition of this pack, retitled 'The Fantastic Forest', and now including a beaver in the story, was reprinted in 2000.
  • We work in close cooperation with other organisations, seeking to establish a coherent, integrated strategy and action for forest regeneration. In particular, we have been working with Forest Enterprise (part of the Forestry Commission, the UK government's forestry agency) since 1989 to expand the area of native pinewoods in Glen Affric. We also work in cooperation with The National Trust for Scotland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on their lands which fall within our target area, as well as with private land owners.
  • In 1996 we purchased Plodda Lodge, near Glen Affric, and this field base houses some of our volunteer work week groups and our own native tree nursery.
  • Further afield, our vision and practical work have played an important role in inspiring several other projects to become established . The Carrifran Project which aims to restore native forest to an entire valley in the Borders region of Scotland. The Moor Trees which aims to restore the native forest to Dartmoor in the southwest of England. The Yendegaia project in Tierra del Fuego, Chile, where a substantial area of land which is the same distance from the equator as the Caledonian Forest has been purchased for the restoration of its degraded forests and protection of its wilderness qualities.
  • Since 1988 we have been publishing the annual Trees for Life Calendar and Diaries. Combining outstanding photographs with detailed information about trees, these high quality publications provide a unique global perspective on the world's forests, the threats they face and the conservation organisations working to protect them.

For further information, contact:
Alan Watson Featherstone/Robert McAuley
Trees for Life
The Park
Findhorn Bay
Forres IV36 3TZ
Tel: +44 (0)1309 691292 
Fax: +44 (0)1309 691155

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Company Registration No. 278156. Scottish Charity No. SC 029210