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Preparations are underway to create a woodland on the hillside above the Rest and be Thankful later this month.
Forestry and Land Scotland, working in partnership with Transport Scotland, will soon start putting up deer fences to protect the saplings of a range of tree species that are to be planted to help maximise slope stability.
Planting will not be starting until September or October next year and the new woodland will take some time to establish, but from the moment of planting, the tree roots will begin to bind the slope – an effect that will cumulatively increase, year-on-year, says James Hand, FLS operations forester.
Mr Hand added: ‘The deer fence is a crucial first stage because protecting the saplings and other vegetation from deer and other mammal grazing is crucial to ensuring rapid establishment of the new woodland.
‘The mix of species selected for the woodland will help it withstand events associated with predicted climate change, particularly those associated with sudden heavy rainfall incidents.
‘The trees will complement the hard engineering that has been done at the site to help stabilise the slope and protect the road infrastructure. Working in tandem, both approaches will help to mitigate the challenges presented by this notoriously unstable slope.’
The bulk of the fencing work will take place in the spring and summer of 2021.
George Fiddes,Transport Scotland special projects manager, said: ‘Commencement of these vital deer fencing works marks an important milestone in the hillside planting strategy.
‘We look forward to continuing to work with Forestry and Land Scotland on this key project which forms part of the Scottish Government’s wider landslide mitigation works at the A83 Rest and be Thankful.’
As well as protecting the trees, the fence will have ecological benefits across a wider area by reducing grazing pressure and will help to develop a network of native woodland at a landscape scale.
Careful consideration has to be given to selecting the correct species of trees and shrubs that would best be able to cope with the extreme conditions on such an exposed site.
‘Anything planted at this site should not only be able to provide the rooting structures that will help slope stabilisation,’ continued Mr Hand, ‘but should also be resilient enough to survive in this environment.
‘Sourcing Scottish plants from local areas, as close as possible to the site, means we’re benefitting from the plant species that are adapted for the current environment and that are most likely to be resilient to a changing climate into the future.’
The combination of species will include downy birch, aspen, oak, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, juniper and Scots pine.
As well as enhancing the landscape and contributing to the scenic value of the National Park, the mix of species will be good for biodiversity, helping to sustain golden eagles and black grouse.
The project overall will also protect water quality and habitats, especially those associated with spawning salmonids.
Natural regeneration of native species will also be encouraged and there is scope for more planting nearby.
Information panels will go up at points where new gates will be built across traditional access routes telling walkers why the fence has appeared.