The Trust planted 25000 trees on 2.5ha of land at Kyles Scalpay in April 2008 as part of a trial to investigate the practicalities of growing wood crops for fuel. Similar projects are taking place at 2 other sites in the Outer Hebrides to identify the best growing conditions and techniques.
The planting was challenging, on a site that was very wet and overgrown with rushes. Ground preparation was carried out by a 13t excavator which opened up ditches between old lazy beds and turned surface material to create beds suitable for planting.
Poplar sticks were easy to plant, simply being pressed into the soil. Willow, alder and sycamore were more delicate and required some protection from weeds. Most were therefore planted through plastic, with some being planted in bare ground. The trees planted in bare ground are now considerably shorter and some are hard to see amongst weeds. The added advantage of planting through plastic was that extra moisture was available for the young trees in what was the driest spring in living memory.
It was hoped that the first wood could be harvested in 3 years time when the willow and poplar should have grown well enough to be coppiced. Growth wasn’t as quick as was forecast.We have experienced an explosion in the rabbit population which has let to a number of the trees being stripped of bark and subsequent death. In addition, beds that are more exposed to cold winds and beds with poorer soil have delivered poor growth.
In 2012 a small number of beds were coppiced. Re-growth of these trees in 2013 has been good.
In 2013 we had a random inspection from the Forrestry Commission. They checked over the plantation and have given some corrective actions to be undertaken.
In 2015 the fences were improved, with rabbit netting installed. The trees were fully coppiced for the first time.
Spring 2016 saw 2000 willow cuttings and a further 2000 birch saplings planted in the beds where previous trees have failed.
In 2018, the lease on the land expired. The project wound up, with the land reverting to in-bye croft land. All three crofters elected to retain the trees. The biggest lesson learnt was the need to design good access into the site before planting starts. Extraction of timber proved difficult with the lazybed system.