The Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve is the UK’s newest and largest. Home to iconic wildlife it also offers great opportunities for recreation, as project manager Sue Morris explains.
The Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve is a huge conservation project in the heart of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Covering a vast area of 16,500 hectares, it accounts for nearly one-tenth of the National Park area, and is the largest reserve in the UK.
Although this National Nature Reserve is newly announced, RSPB, Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland have actually been working together since 2009 to create and restore a mosaic of native woodlands and open hill habitats, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
It’s a project that also involves sharing the human history of the area, as well as creating great opportunities for visitors, including cyclists and walkers. Crucially, the reserve is within an hour’s drive for 80% of Scotland’s population.
A legacy for nature
Ambition lies at the very heart of the new reserve’s ethos. The Great Trossachs Forest plan is a 200-year commitment. During this time, the main aim of our work will be to celebrate and promote the incredible beauty of the area and to restore, protect and enhance our native habitats. This extensive time frame and geographic scale will allow species both the time and the space to react and adapt to the changes that are likely as a result of climate change.
The work that has been started will continue for centuries and should ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the area. It also gives the partners the opportunity to monitor changes and react accordingly.
This is a crucial point as The Great Trossachs Forest was born out of the Scottish Forest Alliance. As part of this alliance a monitoring programme was established that is recording the amount of above – and below – ground carbon being stored by our restoration work and also how this ecosystem is functioning. This measuring work will continue over the 200-year lifetime of the project.
A vast mosaic of habitats
The Great Trossachs Forest covers an array of important habitats, which include ancient woodland, western Atlantic oak woodland (often described as Scotland’s rainforest) and upland wood pasture.
A total of 1.5 million native trees have been planted over the past six years and are connecting these varied surroundings whilst forming a diverse woodland corridor straddling the project area. This woodland corridor will ultimately be a beautiful mixture of native species, age structure and tree density with an uneven forest edge.
The area is home to iconic species such as golden eagles, ospreys, red squirrels and pine martens, and by investing time and resources in the new National Nature Reserve the Great Trossachs Forest will remain a significant home and sanctuary for wildlife. This is neatly demonstrated by the black grouse, numbers of which, after a hard-earned period of increase, have remained stable in recent years, thus bucking a national decline.
It isn’t only mammals and birds that will benefit from the new reserve. Rare butterflies and moths, including the pearl-bordered fritillary and the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth, have recently been discovered, providing a good indication that their habitats are recovering from a previously overgrazed state. These are woodland edge and glade species that need only light grazing and an abundance of nectar-rich wildflowers – especially bugle for the former, and devil’s bit scabious for the latter – to thrive.
The Great Trossachs Forest will offer something special for those inspired by the arts. The area is steeped in cultural history and our art and literature trail celebrates a number of important figures who have been influenced by the area. Amongst those featured are painters including John Ruskin and The Glasgow Boys, who drew inspiration from the superb scenery, and Sir Walter Scott, whose writings brought the legend of Rob Roy and the Lady of the Lake to life.
Boots, bikes and boats
Modern-day visitors can enjoy a network of paths offering fantastic views. These range from a twenty minute walk to a two-day trek along The Great Trossachs Path, one of Scotland’s Great Trails. The Great Trossachs Path along with some of our loop walks also offer some fantastic cycling opportunities.
Another great way to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the area is by boat, and there are a number of cruising options, most notably the steamship Sir Walter Scott, that plies Loch Katrine. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund we have created new facilities to help visitors explore. Our two new visitor gateways provide information on the work of the partners and highlight what there is to do in the area. These facilities – the RSPB Gateway is in the Garrison car park at Inversnaid and the Woodland Trust Gateway is in the Lendrick Hill car park just outside Brig o’ Turk – are a great starting point for your adventure in The Great Trossachs Forest.
Finally, if you are interested in getting involved we are always looking for volunteers. As well as regular conservation volunteering, such as helping with surveys and species monitoring, we have a number of roles, including being a volunteer speaker and helping to greet visitors to our gateways.
So there is a ‘new kid on the block’ in the suite of Scotland’s National Nature Reserves. The Great Trossachs Forest may be the latest but chances are it will quickly prove to be one of the most popular.
To find out more about Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve visit www.thegreattrossachsforest.co.uk
Pictures courtesy of Sue Morris (Great Trossachs Forest, National Nature Reserve)