Dunnet Forest lies to the south of the village of Dunnet adjacent to the A836 Thurso to John O'Groats road, just inland from the beautiful sands of Dunnet Bay. The land was purchased in 1954 by the Forestry Commission, and planting began as an experiment into silviculture on poor soils - the initial intention was to create a much larger forest. The forest is part of the Dunnet Links SSSI; the owners, Scottish Natural Heritage, acquired the land from the Forestry Commission in 1984. The forest covers 104 hectares, around half of which has developed into mature forest, the remainder being a mosaic of open space, scattered trees and scrub woodland. A range of tree species were planted, but the forest is now dominated by Sitka spruce and Lodgepole, Corsican and Mountain pine, with a few broadleaf species, such as Sycamore.
Extensive, publicly accessible woodland is rare in this part of the world, and the physical development of the forest has been matched by its growth in importance as a recreational facility for locals and tourists, and as an educational resource for schools and the Highland Council Ranger Service. An EU-funded project in the late 1990s upgraded much of the evolving path network, and created an all-abilities trail.
However, the long-term future of the forest was threatened: where initial plantings have been most successful, the trees are reaching maturity and suffering from windthrow. Dunnet Forestry Trust has begun the process of "restructuring" the forest - clearing windblown areas, felling "at risk" stands, and restocking these and other areas with a mix of conifers and broadleaves.
By March 2006 the following had been completed:
Clearfelling wind-blown and high risk Lodgepole Pine Stands: 14 ha
Restocking with broadleaf/conifer mix: 13 ha (22,000 trees)
Glade creation by felling to waste Mountain Pine: 3 ha
Enrichment planting of broadleaves: 11,000 trees
Thinning of Sitka Spruce and Lodgepole Pine: 14 ha
Replacing derelict external stock fence: 1800m
Removing derelict internal fencing: 1000m
Work has begun on developing sustainable income streams, most notably though the sale of firewood to local markets. A small local market for spruce roundpole has been established, and the Dunnet Forest tree nursery produced its first trees for planting in the 2005/6 season. From 2005 DFT has been participating in Northern Wood Heat, an EU Northern Periphery Programme project to assess the viability of small and medium scale woodfuel supply chains. Work will be taking place to assess a number of variables: including roundwood drying, residue recovery and chipping, and should provide invaluable information to support future woodfuel developments.
We have also been working to improve the recreational potential of the forest: notably through the expansion of the car park, and the production of the Dunnet Forest Recreation Management Plan. The views and opinions of members and the wider community were actively sought through consultation on future plans (e.g. Recreational Management Plan), and regular newsletters and updates to the DFT website keep the membership informed of developments in the forest.
Successful “Open Days” were held in August 2004 & 2006, with a variety of attractions, including chainsaw carving, wood-turning, storytelling and the woodland orchestra, each drawing approx 400 people to the forest. Orienteering events for schools and Scout groups have been held, and the Forest has also provided a venue for other community-based activities and events, including training events for the Caithness and Sutherland Search Team and the Casualties Union.
The all-abilities trail has been extended to 1600m, and approx 2km of new footpaths created. In addition, a 2km horse riding trail, and a mountain bike "technical trail" have been constructed. As part of the Highland 2007 year of Culture, we will be installing a number of wood and stone sculptures in the forest during 2007
Volunteers, both individuals and as organised groups (Dounreay apprentices, Caithness Countryside Volunteers, local Scouts) have been involved in a wide range of operations: tree planting & maintenance, path building, establishment and expansion of the tree nursery, pond restoration, control of invasive vegetation and fence replacement. A number of local businesses have also provided goods and services in kind, for which the Trust is very grateful.