Soil Fertility Research

In the rocky landscape of the North West Highlands soil is a rare and precious resource both for agriculture and woodlands. Inland, Assynt benefits from patches of limestone bedrock which provide occasional oases of fertile soil. Although the soils of this area have not been studied in detail, recent research across the North Atlantic region and Scotland has revealed that where past human settlement existed, soil depth may have been artificially increased. In Scotland this typically involved composting materials such as household waste and ash and mixing this with seaweed, turf/peat, animal manures and sand to create very fertile soils for growing crops. This system of land management would have started in prehistory and was widely used until just a century ago. In the North West Highlands the abandoned settlements of the Highland Clearances may contain a rare and important soil resource which is poorly understood and may be useful to local communities for both heritage and agricultural purposes in the future. The aims of this project are to: Understand the nature of this resource and how current land management

High Value Open Habitats Survey

There has been some extremely important survey work undertaken in the past of these internationally important habitats. However, in areas this survey work is incomplete and where data is available it is often not in a modern web and GIS compatible format. The aims of this project are to: Obtain more information on a range of lesser-known but both high-value and, often, sensitive habitats in the Coigach and Assynt area. Use the information gathered to inform better overall landscape planning, including for woodland expansion. Promote better awareness of these habitats among land managers, the local population and visitors.

Freshwater Lochan Survey

Freshwater forms a significant part of the Assynt and Coigach landscape, with the lochs dominating this habitat. While we have a reasonable amount of data on the rivers and burns within the area, only the annual catch data provided by anglers exists for the lochs. This project will build on this existing knowledge. It will involve the various stakeholders, anglers and owners, within the community and will help with management of the resource to the benefit of the users and the fish. The aims of this project are to: Generate greater awareness and knowledge of Assynt and Coigach’s freshwater environment and its importance to the health of the wider environment and also economy of the area. Focus on the fish species present in the area’s freshwater lochans; identifying the extent and range of different species, and what factors determine their presence or otherwise. Help to build a greater appreciation and protection of this important asset from an environmental, social and economic perspective.

Hazel Wood Audit

The Atlantic Hazel woods are one of Scotland’s most ancient woodlands, and they are likely to have been present in the project area for over 9,500 years. People have made use of the hazel resource in Coigach and Assynt in many ways over thousands of years. They are important for a whole range of connected species but in recent years their condition has suffered, for a variety of reasons. We know that many of the old hazel stools show little or no regeneration; they are aging and will die if not protected from grazing. The aims of this project are to: Identify the extent, location and condition of hazel woods remaining in Coigach and Assynt. Map and catalogue all major stands of hazel. Assign an index of importance based on the presence/absence of key indicator species and assign an index of the threats each stand faces. In doing so we hope to raise the profile of this important habitat locally and further afield, promote a better understanding of the habitat and instil a sense of pride and local identity, which

Woodland Expansion

The project area’s existing native woodland extends to approximately 4,000 hectares – roughly 6.5% of the total land area. Much of this comprises of small, scattered fragments found along the area’s coastal fringes. Due to their small size most native woodlands are not designated, but offer considerable potential for protection and expansion to improve their connectivity and resilience. Scattered along the lower edges of the coast, lochs and lochans, up gullies and in places sheltered from the sometimes dramatic elements the area experiences, lie some beautiful, species rich woodlands, but many are in need of protection and enhancement if they are to both survive and thrive into the future. The aims of this project are to: Protect the existing native woodland fragments in the area; Facilitate expansion through encouraging native regeneration and where appropriate the planting of native species, with suitable protection of the form of fencing, and; Promote the connection of woodland fragments thereby providing habitat corridors for woodland and associated species. As well as delivering environmental benefits the project will also aim to look at the practical benefits

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