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Tree Planting In Caithness 1984/85
Jess Campbell

Nature & Environement

Everyone knows about the controversial schemes of blanket afforestation which are currently taking place in Caithness. It is not so well known, however, that Caithness District Council have over the past few years, been making a modest contribution to the treeing of Caithness, in a way which, over the years to come, will hopefully prove to be a source of beauty to the local people.

The scheme started, more or less by accident, in the District Council's financial year 1984/85. The Council in their budget had allowed 2,000 for a "countryside scheme" which for various reasons, could not be implemented in that year. At the time this was realised literature was received from the Tree Council, London inviting the District Council to take part in 'National Tree Week 1984'.

It seemed logical, therefore, for the money which was available for a "countryside scheme" to be spent on trees and, to ensure that it was fairly distributed throughout the District, it was agreed that the sum of 2,000 should be divided equally amongst the 16 Councillors and that each Councillor should select where, in his ward, his trees were to go.

The next decisions which had to be taken were the type of trees which were to be planted and the action to be taken to safeguard them from vandalism, rabbits, gale force winds and all the other ills which had prevented previous tree planting schemes from succeeding.

It was agreed, therefore, that part of the money would be allocated to providing each tree with a proper stake and tie and a wire guard 6 feet in height. It was also agreed that the largest possible trees be planted in the hope that they might be stronger and more able to stand the difficulties in Caithness.

All this, of course, reduced the number of trees which could be purchased but it was considered better that fewer trees should have a chance of surviving than a lot of trees should be planted only to disappear as had happened so often in the past.

Considerable thought went into the choice of trees. We wanted trees that would stand the Caithness climate and would give most return in the way of spring flowering and autumn colouring. Fancy ornamental trees such as Japanese cherries were ruled out as being alien to the Caithness landscape and, in the end, it was decided to choose from trees which were known to flourish in Caithness and yet met the requirements of spring blossom and autumn colour. The trees chosen were rowan, chestnut, alder and gean and, in due course, it was ascertained that each Councillor could have ten trees.

The trees were duly planted throughout the District. Three of the Wick Councillors agreed their trees could be planted in the Bignold Park with a view to a small wood eventually being formed at the Harrow Hill end which is not suitable for anything else. In most other cases the trees were planted in burial grounds, recreation grounds and children's play areas. They are all being carefully monitored and, if any of them, for any reason, fails to grow, a replacement is provided.

The 1984/85 scheme generated such enthusiasm that the District Council agreed to take part in the 1985/86 Tree Week. This time, however, the Council could afford to put only 1,000 towards the scheme but nevertheless trees were planted in the Bignold Park, along the verges in front of the houses at Milton and Haster, in the grassed area in Main Street, Lybster and at various recreation areas and children's play areas throughout the District.

The same scheme is to operate in the financial year 1986/87 and the trees for this have been ordered and will be planted in March/ April which has been found to give the best results.

It is hoped that this will be an ongoing scheme for years to come. It may be modest in its dimensions but if each of the trees which has been planted grows and flourishes and becomes a thing of beauty, it can only have a beneficial impact on the District and future generations may grow up realising that trees do grow in Caithness if they are properly planted and cared for.

In addition to the annual tree planting schemes the District Council have recently entered into an arrangement with Fountain Forestry for them to plant fifteen acres of boggy land at the top of Newton Hill, Wick with a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees. This is land which was purchased some time ago for an extension to the Newton Hill refuse tip. It can never be used for this purposes, however, and a tree planting scheme to form an amenity woodland area for the benefit of the public seemed to offer the best use for otherwise useless ground. The scheme will be spread over three years with ploughing and fencing being carried out in 1986/87 and planting in 1987/88. If everything goes according to plan there should be, for the benefit of future generations, an attractive wood where at present there is nothing but bog.

It is hoped that these projects by the District Council are welcomed by the public.

Any suggestions as to where further trees could be planted by the Council would be appreciated. 
(Note this comment was in 1987 and as far as we know the council are not looking for tree planting suggestions)

This article first appeared in the Caithness field Club Bulletin April 1987
We are not sure where all the trees were planted but the trees planted at the top of Newton Hill, Wick have flourished and are now part of the new park created following the closure of the municipal dump.  Click Here To see some pictures of the park where tree planting is still in progress. - Bill Fernie 14 November 2001