CONSERVATIONISTS have launched an appeal to save Scotland’s “lonesome pines”.

The initiative, from Findhorn-based conservation charity Trees for Life, aims to prevent ancient Scots pines across the Highlands from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

The organisation hopes, through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods. They are mainly made up of lone, ancient “Granny” pines, which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

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The fragments of Scotland’s ancient pine forest, scattered over a large area, face growing threats from tree diseases, climate change, and overgrazing by deer, and could disappear forever over the next few years.

Trees for Life says if they are allowed to die, the “extraordinary wildlife” dependent on them, including rare capercaillie and the crossbill, will be lost too.

The charity has already raised £150,000 for the project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

Trees for Life chief executive Steve Micklewright said: “The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest, but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying.

“Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places.

"This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Some of these have been largely restored, but, according to a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government, at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation.

Currently, where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife; red squirrels cannot reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Trees for Life says it is difficult to determine the population of crossbills, because of their similarity to other birds. However, it is thought there are only around 1,500 adult crossbills left – compared with a population which would once have been up to 100 times that number before the native pinewoods were reduced in size.

The charity says funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change.

It also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

A spokesman said: “Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines.

"This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up, making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.”