It was once a common feature linking Scotland’s forests and open hillside.

But the zone of dwarf trees and low shrubs known as montane scrub has almost vanished from the country’s landscape, due to grazing pressure from sheep and high deer numbers over the centuries.

Its habitat is much missed in nature, as montane supports a range of unusual plants and invertebrates and is a key foraging area for birds and mammals. 

Now, though, a new high-altitude forest of 10,000 rare mountain trees, supporting wildlife including golden eagles and mountain hares, is to be planted near Loch Ness in the spring.

The waist-high trees will form the wildlife-rich montane scrub in a project by charity, Trees for Life, that aims to bring montane back and help save the rare trees and aid mountain wildlife.

Montane provides important nesting ground for birds such as dotterel, ptarmigan, purple sandpiper and snow bunting, while the golden eagle and peregrine also use these habitats as part of their feeding range.

The project will involve collecting seed from trees –such as dwarf birch and downy willow – on precipitous mountain ledges and rocky crags, sometimes with the help of qualified climbers.

Planting the woodland itself will be challenging, because the location – at Beinn Bhan on the charity’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston – lies at more than 1,600 feet above sea level.

But the site is perfect for the tough small trees, known as “montane” species because they can grow near mountain summits, despite high winds and dramatic temperature changes.

Steve Micklewright, chief executive of Trees for Life, said yesterday: “This exciting initiative will address the sad loss of these special wee trees, which form a vital but vanishing part of Scotland’s woodlands, while creating a home for golden eagle, black and red grouse, ring ouzel, and mountain hare. We’re urging members of the public to support this project.”

Trees for Life has launched a fundraising appeal to raise £20,000 to help create the new upland forest, which could also play a role in reducing localised flooding by retaining soils.

The charity has already been awarded a grant by Forestry Commission Scotland in support of the new forest.

Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s operations manager at Dundreggan, said: “We’ve made maximum use of the forestry grant-aid, but to create a bigger, richer forest environment we need the public’s support.”

The conservation charity has already begun growing tree seeds it has collected from Glen Affric, but to boost genetic diversity for stronger trees that are resistant to disease, it needs to do more. Expert climbers have to brave difficult terrain and to collect cuttings from the rare species.

Trees for Life’s volunteers will begin planting the new woodland at Beinn Bhan - the White Mountain – in the spring, against a backdrop of sweeping views to Glen Affric and its surrounding mountains.

These trees will become the parents of many future generations as Dundreggan becomes rewilded.