The Land

Loch Arkaig is a deep glacial loch flanked by  majestic woodlands

Glen Mallie, Gusach, Tom an Eireannaich

Located in the Highland region of Lochaber, Loch Arkaig is a striking, deep, glacial loch some 12.5 miles long, flanked by woodland which marches up majestic mountains on both shores. Steeped in history, myth, and legend, the area supports a wealth of wildlife including eagles, ospreys, pine martens, red squirrels and divers. It is noted for its populations of rare rainforest lichens, mosses, and fungi as well as remnant colonies of unusual flowers. 

Together with the Woodland Trust Scotland, the Arkaig Community Forest organisation (ACF) manages over 1,000 hectares of these vanishing habitats in such a way as to restore the native biodiversity of the wider Arkaig area and mitigate the effects of climate change through forest restoration and expansion, and in doing so to re-connect local people with the management and stewardship of the site and to use the woodlands to underpin sustainable rural development in the community. We are a part of the small, local community, providing opportunities for local employment and community engagement. Visitors are welcome to come and enjoy our woods, become involved through volunteering, and support our activities.

The Arkaig Community Forest comprises two blocks, Glen Mallie and the Gusach (a Gaelic word for a pinewood). These combined 1,035 hectares consist of native broadleaf woodland, Caledonian pine forest and non-native plantation conifers. Our Caledonian, or Scots pine, forest is one of the last remaining stands of this native rainforest left in the United Kingdom. In addition we also manage at small area of woodland, Tom an Eireannaich, behind our office base at Clunes.

Glen Mallie

Glen Mallie, the eastern and most accessible block, is bounded to the east by the Allt Coire Bhotrais which tumbles down the hillside from the corrie high above in the shadow of Beinn Bhan, and is home to numerous lichens, mosses, and ferns.

A footbridge has been built here to allow easier access to the site. It was built in collaboration with the Woodland Trust and volunteers from Raleigh International who prepared all the logs by stripping the bark and shaping the sections for the walkway. A group of local volunteers then set the bridge components into position above the burn. It became known as the Friendship Bridge to symbolise the partnership between the Woodland Trust and ACF.

The once healthy Caledonian pine wood has suffered many setbacks over the years. A catastrophic fire started in 1942 while the Commandos were training there. The fire burned for several days and destroyed a huge number of native tree species including hundreds of ancient Scots pines, many of whose charred remains still stand as ghostly reminders of this devastating event. 

During the 1960s, the then Forestry Commision planted out the remnants of the forest with fast growing non-native species to supply the timber industry. But the trees grew poorly on the available soil and were never economically viable as a commercial forestry plantation.

ACF took ownership of this area in 2016 and have been working to remove the numerous self-seeded non-native Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine saplings that have sprung up over the years. In 2019 a wildlife viewing hide was erected by a team of volunteers. This makes an excellent spot from which to observe the wider forest and hillside and, with a bit of luck, the chance of spotting a passing pine marten or one of the many creatures that call this place their home.

The forest has areas of open hillside, stands of birch and alder along with Scots pine, holly and rowan. Over the years it has suffered from overgrazing by red and roe deer and regular culling now takes place to reduce their numbers to allow for natural regeneration of the woodland. It is rich in bryophytes and supports a large array of wildlife including, among others, the chequered skipper butterfly, pine marten, badger, golden eagle and osprey. Feral pigs also inhabit the area and red squirrels have been seen here on rare occasions.




Credit: Liz Bracken
Credit: Liz Bracken
Credit: Liz Bracken
Credit: Liz Bracken


IG 508
IG 506_Euan Camlin
Credit: John Macpherson/Woodland Trust
Credit: John Macpherson/Woodland Trust

The Gusach forest, meaning Pine forest, lies on the south shore of Loch Arkaig and is only accessible by boat. The remoteness of the site is in many ways the beauty of it and why we were able to acquire it.

ACF own 20 Ha towards the western end of the forest in the area known as Ard Nois, the ‘Height of Excellence’. The excellent height in question is a circular knoll on which grow some of the remnants of the Caledonian pine forest which gives the whole forest it’s name.

As with the rest of the Achnacarry Forest it suffered from the devastating fire in 1942 while the commandos were training there and from the planting of non native conifers whilst under Forestry Commission ownership.

The area around the Caledonian pines has benefited from having non native conifers felled to waste in the 1990’s and there is birch regeneration here and in other areas of fell to waste on PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site). Although this does make navigating through the site quite challenging. There are still substantial areas of non native conifers, mainly lodgepole pine much of which is poorly grown and has suffered windthrow. These trees are infected with Dothistroma needle blight, a fungal disease, which can also affect Scots pine, and therefore will be removed as soon as possible.

The ACF landholding is bordered by two burns, Allt a Choire Ghlais and Allt Choire Dhuibh. The latter of these runs by the 18 th century settlement of Ard Nois which is now a series of atmospheric ruined walls, covered thickly in mosses and lichens. Before the plantation this would have been a lovely situation with pasture and cultivated land sloping gently towards the loch side. There is a track running up towards the open hill which we think is where livestock would have been taken in the summer and through much use has become a holloway. Little is known about the settlement and it would be interesting to be able to delve deeper into the archaeology in the future.

These 20 Ha are a microcosm of the habitats in the whole Arkaig forest with Caledonian pinewood, riparian oak and hazel woodland, peatland edge birch woodland, deep peat bog and alder woodland by the loch shore. Where the peat bog is not overplanted with conifers there are small pools which are home to dragonflies and damselflies and we intend to expand this important habitat with the careful removal of these trees and remedial work.

The older growth native woodland is rich in lichens and other epiphytes, typical of Scottish rainforest. There are also large wood ants nests and the area is regularly visited by the feral pigs (equivalent to wild boar) in the area.

It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to carefully try to restore this landscape to a healthy more natural state and watch it develop from there. Even more so as, working in partnership with the Woodland Trust this will be over a much larger landscape scale.

Starting in 2021, the Woodland Trust and ACF began the work of removing the non-native species from the Arkaig Forest, starting with Glenmallie and with the Gusach a year later. The task of felling trees in the Gusach presented a serious hurdle. Owing to the remote nature of the forest, it was not accessible by any road, and we were keen to limit the impact created by roadbuilding. To this end, a barge was purpose built to ferry timber across the loch where it could connect with the main road on the north shore. Each-Uisge, the water horse, is the first barge of its kind to operate in Scotland. Some of the felling has been carried out by Highland Horse Logging, as another means of incorporating low-impact forestry into our management practices.

Tom an Eireannaich


Behind our offices at the Forest School is a lovely little hill covered with semi-natural oak woodland known as Tom an Eireannaich (The Irishman’s Knoll). This extends to an area of some 5.75ha and is bounded to the south by the Allt Bhan (the White River) and to the east by Clunes Bay on Loch Lochy.

The oak woodlands are described in the Clan Cameron guide as: “The Irishman’s Knoll.”  A “round swelling knoll” planted in hardwood (in 1875) located east of Clunes.

Although recently planted, the wooded mound is obviously situated on the site of ancient woodland and contains many mature trees, along with a ground flora that suggests more ancient origins. The oakwoods are covered in bluebells in the spring and cow-wheat in the summer and contain birch and ash with a few non-natives such as beech. By the burn there is a rich band of old alder woodland, with ash and willow, with a good range of ancient woodland indicators such as dog’s mercury and greater wood-rush. The woods lie within the Scottish rainforest zone, and are characterised by a rich coating of mosses, liverworts and lichens, along with epiphytic plants such as polypody ferns. Adjacent to the shore of Loch Lochy is a wild, wet area of swamp, mire and fen habitat, including a small bed of reed canary grass and mixed rush pasture.

Wildlife includes native red squirrels and pine martens along with badgers and bats, with deer visiting mainly in the winter. Spring migrants such as redstart and tree pipit join native woodland species including great spotted woodpecker, treecreeper, and the recently arrived nuthatch. Dipper and even the occasional kingfisher frequent the river. The bay itself is visited by a range of waterfowl, including breeding common sandpiper, merganser, goldeneye in winter and even the occasional feeding black-throated diver in the summer.

Access to the woodland is by a series of paths behind the forestry houses, with a good starting point where the Allt Bhan crosses the road. Along this trail you will come across an old tree nursery, now stocked with different varieties of willow. The Arkaig Community Forest managed the willow coppice under agreement with Forestry Land Scotland even before we purchased the land. and we continue to harvest from the coppice to provide rods for use by local crafts people and for weaving courses. Beside the willow coppice sits a small area formerly used as allotments for food production by the residents of the Clunes forestry community, and now contains a variety of fruit trees. There is much potential for further developing these resources for local produce.