A CLAN CAMPBELL WOOD
The Tombreck part of the Carie/Cragganester SSSI Wood lies in the heart of Highland Perthshire, in the shadow of Ben Lawers and on the shores of Loch Tay one of Scotland’s highest mountains and largest and most beautiful lochs. For hundreds of years, the area was a part of the ancestral lands of the Campbell Lairds and Earls of Breadalbane, whose influence stretched from their Taymouth Castle seat at nearby Kenmore to the Argyll islands on the rugged west coast.
Tombreck is descended from the great forest of Caledon that once covered much of Scotland following the last Ice Age 8,000 years ago. Few such woods remain in Scotland today and Tombreck is part of one of the largest in Perthshire. A wild place, dominated by oak, birch, hazel and alder trees, evidence suggests that Tombreck and neighbouring woods were worked for their oak as early as the 1600s. Tombreck is also a place of crystal clear water, the Tombreck burn falling as a spectacular waterfall (before slowing down as it serenely enters Loch Tay).
Tombreck provides a precious habitat for a fantastic variety of wildlife. Bluebells carpet the woodland in spring and roe deer and badgers find food and shelter while sparrowhawks hunt woodpeckers as they search tree trunks for insects Dragonflies hover peacefully at the lochside, and dippers feed in pools by the waterfall, caterpillars falling from trees that overhang the water and helping to feed fish that shelter among the tree roots. Tombreck also has a story to tell about the culture and history of highlanders. 250 years ago, the population of Lochtayside was many times greater than today and the woods were an integral part of people’s lives, providing them with many basic requirements, including building materials, tools, fuel and food for livestock. The signs of this past way of life can still be seen today. Limekiln remnants, for example, reveal past fertiliser production from local rocks.
Generations of Campbell lairds showed a great interest in the woods. ‘Black’ Duncan Campbell, the 7th Laird of Glenorchy from 1583 until 1631, was a renowned planter and protector of trees, fencing off Tombreck and other lochside woods to protect them from animals. As the value of oak increased during the 1700s, his successors enclosed many of the woods with impressive stone walls, the remnants of which can still be seen today at Tombreck.
However, this heyday was shortlived. During the 19th century, the human population in Lochtayside declined as dramatically as the sheep population increased. By the mid 1800’s, bark peeled from oak and other trees and used for tanning leather became less profitable and the woods began to lose their value. As the stone walls fell down, the woods became vulnerable to sheep grazing. Over a century of neglect and gradual decline followed.
Tombreck is now part of a farm, and needs to be restored by allowing seedlings to naturally regenerate to ensure its survival. Scottish Native Woods are working with the owner to secure Tombreck’s future. Areas have been fenced to keep out sheep and deer, and bracken is cut every year to prevent seedlings being smothered. Hazel and birch seedlings are beginning to emerge, but it is still early days. Many years work is still required if Scottish Native Woods is to restore Tombreck. (Marie Stewart 1999)
Since Tober returned to Tombreck in 1997 many new trees have been planted; in small shelter belts and hedges, in continuing management of the existing woods, and in planting native trees within small enclosures above the road.
In 2016 we were awarded a Scottish Forestry Grant to plant over 50,000 native trees on Tombreck, as woodland strips or 'roundels', along with some larger areas of woodland high up on the farm. This will result in about one third of the farm being woodland, creating small fields surrounded by trees, as in an agroforestry model.
Two perimeter deer fences have been built, to protect the newly planted trees on both sides of the main road. Below the road, the stock fences and planting of oak, hazel, downy birch, willow, aspen, alder, hazel, rowan, crab apple, bird cherry, wild cherry, hawthorn and blackthorn were finished in April 2017. Stock fence construction above the road, as in this picture, was completed in autumn 2017 with the tree planting, (a similar species mix to below the road, but with the addition of silver birch and Scots pine) finished in the spring of 2018. We welcome volunteers to help with this tree planting and the follow up weeding and tree care that will be on-going for a few years.