Tormore Forest ~ A Community Asset
In September 2005 the Sleat Community Trust Forestry Advisory Group (FAG) was established to consider the viability of bringing Tormore Forest into community ownership using the National Forest Land Scheme.
The FAG consultated with the community through public meetings, a Planning for Real exercise and the newsletter. They met with the Forestry Commission and this led to an agreement to carry out a joint valuation by the local valuation officer. Progress was good.
In March 2009 the Forestry Commission without prior notification advertised in the local press that Tormore Forest was surplus to requirements and was to be sold.
As a community group we were invited to register our interest (which we of course had already done) but which we were compelled to repeat. We then had 58 days from the end of April 2009 to show the National Land Scheme Committee that we were fit to manage the forest. If we could not show this, the forest would be placed on the open market.
With considerable effort we met the deadline. Sleat Community Trust owes the FAG members and the community a big thank you for showing such good support. The initial response showed almost unanimous support for the acquisition of Tormore, which was backed up with an official ballot early in 2010.
A district valuer then valued the forest at £330,000 and the funding search started in earnest. A business plan was formulated and funding secured from Social Investment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HIghland Council, the Tudor Trust and from many individuals/businesses/organisations far and wide who "sponsored an acre" of Tormore Forest at the bargain price of £20. Loan facilities from Highland Opportunity, Triodos Bank and Social Investment Scotland made up the short fall of the purchase price and on the 1st of June 2011 the forest was formally purchased. A ceremony to mark the occassion was attended by many local volunteers and dignitaries including the unveiling of a new forest sign by the then Minister for Infrastructure Alex Neil MSP.
The first step taken after purchase was to employ a community forester. Harvesting then commenced through contracted forestry management firm Scottish Woodlands of the very mature lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce plantations closest to the forest entrance. Resupply of woodchip to local college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's biomass boiler system and log sales to private individuals / businesses was also achieved within our first year of operation.
Deer fencing of the entire forest is now complete through the efforts of a local contractor and the building of a large woodfuel facility is also finished, with funding from Santander, SRDP and Highland Council. Internal roading is also complete, allowing a second phase of harvesting to commence in 2018.
As of 2019, harvesting of the majority of the standing timber is complete, with the exception of two areas. Trial replanting is under way, which will provide vital information to aid us in larger scale replanting over the next few years. In the meantime, Sleat Renewables Ltd continues to manage the forest responsibly, and is covered by the Scottish Woodlands Group Certification Scheme, which demonstrates a commitment to good practice in all areas of the operation, and allows us to sell woodfuel products which are dual-certified through FSC and PEFC.