Published 22nd October 2018, 15:30

    I WAS standing high on the ridge framing the layered beauty of the landscape beneath my feet, just another mountain day in Bonnie Scotland.

    From the rocks in the foreground to the pale lochan cradled in the hollow below, past the long, rough ridge stealing in from the left, and beyond, over the waters of Loch Hourn, the soaring peaks of Knoydart, all wrapped in autumnal shades.

    The isolation and the silence only added to the ambience. It felt like perfection. It was only a couple of days later when showing off the photograph that another pair of eyes spotted the flaw: There's not one tree in sight. 

    I simply hadn't noticed. Now maybe that was because I had spent the first two hours walking pleasantly through a relatively healthy mix of trees and bushes, and the lower slopes on the initial climb were also well stocked. I certainly hope it's not the fact that we are now so conditioned to seeing a more barren, rawer landscape that the lack of trees has become the norm to our eyes and passes largely unnoticed.

    The ancient Caledonian Forest was estimated to have covered more than 3.5 million acres, a vast wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, oak and juniper. It was was home to bears, wolves, beaver, boar and many other species. Birds and insects were in abundance. A long history of deforestation has reduced it to small struggling pockets, disconnected fragments often filled with dead and dying trees and little young growth to replace it. 

    It's simple: We need more trees. And we need more joined-up thinking to make that happen. That's why the news that the restoration of parts of this once-great forest may be possible as part of a £23million Europe-wide project. The Endangered Landscapes Programme has the backing of a variety of conservation groups and individuals and will focus on the Cairngorms.

    Only time will tell if this lives up to expectation – forests don't spring up overnight, after all. It does seem incredible that it hasn't happened long before now considering the posturing of politicians of all hues over environmental concerns.

    The recent floods and landslides have once again shown that denuded slopes are no match for heavy rainfall, but the pace of action remains that of the snail. Bald may be beautiful in some people's eyes, but not when thousands of tons of mud are thundering down unchecked.

    There never seems to be the same delay when it comes to getting permission for wind farms or golf courses or the industrial vandalism being carried out in our glens for run-of-river hydro projects with the promise of mere trickles. But then there's no comparative subsidies on offer for the planting of mixed woodland.

    When there was money available for planting it was shelled out to millionaires and TV stars who benefitted from rows and rows of the dreaded conifers lined up in formation like Roman legions on so many of our hillsides.

    There appears to be a silent official nod to creeping industrialisation of our wild lands. Flamingo Land, anyone? Soon we will all be told where to walk and when, bussed in and out of central hubs with exhorbitant parking charges, clutching our souvenir mugs. 

    Meanwhile, the grouse moors stretch on unchallenged, barren landscapes for the shooting set to blast away the remaining wildlife and woe betide any hare that pops its head above the heather, while birds of prey continue to mysteriously disappear in our avian Bermuda Triangle.

    I'm not an optimist, but I do like to think the tide is finally turning. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised while walking on the otherwise dreary Cauldcleuch Head near Langholm to see so many recently planted young trees on the surrounding hillsides.

    The best hill days are often those which have an approach through mixed woodland, a gentle introduction to the rigours of the day ahead with birdsong, butterflies and wild flowers.

    Glen Affric still delights despite not being fully recovered from the recent assaults by heavy machinery, and the reinforcement of the straggling Crannach Wood at the foot of Beinn Achaladair and Beinn Chreachain is encouraging. It's time we all joined the green party – note the lower case 'g' – and erected a bigger canopy over the whole country.