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”˜Invisible’ Nelson’s Tower revealed thanks to much-needed Cluny Hill tree felling project

Forres Features has joined forces with Moray Council to carry out vital forest maintenance work on Cluny Hill.

The community interest company – which runs the spectacular 10-day Colours of Cluny sound and light show – is paying for the work by a qualified tree surgeon, with the full backing of the local council.

The on-going project, which started in 2016, has already seen trees around Nelson’s Tower topped after unchecked growth made the iconic landmark almost invisible.

Going forward, Forres Features Community Interest Company is working with Moray Council and other professional groups to form a plan for sustaining the trees on Cluny Hill.

Bill Budge, from Forres Features, said: “We are looking at a tree planting programme and taking advice of which lower growing indigenous deciduous species should be planted to produce a forest which will stand the test of time.

“By funding the cost of the current tree management programme, the magnificence of Nelson’s Tower can now be seen and we are supporting the efforts of Forres Heritage Trust who, with a fantastic band of volunteers, open the tower to the public from April to September.”

While on site, the tree surgeon discovered a large number of Beech trees were diseased and, because the site hasn’t been managed for many years, light is being prevented from reaching the forest floor, which is having a hugely negative affect on animal, plant and bird life.

Mr Budge continued: “The Beech trees, and a number of Oaks, appear healthy, but we are informed when in full leaf a light wind can just blow them over.

“Additionally, the coniferous trees, which have no place in a deciduous forest, have reached maturity and are starting to lean over.

“If a management plan was in place and trees were thinned and replanted it would be a healthy forest.”

The work has been welcomed by Moray Council, which has praised this community-led initiative.

A spokesperson for the council said: “We are supportive of the community and the works that have been done to date. We intend to work on a management plan with the community over the coming year so that a longer term vision for the wood can be achieved. The wood has had human intervention in it since before Nelson Tower was constructed.

“The basis of the management plan will be that the Cluny Hill wood will be managed as native mixed broadleaf woodland with a varied age range, species composition and structure, encouraging natural regeneration and gradual removal of beech in favour of native species.

“The areas planted with conifers will be maintained as coniferous woodlands, though any large areas that become available will be planted with naturally regenerated oak to encourage the spread of the oak woodland.

“Some felled trees will be left on site, providing much-needed dead wood.

“As the trees grow older new habitats will develop and the maturing woodland will become increasingly attractive.

“Moray Council’s woodland management is undertaken by qualified staff. They are supported by a skilled workforce and contractors and by a variety of specialist advisers. Health and Safety is of primary importance. Competence in forestry and conservation management skills is developed through advisory site visits.

“Moray Council’s staff maintains close working relationships across the forestry industry and with other conservation organisations to ensure the better management of our own woods and to promote a wider appreciation of our policies and practices.”

Public reaction to the tree felling has been positive, and Forres Features has been engaging with the community whenever queries regarding the work being done have been raised.

Bill Budge added: “We fully accept that some people would prefer the status quo was maintained. We have fully engaged with a very small number who have asked for clarification on what has been done. Although we accept, with trees now just coming back into leaf the forest appears rather bare, however in a short period of time we believe the outlook will be far less severe. The number of negative comments we have received has vastly been surpassed by the hugely positive comments received regarding Nelson’s Tower being so much more visible.”

Last November, over 12,500 visitors descended on Forres to enjoy the vibrant display of colour and sound during Colours of Cluny’s inaugural 10-night run.

Ticket sales exceeded organisers expectations for the first year and the proceeds have provided the working capital for the 2017 event and compliment additional grant funding required to stage a larger, more impressive event with many new and exciting features.

Mr Budge concluded: “The 2016 event was only viable because of a large amount of external funding, massive amounts of goodwill from many companies, organisations, individuals, and a great band of volunteers.

“At this point we do not have final accounts concluded but anticipate a modest surplus. This surplus, in the most part will be used to part fund the staging of the 2017 event, but we were keen to show that some long lasting tangible benefits have occurred.

“Shortly, six benches will be installed on Cluny Hill to replace the long ago removed rotten benches as well as paying for the cost of the tree surgeon who undertook the much-needed forestry work.

“To stage Colour of Cluny is a big undertaking. We estimate this year it will cost just over £140,000 however we hope to attract 20,000 to Forres and the Cluny Hill.”