Gardens & Estate update

Posted on: 27th January 2022

Open letter to the local community. From Alex Stoddart, Chief Executive Officer, Clan Donald Lands Trust (CDLT)

I trust all are well, and wishing a good year to those of you I have not yet spoken with.

General update – Armadale Castle Gardens & Clan Donald Estate

I joined the Clan Donald Land Trust team back in September last year, and found the Trust to be in a challenging position. As a Sgitheanach, it is a privilege for me to be here to take the Trust forward into a sustainable new era.

My personal mission is straightforward: sustainable year-round employment; a resilient business; a thriving local community; young people actively involved; a focus on our native language, culture and people; and an enhanced natural environment.

While there are positive opportunities ahead, the last few months have identified a significant volume of essential work to be completed first, including general estate maintenance and some work on our much-loved trees.

Armadale tree surveys

As a nationally renowned arboretum, trees are integral to CDLT and we love sharing our woodlands with you and people from all over the world. The health of our many and varied trees is important to us, but at a higher level we also have a clear legal duty to the safety of our staff, visitors, and local community.

A recent independent, specialist tree survey has identified several trees in and around the gardens that require attention. Professional tree surveys help us to be sure of necessary remedial work, but also give us more general condition data so we can care for our older trees and plan forward for any new plantings and regeneration work. Much of the work recommended by the survey is simply removal of one or two limbs, or vines. In some cases there will be an urgent requirement to remove a tree entirely for public safety reasons.

Around the estate you may have noticed that some trees have numbers on them, which indicates that the tree has been surveyed. Please be assured that a number on a tree does not mean it needs to be felled; it links into our tree management plan which maps trees across the estate.

Current tree works

We are prioritising necessary work, commissioning new equipment and engaging external professional tree surgeons to help our experienced Estate team. None of the trees needing to be removed are of significant visual or species value. This is part of normal, competent estate management, which you will see more of in the months and years ahead.

Gardens closed

While the essential work is ongoing, we regret that it is not possible to open the garden gates for public visitors. We are working hard to ensure that the necessary work is completed to enable us to open fully in April 2022, bearing in mind that many arboriculture firms are still fully committed on the Storm Arwen damage on the east coast, which has been a major constraint.

Having now completed a long overdue insurance review of the CDLT Estate and Armadale Gardens, it has become clear that unsupervised public access to the gardens in the closed season presents a serious challenge to us as a charity. Public liability insurance is incredibly expensive, but in the closed season there is no income to pay for coverage of the risks associated with allowing public access to the gardens.

Similar gardens only open from April to October, but as we are mindful that Armadale is at the physical heart of our community, we are working to structure a solution focused on providing supervised access for local people during the normal close season.

Next generation of trees

As well as managing our older trees and investing significant resource in maintaining them, we are also working to future-proof our mature gardens and woodlands at the same time.

Specific to the gardens alone, last year we embarked on a programme with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh which will see over 100 new trees planted in our gardens by 2023, many of them endangered in the wild.

And, as well as a focus on rare non-native trees within the actual garden, we also have a commitment to enhance and expand native woodlands over the wider estate.

Summary

We are at the start of a new era in the sustainable development of the Clan Donald Lands Trust. I would like to personally thank the many local people who have offered support and encouragement, as well as understanding and patience, while we begin work to take the Trust forward for the benefit of all.

Alex Stoddart, 27 January 2022