The woodlands which are being disposed of by FCS comprise two forest blocks on the south shore of Loch Arkaig in Lochaber, Glenmallie (578 ha) and South Loch Arkaig (519 ha). They lie on predominantly north-facing slopes above the loch cut by numerous burns and smaller watercourses.
Both are ancient woodland sites originally consisting of native Caledonian pinewood, mixed with other native woodland and non-woodland habitats, and forming part of a more extensive native pinewood area which once extended almost uninterrupted from Loch Lochy to the head of Loch Arkaig (as shown on the 1860 OS maps of the area - for example).
This forest was once famed for its fine timber, being mentioned in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, and the timber resource was heavily exploited from the 18th century onwards.Following a fire during military training during the Second World War, much of the remaining forest was severely damaged and the stark remnants of dead Scots Pine trees from this fire still dominate the landscape of Glen Mallie.
The woodlands were surveyed by Steven & Carlisle as part of their seminal work on the Native Pinewoods of Scotland, and they are amongst the 38 prestigious sites which are included on the Forestry Commission’s Caledonian Pinewood Inventory. Despite their importance and their persistence on the site over millenia however, they have been degraded in recent centuries by large-scale exploitation for timber followed by intensive fire and herbivore impacts and by inappropriate management. As well as historic exploitation and the devastating 20th century fire mentioned earlier, the woodlands in question were underplanted with non-native softwood species (mainly Lodgepole Pine with some Larch and Sitka Spruce) by FCS in the 1970s. Significantly, however, only a small proportion of the total area consists of potentially harvestable commercial conifers, some of which will mature in the next decade.
The area around Loch Arkaig is also home to a variety of high-profile wildlife species including Black Grouse, various large Raptors, Pine Marten, Red Deer and Wild Boar. The woodlands are currently bounded by deer fencing which appears to be largely in relatively good condition. Deer numbers have been controlled within the exclosures allowing some regeneration of native tree species, and FCS have also spent considerable sums in the past on native woodland restoration -in particular removing non-native conifers through fell-to-recycle operations.
'Fully a quarter mile west of the waterfall, a rough road branches off to the left and is bridged over the River Arkaig where this river leaves the loch of the same name. This road curves along the south side of Loch Arkaig into the lonely fastnesses of Glen Mallie. If you wish the real thing in untamed nature, tramp into this glen where you will feel that the realm of business and machinery belongs to another world, for here among the rugged hills clad with heather and noble pines and firs - some of the finest specimens in Scotland - is a haunt of red deer and golden eagle as well as hill fox and wild cat. The huge forest which clad this region until the Second World War, is, unfortunately now sadly depleted because in April 1942, while the Commandos were training here, there was a great forest fire which destroyed about three thousand acres of magnificent trees, and the scars are still to heal.'
D. B. MacCulloch, Romantic Lochaber, Arisaig and Morar, 1971.