Borders Forest Trust, a group of people sitting on picnic benches outside.

Digging deeper with Borders Forest Trust

By Ben Walker on 07 August 2023

Situated in the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Borders, this organisation has been working to restore woodlands and natural habitats since 1996.

Situated in the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Borders, this organisation has been working to restore woodlands and natural habitats since 1996.

People planting trees on a hill.


Restoring Nature’s Balance

Borders Forest Trust (BFT) is a non-profit organisation working to restore natural habitats and woodlands in the heart of the Scottish Borders. Their small but strong team is supplemented by over 300 registered volunteers. Founded in 1996 by a group of friends who purchased a small tract of land, BFT has now grown to encompass over 3,500 hectares of border counties. The core of BFT’s work is ecological restoration; they don’t simply put the land back to how it used to be, they restore the land to create biodiverse ecology. At the heart of their mission is the drive to bring nature back and encourage people to get out and participate.

A group of people standing under a tree.


Change for the better

When BFT was founded in the 90s, climate change was not at the forefront of people’s minds the way it is now. Over the years, the climate crisis has climbed higher and higher on the agenda as its impact and awareness gains momentum. Being an environmentally focused organisation, BFT is constantly searching for ways to improve the way they work and reduce carbon emissions. This means regular evaluation of systems and processes.

A great example of this is the digger they have started using to increase efficiency. Recently they have planted over 80,000 trees using this machine. Its scoop is used to create a raised mound, which reduces competing vegetation, and the tree is then planted by hand. As helpful as this machine is, BFT had to decide if any negative eco-impact would be offset by its efficiency. Turns out, it was. The eco-impact of the tree digger was equal to that of hand digging once they factored in the impact of all their crews driving out numerous times, and the fuel that busses used.

A person planting a tree.


Obstacles along the way

A hurdle BFT faces is misconception about their work and the land they use. In the Scottish Borders, much of the land has been used for farming for the past 300 years. However, before there were farms, there was wildlife habitats and forests. BFT has faced criticism that they aren’t producing as much value as farmland because they aren’t creating the same jobs and income. But, BFT is creating something, something the world needs now more than ever as climate change becomes an increasing pressure. They are creating new ecosystems, community engagement and awareness, and restoration efforts, as well as jobs. Combatting these misconceptions is a key part of BFT’s efforts to spread awareness and understanding of their mission.

Another challenge for BFT is a misunderstanding about what they do. Many people think reforestation means simply planting dense blocks of trees, but it is much more than that. In reality, BFT is reintroducing organised woodlands to restore natural habitats and ecosystems.

People volunteering for the Borders Forest Trust.


Eco-innovations and initiatives

As part of their restoration efforts, BFT continuously looks for ways to improve their methods to increase their sustainability. While grants they receive from Scottish Forestry have certain stipulations, BFT has been able to adjust these to decrease their environmental impact. Putting plastic tree tubes around saplings is a key stipulation of BFTs grants from Scottish Forestry. Using these tubes is common practice to protect young trees from rodents, deer, and other animals. Other requirements include spraying the surrounding ground with pesticide to clear competing plants and putting up deer fences.

In efforts to be more sustainable, BFT has been trialling alternative ways to meet these stipulations, which Scottish Forestry has also given funding support for. A big change BFT implemented has come from their choice of tree tubes. To reduce their plastic use, they have started implementing various biodegradable tubes. These include tubes made from a range of organic materials, including cotton, sheep’s wool, and plant cellulose. Being biodegradable, these tubes are much better for the environment, and have considerably less impact that plastic.

Part of BFT’s mission is helping people understand their own land and how they can work with it. To do this, they employ a full-time woodland advisor. The advisor can help members of the public receive funding for their own restoration efforts and distribute resources to guide these efforts. As needed, the advisor can also arrange for BFT volunteers to go to other people’s land to assist them.

A group of people standing outside of a lodge.


Looking to the future

The future of BFT is bright, and the organisation is always looking for growth opportunities. Their search for rolling hills in the Borders is supported by donations and fund-raising efforts which help them purchase land when and where they can.

One positive change the organisation has seen over the years comes from their young volunteers. There has been a marked change in how aware children are of the importance of the environment and sustainability. Increased awareness in younger populations bodes well for a strong future of continued environmental efforts.

When asked what BFT would want the public to know that is not on their website, they said:

“What you can’t describe on a website is the team’s passion. Everyone is here because they love what they do and feel passionately about what they’re doing. It’s more than a job for all of us, it’s a way of life”.

Firefly has thoroughly enjoyed volunteering with Borders Forest Trust, and we would highly recommend the organisation to others. To learn more about the fantastic work that BFT do and how you and your team could collaborate with them, visit bordersforesttrust.org

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