Scotland’s native pine forests – in decline for centuries – have been given a new lease of life.

Speaking at a conference about native pinewoods at Drumnadrochit, Forestry Commission Scotland director Dr Bob McIntosh said that the forests, whose main species was Scots pine, had seen a reversal of fortune over the past 40 years.

He said there had been “very significant” achievements on the ground in terms of improvements in both the extent and condition of pine woods. Discussion had moved on from how to protect the remnants to how ambitious expansion plans should be, he added.

The Caledonian pine woods have suffered thousands of years of decline through a combination of climate change and human acitivites. Their plight was highlighted in 1959, triggering attempts to halt the deterioration.

By 1994 the decline had been halted, since when the Forestry Commission had put an ambitious plan into action to restore and expand the area of native pinewood on national forest lands. Other organisations have bought important pinewood sites, while private landowners are doing their bit with the help of forestry grants.

Dr McIntosh said there was still some way to go before all the targets were met, but that pine woods offered economic benefits and employment with scope for timber extraction and recreation and tourism opportunities.