A spectacular ancient Scottish pine forest has been saved by campaigners, following a race against time to raise funds.
The Woodland Trust joined up with a local community group to buy Loch Arkaig forest, which was in danger of being put on the open market.
Work will now start to restore the forest, clear non-native conifers and improve existing wildlife habitats.
An appeal was launched in April to raise £500,000 to fund the purchase, and a further £4m to restore the forest, which has been used as a filming location for a Harry Potter movie.
Gary Servant of Arkaig Community Forest said: “This is a great moment! The land has been bought and we have a fantastic opportunity to work together to restore these native woodlands and to reconnect local people with their forests.
“Everyone is very excited and we give heartfelt thanks to all who have supported us and have contributed to the appeal. ”
The 2,500 acre site, near Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands, is one of the most significant areas of remaining Caledonian pine forest.
It is home to wild boar, sea eagles, golden eagles, ospreys, pine martens and deer among many other species.
The pinewoods have been degraded by historic felling, over-grazing and planting with non-native conifers which will be slowly removed over the next 20 years.
The forest will be surveyed to identify ‘wildlife hotspots’ which will be expanded through sympathetic management in the coming decades.
Campaigners hope the local economy can benefit from wildlife tourism and the development of businesses using products from the forest.
The project to restore the forest will be the largest ancient woodland restoration undertaken by the Woodland Trust on land under its direct care.
The Woodland Trust’s Scotland director Carol Evans said: “We are going to consult widely on our detailed plans for the wood. We want to see this special place established as a benchmark for the joint regeneration of both its native forest and local community.
“The purchase is just the first step, our long term goal of restoring this wood to its full glory will cost more than the purchase price. But today is a day for great celebration nevertheless. We are on our way!”
Loch Arkaig forest was sold by Forest Enterprise Scotland under the National Forest Land Scheme which gives community organisations first refusal to buy land where this will provide increased public benefit. The sale had to be completed this winter or the forest could have gone on the open market.
The Loch Arkaig Appeal continues with a final target of £4.5million. The total currently stands at £2.9million. The largest contribution to the campaign – £750,000 – came from the People’s Postcode Lottery.
British Commandos and Allied Special Forces including the Free French trained at Loch Arkaig during the Second World War.
During exercises with live ammunition forest fire raged across the hillside Scots pines cooked in their own resin were preserved and still stand like ghost trees.
Loch Arkaig was also the location for a sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry, Hermione and Ron cling to a dragon as it flies above the forest before jumping off into the Loch below.