Conservationists are striving to safeguard the future of an Inverness beauty spot as they prepare to plant hundreds of new trees.
Staff at the Merkinch Local Nature Reserve have taken delivery of 300 native trees from conservation charity the Woodland Trust in an effort expand the site on the edge of the city.
A selection of birch and hazel trees will be planted in the coming years as well as hawthorn and black thorn.
Project manager Caroline Snow said nature and the elements have remained the biggest challenge to the preservation of the reserve in recent years.
“The trouble that we have had historically at the nature reserve is that when we plant trees the survival rate isn’t what it could be and there are a selection of reasons for that,” she said.
“One reason is deer and rabbits and another one is just the natural dieback which you would expect anyway.
“We have also had issues where the water table is so high during the winter that in some of the areas where we have been planting trees they are literally just bobbing in the water rather than being able to secure their roots.
“We have planted 60 young trees and they will make a lovely woodland one day but we need to carry on doing that across all of the reserve and at Carnac point.”
In an attempt to preserve the trees donated by the trust, Ms Snow launched an appeal for fellow conservationists to grow them on behalf of the reserve ahead of planting in two years’ time.
Around 30 people have now come forward offering to grow half of their croft, including volunteers from Inverness Botanic Gardens.
Ms Snow added: “When we received the trees from the Woodland Trust we thought that rather than planting them straight out into the reserve if we asked people to grow them on for us for a couple of years, and then plant them, they will be more robust and more likely to survive.
“In two years’ time we will plant them out and hopefully they will be that much bigger, better and stronger.”
The venture is one in a number of projects underway across the reserve.
Extensive repairs were carried out on the boardwalk after it was cordoned off amid fears it might collapse.
The area, adjacent to the Far North Line, was sealed-off on the advice of insurers after the structure fell into a state of disrepair.
A band of volunteers have since helped to safeguard the future of the structure, which dates back almost 30 years.
Support is, however, now being rallied to fund a new boardwalk at the reserve.
Ms Snow said: “I would just really like to thank everybody who has come out during 2020 and helped us.
“There are regular volunteers that support us time and again and without them the reserve would be a very different place.
“We spend a lot of time clearing litter away and making it look better for visitors so a massive thank you is due to them, to the volunteers that come out now and again and also to the people that just do the decent thing when they are in the reserve in picking up rubbish and clearing things away after themselves.”