A CONTROVERSIAL new forestry project has been given the green light in a bid to help reduce the risk of flash flooding in Largs.

Peatland restoration is being carried out in Halkshill and Blair Park that will see a more comprehensive drainage plan to improve the water holding capacity on the hill by reducing the flow.

The Scottish Government, through Scottish Natural Heritage, are funding the restoration of bog habitats throughout Scotland through their Peatland Action programme.

Last year, a £60,000 project commenced over some 350 hectares of Halkshill and Blair Park, funded by the government programme and owners Stakis Forestry LLP.

The aim being to restore the hydrology and ecology of this delicate habitat.

Diggers did the damage many years ago and similar machines were used to undo this damage by creating peat dams in the drain lines every 10 to 15 metres.

As soon as a peat dam is constructed, the water begin to back up.

The aim is not to stop water coming off the site but to “slow the flow” by encouraging the peat bog to store water and release it slowly over time.

The project resulted in 2,234 peat dams being built.

John Gallacher, pictured, ecologist and project leader for Tilhill Forestry who are agents for the Stakis led project, said: “On Halkshill and Blair Park the drainage was so thoroughly comprehensive that on one 200 hectare area there is 42,000 metres of drains.

"What we are doing here is trying to improve the water holding capacity on the hill by slowing the flow of water off these peatland areas which will result in a more resilient catchment in relation to flood risk and improve the biodiversity of the hills above Largs”.

Andros Stakis, on behalf of the Stakis Charitable Foundation, commented: 'The Foundation is delighted to be involved in a project which will have such positive benefits for wildlife on the open hill, and that will hopefully also reduce the risk of flash floods that have been a real concern to the people of Largs in the past due to the historic drainage of the hills.'

As for the woodland creation project, it is planned that a start will be made later this month to prepare the ground for the trees to help ensure early and successful woodland establishment.

In addition, the broadleaf areas will be protected by 1.8 km of deer fence which has taken account of current public access provision by siting of self-closing gates. The deer fence will be removed once the trees are established and beyond being damaged by deer browsing.

Public concerns regarding access have also been addressed, say the Stakis Group.

Mr Gallacher continued: "The hills behind Largs are an important public access resource. In particular, Greeto Bridge and the existing Core Path to Largs plus the Cauld Rocks are recognised as highly significant and a valuable resource to the people of Largs and beyond. The woodland creation around the Core Path has been designed to maintain views out to the Firth of Clyde and Cumbrae.

"The woodland design also ensures that the Cauld Rocks will remain fully accessible and usable for rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits.

"New access provision will result from track creation to facilitate woodland creation and management."

"Over and above this, a total of two km of new waymarked formal paths will be created, connecting existing footpaths from Largs to Greeto Bridge and to the viewpoint above the Cauld Rocks."

Discussions have taken place with the North Ayrshire Outdoor Access Forum and it has been agreed that a Halkshill and Blair Park Access Group will be constituted and will help oversee and steer access developments on the estate.