Inspired by The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole, University of Bristol masters research student Mathilda Digby spent a month with us on an internship from 20 May 2023.

“After reading about the diverse and threatened habitat that covers much of the western coast of the UK, and most notably on the west coast of Scotland, my goal was to explore these rare and diverse habitats while experiencing how organisations like ACT fit into the landscape of land management and community engagement,” said Mathilda who is studying for an MRes in Biological Science, specialising in LiDAR for forest research. 

Here is Mathilda's photo diary from her month's internship with ACT. 

Exploring Argyll rainforest restoration

My internship began by meeting with some of the team, who were all really welcoming. Instantly, I felt like I was around like-minded people. We chatted about the land management of Scotland and the challenges organisations face as they try to make sure their restoration work is as impactful as possible while also working with local landowners, farmers and the surrounding community.

My first task was getting to know some of the local sites, including Taynish National Nature Reserve and Kilmory Castle estate, with ACT woodland coordinator Ian Dow. We looked at some of the habitats and species that are indicators of a temperate rainforest, as well as management practices used to protect and restore them. 

Hands-on experience

We spent some time cutting back bracken – which is an indicator that the soils in that location are suitable for native forest regeneration – and we planted hazel saplings among a variety of other native species, which were planted to offset woodland lost due to infrastructure developments.

It’s refreshing to see a new generation of ash, rowan, hazel, oak, juniper, alder, birch, aspen and willow being planted for future generations of Lochgilphead to enjoy recreationally in years to come.

Planting hazel saplings

Getting ready for planting

Mapping invasive species

I spent time with ACT woodland coordinator Philippa McKee on a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) project to identify and map areas of Rhododendron ponticum using drone imagery. ACT are working with landowners on this project and the survey will be used to estimate the costs of removing rhododendron across Knapdale. This invasive species is rife across these temperate rainforests and poses a big threat to the health and resilience of native woodlands. I really enjoyed applying my skills in spatial analysis to this project.

GIS and drone surveys provide a great opportunity to make assessments of ecosystem health and threats on a large scale and from above, a view that was not accessible to ecologists and surveyors before. This technology allows ACT to make accurate and large-scale estimates about the threats facing these rainforests, and they can now plan how to mitigate and remedy the problem. We also headed out into the field to ground-truth – which means to asses areas in-person on the ground – some of our rhododendron mappings. We took in some great views over Knapdale at the same time!

From small beginnings

I spent some invaluable time with Julie Young, ACT’s chief executive, to learn how ACT began and the logistics behind a multifaceted organisation. I admire the determination to grow from a team of one person to a team of around 20, all working in different parts of Argyll and on different areas of focus. Julie and the team need to decipher between funding and greenwashing opportunities to ensure that their projects benefit the local community, providing resources and jobs, for example, and not just planting trees for carbon credits.

Outdoor learning for the community

I attended an ACT in the Woods wellbeing session at Blarbuie Woodland with rangers Dan and Richard. This project brings people from the community together in a safe space to spend the afternoon outdoors being creative. The group on this 12-week programme enjoyed the health and social benefits that nature provides. Jamie Joyce, who runs ACT’s scheme to refurbish bikes for locals, kindly gave me a bike so I had a sustainable way of exploring the surrounding area.

Over to Islay

For my final week, I headed to the Isle of Islay to work with Deb Baker and Angharad Ward on ACT’s peatland initiative. We visited peatland sites to see previous restoration work, some work in progress, and sites that will potentially be restored in the future. I gained a great understanding of how these projects are planned and achieved, as well as the logistics behind working with landowners and their priorities. I had the opportunity to head out on some bird surveys of potential restoration sites and later contributed to inputting this data into GIS software.


During this time, I got to meet many different people within the community, which was very eye-opening and gave me insight into different perspectives and how land management affects people in their everyday lives. For example, I met with farmers who are juggling the task of trying to implement farming systems that will be resilient to future climatic changes, by encouraging diversity of species and habitats, while ensuring the farm remains financially viable.

I met with Mary Anne, a teacher at Islay High School school who runs an agricultural module for students. The site is incredible! It is situated at the old battery by the school. There’s a long polytunnel for growing seedlings, and a diverse grassland habitat, some of which is being planted as an orchard, as well as heather-covered ridges and a small beach with a diversity of seaweeds. This is a perfect place for young budding ecologists to feel inspired and gain skills that make them employable. It sounds like this project provides a safe space for students to debate a range of topics around ecology and agriculture while enriching their mental health and wellbeing.


Thank you ACT

My time with ACT has been invaluable – I’ve put my skills into practice and learned a lot through seeing and hearing conversations with landowners, stakeholders and the local community in person.

The team welcomed me with open arms and each member has taken the time to give me an in-depth overview of what they do and how they run their own projects. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, wild swimming in lochs and the ocean, and hope to return in the near future. 

Mathilda Digby 

You can follow Mathilda on Instagram see @mathilda.amberr.