A reflection on 2019

Outgoing Chairman Rosalind Grant-Robertson reflects on 2019 and looks to 2020 and beyond:

2019 was a year of 2 halves, characterised by staff changes, as I have noted in the annual review.   But by the year end, the Trust had shown its resilience by taking the opportunities these changes presented to review  our structure and skills, moving forward positively with recruitment and training of staff.  Such positivity was greatly helped by the trust’s financial stability, especially the 3 year Esmee Fairbairn core funding, but even more importantly, thanks to the support we received at a difficult time both internally and externally: from our staff, from trustees and from partner organisations, all of whom stepped up and ensured our work not just continued but indeed expanded within and beyond our sites, and made a positive impact. 

So our work in 2019 has taken us closer to our vision for Southern Scotland:  a rich network of native woodlands and wild places cared for by local communities.  2019 saw real progress on this at our own sites:  MORE peatlands restored, some 40,000 MORE trees established, MORE montane scrub planting at high levels, more habitat enrichment through species diversification. 

And MORE people worked with us – (individually, as groups or as like-minded partnership organisations)  –   to extend our vision across Southern Scotland beyond our own landholdings:  MORE volunteers joined us in 2019 (coordinated since June 2019 by our new Engagement Officer); MORE local landowners, farmers and communities took up our advice and help on planting new native woodland, on protecting ancient woodland or on enriching habitats in their area; MORE people from all kinds of backgrounds visited our Wild Heart sites and listened to our message, all adding to the number of young people we reach through BFT outdoor education projects in schools and community woodlands.    

And to further that revival of Woodland Culture, in 2019 we teamed up with the Scottish Woodlots Association to improve the management of woodlands at Corehead.  At the end of the year, another local business, Woodfuel Cooperative Dumfries, approached BFT as a partner for their customer Plant A Tree scheme, which has led to over 2000 trees planted so far this year, and there will be more in future years.   BFT were also pleased to join with Southern Upland Partnership in a pilot for Scottish Borders Council and Scottish Forestry on a more integrated approach to forestry planning which would deliver greater benefit to both the environment and communities.  This involved community consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. That report is now completed and has been well received. 

2019 also brought us new funding from SNH in the Biodiversity Action Grant, enabling us to pioneer enrichment planting of bearberry in the Wild Heart, and we were contacted by a non-profit charity organisation in the United States called One Tree Planted, who support reforesting around the globe and were seeking new partners in the UK.   This new funding stream will put nearly 65000 trees into the Wild Heart over the next 2 years and we hope the relationship will continue to develop longer term.

So we entered 2020 looking forward not backwards.   Some plans have been put on hold by funders because of Covid, but we have taken the first steps forward as a result of the staff review.   We have welcomed Fiona to the team, principally to increase our impact via social media.   We have offered our staff training and development opportunities within the trust, a move which really pleases me personally, as it reflects and envisages a longer-term relationship with staff and recognition for their loyalty.  We have always done a lot with a little: our small team is very cohesive and they share a lot of knowledge of our work outwith their individual roles, but basically we need to add to their number and insulate the trust as far as possible from reliance on too few staff, however valued their knowledge and skills.  So it is good to report that we now have some funding through SF’s Forestry Development Programme to add to our in-house education staff to cover community woodland volunteering and health-related projects.    It also allows me a moment to congratulate our Education Officer, Anna Craigen, on a new project of her own – becoming a parent of baby Theo.

So if 2019 showed we could weather change, the impact of Covid 19 and its uncertainties were not going to knock us sideways, were they?   In February we thanked Andrew Campbell for his leadership and welcomed his replacement, Charles Dundas, as Chief Executive, but before Charles could settle at his desk, we were all working from home.   More change.  But more opportunities.   Lockdown has heightened public awareness of the positive impact of the outdoors and refocused many on the need to engage with wild places.  BFT’s work is way ahead of the game on both counts.  Our Wild Heart sites give us an inspirational focus at a landscape scale of how wildness can look, and we already engage with people so they can contribute to our vision of a richer tapestry of woodlands and habitats.   

So as we move through the rest of 2020 and into 2021, when we celebrate our 25th anniversary, talking up our vision becomes even more relevant.  Amongst other plans to mark that milestone, we note that our anniversary now coincides with the postponed climate change conference COP26 in November 2021 in Glasgow.   Eyes will be on Southern Scotland.  We hope to be able to bend some ears.     

We’ve come a long way over those 25 years. Our ownership of land in the Wild Heart has become a focus for our work, showing what we can do and how, also reaching beyond those site boundaries to promote our vision in local communities and other organisations.  Opportunities for channelling the recent increased public interest are being explored and we are looking at our Wild Heart sites to build on our success and judge how best to get even more woodland on them. 

It isn’t all about planting trees though.  Revival is not survival, and encouraging a wider woodland culture to care for them through our volunteers, education and partnerships is even more important for our next 25 years.   We will have to adapt our approaches and methods as necessary, if nothing else, to unpredictable “new-normals” in funding within a new framework outside the EU.  

But we should see these as chances, not hurdles.  Sustaining the trust for another 25, 50, 250 years is no more of a dream than restoring a single valley’s ecosystem seemed at the end of last century.   Hey, been there, seen that, and yes, we’ve even written the book, actually 2 books!   I’m sure you all buy a copy and will gift it to others this Christmas.

Thank you for your past and future support – Rosalind Grant-Robertson