BFT’s Engagement with the Community Ownership Group.
In May 2019, the Buccleuch Estates announced the decision to sell Tarras Water and Holm Hill estate and the clock started ticking for the Langhom Community.
When Borders Forest Trust were first starting out on our ecological restoration journey, we had support from established organisations, including the John Muir Trust. Although still needing to fundraise for our own projects, BFT is now in a position to offer support and dare we say it, expertise to other grass roots projects, such as the Langholm Initiative. In this article, John Thomas – a trustee for Borders Forest Trust explains ways in which BFT have been able to support the Langholm Initiative community buyout.
Success would make this the most significant community land purchase in the South of Scotland and secure for the Langholm community a valuable asset and a site of great importance to nature, a wonderful investment in wildlife, helping to restore biodiversity.
“Everyone has their own memory of our moor. Their first harrier skydance, a triumphant gaze from the monument, a summer barbecue tucked away at the back of Tarras. It is the home of some of Scotland’s rarest and most diverse wildlife.”
That’s the voice of the community of Langholm in the Southern Uplands of Scotland speaking about the great stretch of old grouse moor and wooded valley above Langholm which, the Buccleuch Estate put up for sale in the middle of 2019. A SSSI and Special Protection Area (SPA) overlooking the Solway, the moor is a mecca for moorland birds, especially hen harrier, that rarest of moorland raptors.
The local community quickly voiced their wish to bring the western half of the moor (10,500 acres/4,250 ha) under community ownership. This was a great opportunity and huge challenge not to be missed.
Borders Forest Trust, was approached by Kevin Cumming, project manager for Wild Eskdale and one of the leaders of the buyout, for advice on the possibilities for native woodland on some of the land in view of our experience in establishing the Carrifran Wildwood on a much less favourable site. At BFT, we are fortunate to have Sarah Eno on our Board. Sarah is the past local SNH adviser for Langholm Moor.
I volunteered to visit Langholm on July 1st 2019, meet the community group and to find out more about what support they were looking for from BFT. Two of the leading team, Kevin Cumming and Niall Weatherstone, showed me round the Tarras valley, which is surrounded by moorland.
Along with the RSPB and the JMT, BFT quickly followed up the visit with a letter from BFT’s chair, Rosalind Grant-Robertson, supporting the community’s desire to manage this fantastic site in the interests of both nature and people. Thankfully the Buccleuch Estate agreed to delay the sale to give the community an opportunity to raise the funds.
BFT were invited back to Langholm in September to discuss our impressions with staff from RSPB and SNH. Taking the opportunity for others from BFT to familiarise themselves with the site, Stuart Adair and Philip Ashmole, both founders of Carrifran, and Nicky Hume, BFT’s Treescapes Officer, joined me. Apart from being caught in a downpour, we had a very informative visit, being made extremely welcome.
At this time, Langholm raised funding for a feasibility study of the moor’s potential, a requirement for any assistance from the Scottish Land Fund, and appointed a small team, including the original director of BFT, Willie McGhee, to conduct the study.
By the beginning of October, BFT were invited back, along with SNH and RSPB to meet with the consultants and share our ideas on the opportunities and implications of restoring the moor. Everyone agreed the moor had huge potential for nature restoration which would attract interested and responsible visitors. Sensitively planted woodland, a particular interest of BFT, would enhance, not threaten the raptor habitat.
With the feasibility study completed, a public meeting was held in Langholm in December 2019 to feedback the study’s main findings to the local community. Willie and his colleagues presented their findings, which were all positive, like most of the comments round the room afterwards. One person expressed the opinion; ‘fine if it’s self-financing and not reliant on government handouts’, forgetting that every forest, farm and grouse moor is supported by grants, subsidies and tax breaks in one way or another.
BFT’s next involvement was in March 2020 with a letter of support, along with those from other voluntary organisations. This was to back-up the feasibility study and application to the National Lottery Community Fund for a Scottish Land Fund Grant for £3m, about half the purchase price. A great deal of hard work having been done in advance ment the application was quickly approved, but for just £1m, leaving the community of Langholm with a massive mountain to climb to raise sufficient funds to secure the moor and valley.
At BFT, we wish the Langholm Community the very best of luck, but time is running short. For the community to be successful they need financial support. If you are able, please consider donating to this project, whose aims run parallel to ours at Borders Forest Trust. Sympathetically managed land in South Scotland can only be a good thing for the BFT sites.
If you would like to find out more and would like to help use this link to donate:- www.langholminitiative.org.uk
By John Thomas Trustee, Borders Forest Trust.