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Thinking big out west
Viv Halcrow, Project Officer, describes the inspiring aims of Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape.
The area of Coigach and Assynt in the northwest is one of singular dramatic beauty, but this masks a centuries-old impoverishment of the land - due to a combination of high grazing levels, large-scale muirburn, deforestation and the extreme oceanic climate.
Since 2009, a group of concerned landowners who want to bring about positive change have been working together to try to reverse this trend. Working on big projects, which run across landownership boundaries, and with input from local people, the partners in Coigach – Assynt Living Landscape (CALL) will protect and expand native woodlands and use sustainable deer management practice.
This will benefit habitats and wildlife, and also help to improve the socio-economic situation in the northwest in a variety of ways from direct employment to opportunities for wildlife tourism.At 60,600 hectares, CALL is one of the largest landscape restoration projects in Europe.
CALL is a partnership which aims to benefit the land, the people and the local economy in the northwest of ScotlandWorking with landowners and local people, CALL aims to restore the health of the whole ecosystem by improving and re-connecting habitats (especially native woodlands) and creating rural employment and volunteering opportunities.
CALL’s Programme Plan (2011 – 2015) sets out the reasoning behind setting up this partnership, its vision, and the projects which will be undertaken to achieve its aims. This can be downloaded from www.coigach-assynt.org, along with Annual Reviews and other documents. The Plan is currently under review, taking into account developments since CALL’s launch in June 2011. CALL has a 40-year vision:
‘It is 2050; the communities of Coigach and Assynt are working together to achieve a truly living landscape through improved understanding of their environment and the impacts of climate change; shared active management providing a diverse range of connected and resilient habitats; creation of local employment and training opportunities, and; building on the communities’ strong cultural heritage linked to the land.’
The founding CALL partners have been working together since 2009: Assynt Foundation, Culag Community Woodland Trust, Eisg Brachaidh estate, John Muir Trust and Scottish Wildlife Trust. Tanera Mor (Summer Isles) joined in 2011, and Kylesku estate more recently. All share CALL’s vision and are keen to bring about positive change for the habitats and wildlife of the area, and for the people who live here. That such a diverse range of private landowners, conservation charities and community landowners are committed to working together demonstrates their determination to change things for the better. Local people are able to contribute to the growth of CALL, through regular open meetings.
CALL’s major aim is to improve habitat condition, largely through a carefully-planned programme of native woodland expansion and by promoting sustainable deer management. It also seeks to improve the socio-economic conditions in the fragile northwest – since 2011 CALL has created 6 new jobs and offered plenty of volunteering opportunities at its new native tree nursery near Lochinver.
With an expanded partnership of 12 (Assynt Fieldclub, Historic Assynt, Isle Martin Trust, Coigach Salmon Fisheries Ltd, Coigach Community Development Co) CALL successfully got through Stage 1 of an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Landscape Partnership scheme, for a £3million grant. Match-funding will increase the money invested in the area to over £4.5 million. A Development Manager and two Assistant DMs (job-share) are now working on Stage 2 of the bid. If successful, project work will begin in late 2015, to improve:built and natural heritage access and learning about heritage community involvement in heritage training in heritage skills. Bringing this money to the area will enable a further three full-time jobs to be set up, including a woodland manager and outdoor & woodland learning staff, and provide much work for local contractors. It will benefit the people as well as the wildlife of the northwest highlands. email
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