A CHARITY behind one of Scotland’s first major community land buyouts has formed a historic new partnership to revitalise two estates in the north-west Highlands.

Assynt Foundation and Woodland Trust Scotland have entered into a 30-year agreement to bring new life to the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates. They say the result will be a resilient upland landscape that should support more people as well as greater biodiversity.

Assynt Foundation was set up to make a community buyout of the estates from the Vestey family. It achieved this in 2005, by raising £2.9 million, including substantial backing from the Scottish Land Fund/Big Lottery Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

It was the first major landholding purchase under the community buyout provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and is the fourth-biggest buyout in Scotland in terms of land area.

The two estates combined amount to around 18,000 hectares (44,000 acres) of land and include much of Assynt and Coigach’s distinctive inselberg landscape, including the iconic mountains of Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag, set among a vast patchwork of rivers and lochans.

The partnership aims to create new native woods amongst a wider mosaic of trees, open moorland and mountains. Open ground habitat, peatlands and riparian areas will be improved through this 30-year rolling work programme. Existing ancient woodlands including remnants of Scotland’s rainforest will be restored and expanded.

A joint management board will oversee the work with the chair alternating between the two charities. A land management Plan will be reviewed every five years with local consultation in line with Scottish Land Commission guidance.

The Trust will fund the woodland creation and environmental projects through the Forestry Grant Scheme and carbon revenue where eligible.

Woodland Trust will register the new woodland with the Woodland Carbon Code and share the carbon income with Assynt Foundation.

The partnership will deliver community benefits for Assynt Foundation members, the wider Assynt community and the Scottish people and will incorporate a programme of public engagement and training.

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Assynt Foundation chair Claire Belshaw (above) said: “Together we will work to create a diverse and productive landscape of woods, moorland and water. This will provide a high-quality backdrop for The Assynt Foundation to realise its rural development ambitions and provide a sustainable source of income.

“This partnership will build on work already done by Assynt Foundation since we purchased the estates in 2005.

“A reduction in deer numbers has already resulted in natural regeneration of some of our native woods and the flowering of dry and wet heaths. We want to do more, and we are thrilled to be working with Woodland Trust Scotland for the next 30 years to see new woods planted.

“These woods will provide shelter for red deer, livestock and lots of wildlife within and around the edges. People can continue to enjoy and benefit from this landscape by working in it and walking through it.”

Peter Lowe of Woodland Trust Scotland said: “We are very conscious that initiatives such as this can become festooned with words that imply going back to some past state – restoring, revitalising, or rewilding – but we are looking forward. We are progressing to a landscape that is simply more productive across the board. It will deliver for nature and for people.

“This is an exciting opportunity to show how we can work with local communities to bring about landscape scale change. The aims of nature conservation and economic wellbeing should not be at odds.”