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Scotland's new landscape leaders

Scotland's new landscape leaders

Over 75,000 acres of land in Scotland is now under even more sustainable management, thanks to a pilot leadership programme designed to bring about positive environmental change at the biggest possible scale.

Following their participation in Soil Association Scotland’s Landscape Leadership programme, a group of private landowners and managers, NGO and community trust land managers is planting more native trees, opening up discussions between different types of landowners, and restoring peatland across Scotland.

Collectively, the group manage over 75,000 acres of land, and despite a diverse set of aims and priorities, all were united in their desire to restore nature and mitigate climate change for Scotland’s future generations. They worked together in a mix of residential and then online sessions from January to October, with leadership coaching and input from land managers running large-scale environmental projects, such as assessing natural capital on the Buccleuch Estate and exploring potential carbon markets.

Participant Antony Gifford, owner of Kinnordy and Balintore Estates in Angus, has changed the focus of his large-scale woodland creation project thanks to the programme.

“We’re planting about 300 hectares of new woodland on our hill farm,” says Gifford, “So that will be 550,000 trees going into the ground next summer. About 40% of the trees on our current scheme are commercial, predominantly sitka spruce, but the conversations we’ve had on the programme have made me question whether we’ve got the right mix of trees.

“We’ve got another two projects of a similar size we could look at in the future, and we’ll probably plant less spruce and more native trees, because I’m more comfortable that carbon markets will mature to a point where you can actually make educated estimates of how to build them into a long-term model.”

PICTURE: The beginnings of the Woodland Creation Scheme at Balintore Estate CREDIT: Antony Gifford

Dr. Jessica Lynch Maxwell is Project Development Manager at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest, owned and managed by Woodland Trust Scotland in partnership with Arkaig Community Forest. Thanks to the programme she has begun a process of bringing other landowners and managers together to share knowledge and experiences related to ancient woodland restoration, natural capital assessments, sustainable wildlife management, and working in partnership on social enterprise projects.

“Diverse landowners and managers need to figure out how to work in partnership more effectively,” says Maxwell, “and the Landscape Leadership programme really helped me to understand and appreciate multiple land-use priorities and to begin to negotiate inevitable trade-offs between different objectives for a landscape.”

PICTURE: Loch Arkaig Pine Forest CREDIT: The Woodland Trust Scotland

“The first two sessions were brilliant for giving me the opportunity to step back from the organisation and think,” adds participant Nicola Hunt, Programme Manager at the Borders Forest Trust. “As a result of that time out, I’ve developed a comprehensive new peatland restoration programme which aims to restore over 100 hectares of degraded peatlands across our landholdings with carbon income coupled with Peatland Action grant funding. We’re now looking at large-scale peatland restoration across our sites in addition to our new woodland creation projects, which will be locking away carbon from our atmosphere to help combat climate change as well as restoring valuable habitats for wildlife.”

PICTURE: Carrifran before and after tree planting CREDIT: The Borders Forest Trust

The pilot programme, run jointly between Soil Association Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates, brought together the participants for two residential settings at the Buccleuch Estate and Loch Lomond, then moved to complete online following the Scottish lockdown. As well as focusing on how to balance environmental, social and economic priorities within their landscapes, they also received leadership coaching, advice on influencing policy, and sessions on engaging with communities and stakeholders.

“It was great to see a diverse range of people working with each other on common challenges,” says David Michie, Deputy Director of Soil Association Scotland, who led the Landscape Leadership programme. “I hope that our leaders go on to make more positive changes for their businesses, the people that live in their landscapes, and the environment. I hope that their actions and approach will inspire others to make positive changes that will future-proof Scotland’s landscapes.”

Stephen Young, Head of Policy at Scottish Land & Estates says: “Landowners and managers play a crucial role in helping Scotland meet its climate change targets, improve biodiversity and ensure wildlife conservation. It’s fantastic that those taking part in this initiative have big ambitions to manage their land even more sustainably and we are delighted to be part of it.”

Learn more about Landscape Leadership

You can find out more about the programme on our Landscape Leadership webpage, or learn more about the 2020 members of the Landscape Leadership programme in our Meet Our New Landscape Leaders article.

If you want to be kept up to date on the Landscape Leadership programme, you can also get in touch for news of future rounds of the programme.