Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape is one of the largest community-led partnerships in Scotland, with 10 of its 14 partners drawn from local communities. Despite a population of just 1400, these tiny communities have pulled together to bring significant positive change for the nature, heritage and economic prospects of this remote area.
The seeds of Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape were sown in 2010, when five local community, charity and private landowners, with Scottish Wildlife Trust, came together to develop a long-term vision for the area.
The partners made a successful bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a five-year programme, Coigach & Assynt Landscape Partnership (CALLP) Scheme, from 2016 to 2021. The scheme also enjoyed the support of NatureScot, which not only helped financially but gave practical advice and guidance.
With 14 partners signed up, over 30 individual projects, and nearly £5m of funding, CALLP has focused not just on the area’s ecology and wildlife, but also on supporting rural industries, creating employment opportunities, recording the historical role of the community in the landscape, and attracting people to both visit and live in the area.
The scheme came to an end at the end of March 2022, but those involved can reflect on a range of achievements that speak of nature recovery, economic opportunity, broadened horizons and cultural identity: native woodlands have been planted or brought back to active management; local people have been trained in deer management, farming techniques and other rural skills; iconic paths on mountain, woodland and coast have been created or upgraded; and children from every local school have enjoyed countless hours of engagement with nature.
Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape has a 40-year vision to see thriving, working communities within a healthy landscape, who work together to celebrate and protect their unique natural, historic and cultural heritage now and for the future. The partnership scheme’s outcomes are helping to achieve that the vision.
The project area is blessed with some of the most dramatic and recognisable landscapes in the UK, and within these some of the most endangered habitats and species. The Partnership comprises community, charity and private landowners, community interest groups, and charitable membership organisations. This eclectic group of organisations represents and reflects a unique heritage and structure of land ownership and management in Scotland. This combination of landscape and culture has created a rare opportunity to demonstrate the power of a partnership of these organisations working together to achieve much more than the sum of their parts.
The core aims of the scheme were to conserve and restore features of the natural and built environment; increase community involvement and empowerment in heritage management; provide opportunities for increased access and learning to, and from, the landscape; and to deliver meaningful, and sustained, socio-economic benefits for the local population.
The 30+ projects that made up the scheme were delivered by the partners, which include Assynt Field Club; Assynt Foundation; Coigach Community Development Company; Coigach Salmon Fisheries Limited; Culag Community Woodland Trust; Eisg Brachaidh Estate; Historic Assynt; Isle Martin Trust; John Muir Trust; Kylesku Estate; North West Highlands Geopark; Scottish Wildlife Trust; Tanera Mor and the Woodland Trust. Partners were supported by a staff team hosted by Scottish Wildlife Trust and Woodland Trust, who helped with tenders, reporting, legal issues etc – allowing small community organisations to deliver large-scale projects that could prove challenging or impossible to achieve on their own. “Without such support, our large, complex project just would not have been possible,” reflects Gordon Sleight, who led Historic Assynt’s Clachtoll Broch Project.
This approach also allows individuals to get involved. When local residents Nigel and Meryl Carr wanted to extend a wildlife corridor from existing woodland on their own property to an adjacent area of rented land, CALL’s Woodland Expansion Project Officer provided the specialist expertise and guidance needed: “It has taken four years, but with significant help from contractors, we have planted almost 11,000 native trees,” explains Nigel. “We simply would not have been able to achieve this without the guidance and enthusiasm from the CALL partnership.”
The unique make-up of the partnership has allowed it to deliver an unusually broad range of projects, taking advantage of the multiple skills and interests of its members. Here’s a flavour of what’s been achieved so far.
Through the woodland expansion project over eight square kilometres of native woodlands have been planted or brought back into active management, many on land owned or managed by partners. Many of the trees planted have been grown from local seed at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Little Assynt Tree Nursery, which also supplies stock to a number of other estates in the area.
It needed helicopter operations to transport the huge quantity of stone required, and many, many hours of gruelling work from the path builders, to install new sections of path on the iconic mountains of Suilven and Quinag, protecting them from erosion while allowing better access for walkers and climbers. On a smaller scale, community groups have created paths around nature trails, heritage trails along the coast, and better access and education areas for schoolchildren in local woodlands. In all, around 13 kilometres of new paths have been created, established paths upgraded, and path networks maintained.
CALLP’s deer management project combines the needs for increased management of red deer to protect woodland habitats with creating more local employment and income generation. Stalkers have been trained, a new community deer larder built, and the benefits of local venison promoted. This has been complemented by an innovative programme for high schools called ‘Hill to Grill’, which takes older pupils on the journey from deer stalking on the hill through butchering, cooking, and finally eating the produce.
The Outdoor and Woodland Learning project (OWL) worked with every school in the area, providing weekly outdoor sessions for every child in primary school there – over 4000 engagements in all. The education team also worked closely with teachers and have created a detailed education guide to the many woodlands, hills, coastal sites and beaches in the area to allow them to continue to take children out for engagements with nature now the scheme has come to an end.
Reflecting on the impact of CALLP Laura Hamlet, North West Highland Geopark Coordinator, said ‘The CALL partnership’s work has allowed the North West Highlands to retain UNESCO Global Geopark Status through impressing re-validators from the UNESCO revalidation team.’
Because of its make-up, CALLP’s legacy will be deeply embedded in the community itself. The scheme has helped Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape move towards its 40-year vision for the area, with investments in community assets, skills and education ensuring that the next steps on road to thriving communities in a healthy landscape will be made on a solid foundation.
CALLP would like to thank all our funders for their support in making this possible, including National Lottery Heritage Fund; NatureScot; Scottish Wildlife Trust; Garfield Weston Foundation; Lund; EB Scotland; Coigach Salmon Fisheries Ltd; Ernest Cook Trust; Esmee Fairbairn Foundation; European Outdoor Conservation Association; Gannochy Trust; Highland Council; Historic Environment Scotland; John Muir Trust; KMF Maxwell Stuart Charitable Trust; Pilgrim Trust; Ramblers Scotland;Robert Kiln Charitable Trust; Scottish Mountaineering Trust; Scottish Rural Development Programme; SSE; The Radcliffe Trust; University of Stirling; Wren; and Creative Scotland.
For more information about Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape visit the website at www.coigach-assynt.org