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Welcome to the Scottish Community Land Network

This site is for people interested in the management and ownership of land-based assets by communities in Scotland. A Scottish Community Land Network, you might say... As you know the internet is a big 'place' with everything about anything so we brought you relevant news and events, and provide opportunities to share ideas with other people interested in this subject. There are almost 1000 members, and more than 800 articles in our archive.

 

Scottish Community Land Network will not be kept up-to-date after March 2012. However, a new site is being produced by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and details will be published on this site as soon as they are available.

The most recent articles are available on the home page - previous articles are in their relevant topic areas (browse the 'Topics' menu on the left).

Can you make pennies from pebbles?

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Many years ago, buy purchase when I was young and enthusiastic with no grey hair, online illness I moved to a new job in Aberdeenshire.  Suddenly, I was immersed in a strange land full of people ‘chavin awa’ and randomly adding ‘y’s to every word(y).  Very different from my previous life in Inverness, right enough.

Nervous, but still brunette, I was handed a project involving an area of woodland that had been ear marked for quarrying.  Located next to the village of Woodhead near Fyvie, the woodlands had become a popular spot for walkers as well as a haven for wildlife in an agricultural landscape.  Which might have been cause enough to oppose the quarrying.  But these woodlands are also a geological Site of Special Interest (SSSI), internationally recognised for their unique geological history.  The stones beneath the woodlands provide vital clues to the nature of Scotland towards the end of the last ice age.  Or so I’m told. They may have been just pebbles to you and me, but for geologists the Windyhills deposits are the giant panda of the rock world – unique, rare and threatened.

The geological wonder of Windyhills

Faced with the loss of an asset that was valued by both the local community and the international geological community, statutory organisations and the locals came together to seek a solution.  This being the dim and distant past of 2002, the Scottish Land Fund was fairly new on the scene and a community buy-out of the site was mooted as a trendy and dynamic way forward.  Many months later, after we’d all worn our fingers out filling in countless forms, the site was finally in the hands of a new community group – the Woodhead and Windyhills Community Trust Ltd (WWCT).

 

Since those days, I’ve gone greyer and wrinklier, but WWCT has gone from strength to strength.  Paths have been built, school children have visited, thousands of cups of coffee have been drunk at fund-raising events and numerous volunteers have helped out with all manner of tasks.  They’ve had financial support from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), who have covered the cost of public liability insurance, fences and interpretation panels.  The WWCT website shows just how much the group have developed and what they’ve achieved over the years.    And in a pleasing moment of full circle completion, I recently had the opportunity to help produce the group’s second five year management plan.

Communities at work in WindyhillsGoing back to visit the group and work on the management plan had a strange sense of déjà-vu.  Many of the characters are the same – chavin awa’ with those same Aberdonian traits for calling a spade a spadey.  And there was still a sense of enthusiasm and pride for what the group had done and where they wanted to go next.  Between us, we produced a management plan full of great ideas, with a focus on bringing in new, younger members of the community to help drive the project onwards and upwards.

But, despite all of their enthusiasm WWCT now faces a fundamental problem.  Many of their ideas and plans for the site need cash and there’s only so much to be raised locally, no matter how many coffee mornings you hold.  Until now, they’ve been dependent on grants from statutory bodies like SNH and it seems hard to see how they’ll get away from this.  The current drive towards income generation and social enterprise hits a bit of brick wall with a situation like this.  The site is a 42 hectare woodland located an hour’s drive from Aberdeen City.  And it’s a protected site – the very ground it sits on is, in many ways, its primary asset.  Development of the site is neither wanted nor possible without damaging its protected geology.

Can you place a value on this woodland?So how do you make money from a site like this?  Charge people an entry fee? Unlikely to work in an area with few tourists and geologists are probably the only ones who might pay to see a very particular bunch of rocks.  Use some of the trees for wood-fuel and other ventures?  Difficult to make much from 42 hectares of trees that have little commercial value.  Exploit the site as a venue for paintballing and other shenanigans?  Unlikely to be acceptable on a SSSI.

As budgets shrink and purse strings tighten, WWCT have been told they have little chance of continued funding from SNH and other public sector bodies.  The new management plan, so full of their ideas, seems destined to sit on the shelf.  Opportunities for the development of financial independence are limited by the woodlands protected status.

So where do they go from here?    Can the public sector (and by extension, the public at large) expect communities to protect natural assets, but not support them in doing that?  Is it reasonable to think that all community assets can become financially self-sustaining or do we need to accept that some assets will always be dependent on public financing?  If sites like Windyhills will always need financial support, who, in these austerity days, is going to put their hat in the ring?  And will I be completely grey before we find any answers?

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