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May 17, 2022

Cash or credentials?

Something irks about a landowner who makes great play of their credentials for environmental stewardship then holds out for every last penny when a community buy-out comes along with the intention of enhancing the natural environment and restoring biodiversity. The Duke of Buccleuch has already received £3.8m, much of it from public sources, to sell 5200 acres of his land so that the community could establish the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. Now in the process of raising another £2.2m to incorporate the remainder of the Moor, the community could lose out over a £450k shortfall. Whose land is it really anyway?

The Herald

ONE of the UK’s largest community-led nature and climate projects based in Scotland is “hanging in the balance” due to issues over raising the necessary money.

Led by a local charity the town of Langholm is battling to raise £2.2m for a community buyout of 5,300 acres of Langholm Moor from one of the UK’s most famous grouse moors, owned by one of the UK’s most powerful hereditary landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch.

It would double the size of the new community-owned Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

Despite hopes for a £1m donation from a major funder – and a surging public crowdfunder attracting donations from thousands of people from across the world – there are fears the project could face a £450,000 shortfall at the original May 31 deadline.

If the £1m donation does not come through, which the Langholm Initiative charity thinks is unlikely, the shortfall will rise to £1.45m.

Buccleuch Estates has now offered an additional two months for The Langholm Initiative to pursue donations from large funding bodies, meaning the total funds now need to be raised by July 31.

Some 2,300 villagers of Langholm, a few miles north of the English border, have been working to turn Langholm Moor into a model for climate-friendly and sustainable ecological restoration, powered by small-scale wind and solar farms, spurred on by an upsurge in community buyouts across Scotland.

A year-and-a-half ago they managed to agree  after what was then one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen – with the community raising the final funds needed in the nick of time.

That involved spending £3.8 million for over 5,000 acres of land in a deal between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch – paving the way for what was described as “the creation of a huge new nature reserve to help tackle climate change, restore nature, and support community regeneration”.

The Tarras Valley Nature Reserve was established last year, after the first stage of what is south Scotland’s biggest community land buyout.

Since then discussions continued over the remaining land the community has expressed an interest in buying.

Jenny Barlow, Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’s estate manager said the extension of the deadline by Buccleuch gave them “breathing space” to ensure the landmark project for people and planet does not fall at the final hurdle.

“Despite the wonderful outpouring of support from people worldwide, there was a real risk we might have been some £450,000 short on deadline day – putting at risk our ambitious plans for tackling the nature and climate emergencies while boosting community regeneration. We now need all the support possible to get this historic buyout over the line and safeguard this land for future generations,” she said.

The moves for Langholm Moor, famous among conservationists as the site of a 25-year-long research project into the survival of widely persecuted hen harriers on grouse moors, has been seen as significant for Scotland’s land reform movement.

On the reserve, globally important peatlands and ancient woods are being restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including hen harrier, short-eared owl and merlin.

The charity says community regeneration and the creation of new jobs through a nature-based approach is a central aim of the project.

Benny Higgins, a former banker, who is chairman of Buccleuch Estates, said: “We’re pleased to be able to extend the timescale for the Langholm Initiative to raise the funds necessary to make this second-phase community buyout a reality.

“We have worked closely with The Langholm Initiative in recent years and have been impressed by their tenacity, vision, and cooperation to bring their plans to fruition. We hope this additional time will help them in their quest to double the size of Tarras Valley Nature Reserve and build on the success achieved so far.”

Leading charities which have backed the buyout include Borders Forest Trust, John Muir Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life, and the Woodland Trust.

The Duke of Buccleuch, a hereditary title dating to 1663, was once the UK’s largest private landowner, and the family still holds 217,000 acres of moorland, farms and forestry, and a £250m urban property portfolio.

The family’s homes include Drumlanrig castle, an estate dating back to the reign of Robert the Bruce, and the Boughton estate in Northamptonshire.