After the exciting launch of Affric Highlands last autumn, the initiative continues to gain momentum. In November, I joined Trees for Life as Affric Highlands Team Leader. My role is to develop and implement the delivery phase of the initiative with our partners at Rewilding Europe. I am working closely with them and Alan McDonnell, our Programme Development Manager, who has been instrumental in creating the vision, connections and aspirations for Affric Highlands over the last few years.
One of our first projects began in January, working with a private estate on the west coast that is interested in a woodland creation. After completing our surveys, we are now crunching the data to prepare a report with our findings and recommendations for the landowner. On this estate, we identified some incredible woodland remnants, recorded on the 1843-1882 Ordnance Survey map, of which a small number of ancient birch and pine trees remain today. We hope to be able to help this rare and important habitat regenerate and spread out beyond its current place of refuge.
We have started working on our youth engagement programme, Affric Highlands Change Makers. People under the age of thirty are the ones who will see Affric Highlands through its long journey of change. Engaging through schools and community organisations, Change Makers will enable the next generation to shape and develop the long-term direction of Affric Highlands. Project volunteer Mollie Saunders explores this in more detail in her article on the next page.
We have also explored nature-friendly farming with the WellNess Farming cluster, a group of seven farms situated on Affric Highlands’ eastern edge. With a grant from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, the group has planted hedges and restored an area of wetland and peatland - which has seen a fantastic return of wildlife already - including some rare birds, and even an otter.
To carry out this growing and ambitious initiative, I am thrilled to say we now have small team in place. Nicola Williamson is our Field Officer, helping landowners to understand the restoration potential of their land. She is providing pragmatic recommendations to achieve the best outcomes for both ecological recovery and economic diversification. As projects develop, she will continue to work with landowners to oversee project delivery, identifying further opportunities for restoration along the way.
Marian Bruce recently joined us as Enterprise Manager. She will initially focus on developing an Affric Highlands ‘natural capital’ brand, which will combine carbon credits with biodiversity and community benefits, a concept that is unique to Affric Highlands. After that, Marian will work with communities, businesses, landowners and individuals to develop new, ground-breaking nature-based business solutions that help us demonstrate how resilient ecosystems create more resilient communities.
In July, Paul Greaves will join the team as Riparian Officer. He will work with fishery boards to create more wooded riverbanks in areas where water temperatures in the summer reach critical levels for fish. A Community Engagement Officer will also join the team in July to help us learn from those who already know and love this landscape deeply - and want to help revive its ecosystems and as a result create a richer social landscape.
The new team is very excited to continue building new relationships, projects and ideas across Affric Highlands. I look forward to sharing our journey with you.
Affric Highlands has been made possible thanks to generous support from Rewilding Europe, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Scottish Government Nature Restoration Fund.