MORE than 65 acres (49 football pitches) of ancient woodland has been secured as a community woodland, focusing on outdoor learning for children – thanks to a grant from Banks Renewables and South Lanarkshire Council (SLC).
Loch Wood in Blackwood Estate, the ancestral home of the prominent Weir family from medieval times until the 1930s, is a haven for protected species and popular with local walkers who appreciate this unspoilt environment.
Following an initial grant of £82,000 from Kype Muir Wind Farm and South Lanarkshire Council, the new owner, Blackwood Estate Community Association has been able to secure a further £150,000 from a range of public funders including the Scottish Land Fund to purchase the land.
After carrying out essential repairs, maintenance and health and safety adjustments over recent weeks it is now hosting outdoor workshops for local children.
In addition to educational sessions, restoring a limited path network throughout the woodland is next on the agenda in coming months, as a response to the local community’s wishes for limited walking access and greater wildlife conservation.
Vicki Connick, the group’s treasurer, a resident of the estate since 1989, began work on the project in mid-2018, so that local children can access the area for both learning and play. The woodland provides an ideal opportunity for young children to develop a sense of responsibility, ownership and interest in nature.
She said: “Conserving the woodland is a massive passion. I’m so glad the kids are now able to get in and enjoy it safely.
“We’re so grateful to Banks and SLC as their first grant approval and support incentivised the remaining grants from the Scottish Land Fund and Scottish Landfill Communities Fund, which covered the costs of both woodland purchase and restoration.
“Our outdoor learning sessions started at the beginning of June and the kids have been loving them so far! Especially after over a year of being stuck mainly indoors.
“The kids are able to walk to us from their respective schools and have been enjoying outdoor activities.”
The recorded history of the estate dates to 1314, when Thomas Weir was first recorded as “the proprietor of the lands at Blackwood”. The family had been present in Lanarkshire as early as 1165, and their association with the Abbots of Kelso resulted in the transfer of the estate to the Weirs.
While the house no longer stands on the grounds, the Estate is steeped in rich history, including a Covenanter’s grave dated 1685. Notable visitors are said to have included National poet Robert Burns (his sister Isabella was married to the estate factor), members of Scottish Royalty and even the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who visited the Estate in 1898.
The grants will help to reinstate Victorian paths running throughout the woodland, home to protected species such as tawny owls and kingfishers as well as several ancient specimens of tree.
Vicki added: “Once our outdoor learning programme is established, a longer-term plan is to strengthen links with local schools and agricultural students for climate change and environmental work. We’re also investigating the options for wildlife rehoming, working under the advice of Scottish Natural Heritage.
“We hope that eventually the woodland will become an outdoor environmental hub for our communities of Blackwood, Kirkmuirhill and Boghead.”
Vicki applied for the funding from Banks Renewables and South Lanarkshire Council Renewable Energy Fund which aims to maximize the social and economic benefit to communities within a 10km radius of Kype Muir Wind Farm,
Over the course of its 30-year lifetime, Kype Muir is set to give over £100 million back to communities local to the development through the likes of community funding, local employment initiatives and infrastructure contributions, while generating up to 155MW of electricity per annum – enough to meet the needs of over 110,000 homes or the city the size of Aberdeen.
Councillor John Anderson, the chair of South Lanarkshire Council’s Community and Enterprise Resources Committee, which work in tandem with Connect2Renewables said: “This is the most sizeable and ambitious project that REF has contributed to in the area, but an extremely worthwhile one for the local communities.
Once complete, the project will provide an opportunity to bring communities together while also promoting sustainability, outdoor learning and wildlife rehoming into the area.”
Robin Winstanley, sustainability and external affairs manager at Banks Renewables, said:
“Vicki, Terry and the other board trustees are doing a brilliant job so far in conserving a beautiful area that can help bring people closer to nature.
“Woodlands absorb and store carbon from the air which helps combat climate change at the same time as preserving Scotland’s precious biodiversity. As we approach COP26 down the road in Glasgow, we want to send a clear message to communities that we encourage applications like this which help secure the future of valuable woodland and at the same time benefit the local community.
“We would welcome more applications from local community projects with climate action and biodiversity at the heart supported through our community fund.”
For more information or for how to apply for a community grant please visit: https://www.southlanarkshire.gov.uk/info/200168/getting_involved_in_your_community/744/renewable_energy_fund_grants