Carrifran Wildwood LSER case study

carrifran-lser-mapKey facts

Partners: Borders Forest Trust; John Muir Trust (informal associates).

Extent: c.650ha

Habitats and species: Native woodland; montane scrub.

Duration: Indefinite; 10-year establishment phase complete, with ongoing management, access and interpretation.

Monitoring: Via management plan revisions.

Introduction

The Carrifran Wildwood project, located in the Moffat Hills in southern Scotland, is an exciting grassroots model for ecosystem restoration.  Physical works have been underway since 2000, when the purchase of the upper catchment of the Carrifran Burn was secured by Borders Forest Trust – of which the Wildwood Group are a devolved component.

The land was purchased without recourse to public funds, with around 80% obtained through individual donations and 20% from charitable trusts. Ongoing restoration is funded through a combination of grant aid, corporate donations and continued fundraising.

Aims and objectives

The explicit aim is to restore the Carrifran catchment to its ‘original-natural’ state, as it might have been prior to human influence, restoring a fully functioning upland woodland ecosystem.

Approach to restoration

The project follows an approach that could best be described as ‘pragmatic purism’ – following an ambitious vision, but employing interventionist means (planting, external seed sources, fertiliser application, herbivore control) to deliver it.  Natural drainage regimes are being re-established and traces of human land use, except where of archaeological interest, are being removed – restoring the landscape in addition to the ecosystem. The vision for restoration is highly ambitious, aiming to deliver a ‘past-natural state’ and is based on the one of best-understood, and longest, pollen sequences in upland Britain. BFT is pursuing relationships with neighbouring landowners to establish ecological links and ‘buffer zones’ around the wildwood.

Key issues

Benefits and ecosystem services

The project is explicit in its aims to restore fully functioning woodland and upland ecosystems – although ecosystem services per se were not considered in the existing management plan.  However, the nature of the project means that significant benefits are delivered, particularly in relation to biodiversity, with additional water retention capacity delivered through increased ground permeability.

The landscape itself was selected after an exhaustive analysis of the historical Ettrick Forest – ensuring that it was ecologically suitable, of a suitable extent and, crucially, purchase was feasible and affordable.

Ownership of the site is central to the delivery of the project, as has enabled the Wildwood Group to pursue a restoration approach that may have been difficult to deliver without total control in perpetuity. The project and the Wildwood Group have a strong holistic vision of the landscape, drawn in part from the diverse interests of the voluntary and professional staff, and significant effort is made to retain the ‘grassroots’ character of the enterprise.

The project clearly demonstrates the potential power of a strong, grassroots partnership that draws on local energy and expertise – but also the level of commitment that is required to deliver large-scale restoration by non-conventional means.  There was limited initial reliance on government funding and this allowed the project to evolve in manner that remained in the control of the originators of the vision – and thus it has retained its ambition and focus.

Although not always feasible, the benefits of site ownership and control are clear – in that the vision for restoration is not tempered by competing demands.

Problems include the way grant support comes and goes, and fitting in with grant priorities and requirements.

Expertise

BFT and the Wildwood Group have particular expertise in:

  • mobilising experts and community members to develop and implement a shared vision;
  • fundraising from a wide range of sources with considerable input from members and local sources;
  • organising volunteer input which is effective and has maintained momentum over along period: this has led a wide sense of engagement and shared ownership.

Challenges

  • FCS requirements for tree establishment and growth in relation to payment of grants can be hard to meet. 
  • The process of checking management proposals with SNH to ensure they fitted with SSSI provisions was laborious. 
  • Local sensitivities about land use change and management approaches adopted.
  • Difficulties of putting provision in place for long term management

Potential lessons

The project has relied heavily on voluntary labour to deliver the seed collection and planting programme, with professional involvement for propagation, logistics, technical work and deer control.  This obviously reduces costs, but requires substantial commitment by those involved.

Positive relationships with agencies have been critical in delivering ambitious restoration in what is a designated area.  FCS, SNH and the Millennium Forest supported initial investigations, provided advice, supported the development of management plans and grant-aided fencing and planting.  The project has a strong, but relatively organic, management structure that may not be applicable in all contexts.