Community buyout secures Scottish moor for future generations

The Langholm Initiative has helped purchase over 5,000 acres of land to create new nature reserve

While homes and bricks-and-mortar spaces for communities are vital, the safeguarding of green spaces for environmental and wellbeing reasons are also hugely important.

In Scotland, the Langholm Initiative has recently achieved one of the country’s largest community buyouts, with a landmark agreement of £3.8m for over 5,000 acres of land currently held by the Buccleuch Estate. The buyout paves the way for the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, to help tackle climate change, restore nature, and support community regeneration, while encouraging education through public access. 

“We are at a crossroads in the climate emergency and the decisions we make now will have a massive impact for generations,” says Margaret Pool, chair of The Langholm Initiative. “This is an amazing result for Langholm which will live long in the memory. Our community has a strong cultural connection to this land, which has never been sold before, and securing it for generations to come means so much to so many. Huge thanks to Buccleuch for their positive engagement.”

The community initially expressed an interest in buying 10,000 acres; discussions are continuing over the remaining 5,300 acres. The Langholm Initiative, which led the project, was formed in 1994 as one of south Scotland’s first development trusts, facilitating projects that make a lasting difference to the local area and people, through employability, enterprise, anti-poverty and environmental protection and education.

“The completion of The Langholm Moor project is a momentous moment for land reform in Scotland,” says Roseanna Cunningham, cabinet secretary for environment and land reform. “The project secured a £1m Scottish Land Fund grant in June, and it is of great testament to The Langholm Initiative that they have secured additional funding, and worked collaboratively with Buccleuch Estates, to bring 5,000 acres of land into community ownership.”

The scheme also received a pledge of £100,000 from the John Muir Trust to kick-started the fundraising by pledging

“This is significant news for the South of Scotland but also demonstrates that, when working together with a shared goal, local communities can be a power vehicle for change. I applaud the Initiative wholeheartedly for realising their ambition and look forward to it inspiring other community groups to drive and deliver their own projects right across the country,” she adds.

The purchase – which is to be finalised by January 2021 – will lead to the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, with globally important peatlands and ancient woods restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers. The project will also support community regeneration, including through plans for the community to capitalise on new nature-based tourism opportunities.

The Langholm Initiative had until 31 October to raise the funds for a deal, to avoid the Scottish Land Fund withdrawing their £1 million offer. There were concerns over the summer – and with scheme still requiring substantial funding in the final weeks, £500,000 was secured from the Bently Foundation, £200,000 was contributed by the Woodland Trust and there was an extraordinary surge of more than £50,000 donations to the charity’s public crowdfunder – including £24,000 on one day alone.

Nearly 4,000 people have supported the crowdfunding appeal since its launch on 7 May. Other major funders to the buyout include South of Scotland Enterprise, Carman Family Foundation, and Garfield Weston Foundation, while the project was also supported by charities including Borders Forest Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Trees for Life.

“The support for our vision has been overwhelming,” said Langholm Initiative project leader Kevin Cumming. “We can never thank the major donors and thousands of members of the public enough for their contributions. A team of dedicated people have worked tirelessly to achieve something special here – mostly volunteers, who continued to strive to make this happen against what at times felt like impossible odds.

“Community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration, which we want to show can be done with the environment at its heart. We hope the success here will encourage and inspire other communities in Scotland and across the UK. Realizing the full potential of community ownership will take time – and the hard work is really just about to begin.”

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