Carradale community fights for a say in forest’s future

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Carradale Community Trust (CCT) has this week submitted to the Scottish Government a registration of interest in part of Carradale Forest in a bid to have a say in its future use.

Over the last 18 months, CCT and East Kintyre Community Council (EKCC) have worked to ensure the future sustainability of East Kintyre, engaging with almost every business, every resident and most second home owners, as well as many of the visitors who support the area’s local economy, as they make progress through their local development plan.

A community survey identified that many residents and visitors want much more choice in terms of things like footpath networks, cycle ways and viewpoints. Many were keen to observe wildlife, especially golden and white-tailed eagles. Visitors also wanted to preserve East Kintyre’s ‘quiet beauty’.

Jennifer Lee, a member of CCT’s planning group, said: ‘We have been refining plans to try and meet these aims and to encourage green tourism and sustainable growth. It is for this reason that we have registered an interest in part of Carradale Forest.’

Carradale Forest, like many of Scotland’s woodlands, is owned by Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS).

‘This government body is the largest landowner in all of Kintyre, and is required to engage with the communities where it operates,’ Dr Lee added. ‘Yet FLS has not engaged with us, and has not willingly shared any of its own plans or allowed us to have any input into them.

‘It took a direction from the minister [Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy] before it published a new version of the Carradale Land Management Plan. This new plan actually reduces recreational zones, which FLS justifies because the community is not making use of them. Frustratingly, FLS has never really made these areas usable in the first place, and this was something our plan had hoped to engage with FLS to remedy.’

CCT recently discovered that FLS has included the whole of Carradale Forest in an Energy Offering to wind farm developers, something which hastened the trust’s plan to submit a registration of interest.

Dr Lee said: ‘CCT and EKCC are not opposed to using the land to provide sustainable energy where it is appropriate; our registration of interest specifically excludes existing wind farms and allows for their re-powerment.

‘However, we have come to understand that FLS’s sole focus is to maximise the income that it can extract from ‘its’ lands. Tourism and recreational use is never going to be a big earner for it. Yet tourism is central to our survival.

‘FLS, as a government body, should be working with us to sustain this core industry.  Pretty much all of FLS’s actions over the past year run counter to this: failure to engage with our community; ignoring both Argyll and Bute’s Proposed LDP2 (Diagram 7 – Spacial Framework for Windturbines) and our local development plan; avoiding statutory obligations to consult in a meaningful way about decisions that will have a permanent impact upon our area and our lives.’

Dr Lee added: ‘Our vision is that any future developments must be done in a sympathetic and collaborative way, in full consultation with the community. Our future forest cannot be consigned to being a source of revenue for a remote landlord that values monetary return over the community or the rare flora and fauna residing within its bounds.

‘The Scottish Government has crafted inspiring legislation that aims to empower communities. Because of this, we were encouraged to write a plan for our own local development, and were told that this plan would matter to ministers and planners.

‘We are now declaring our interest in the publicly owned Carradale Forest, so that we can have our say in its future. We are asking the government – and its agents – to demonstrate whether we are really empowered or not.’

In response to the assertion that it has ‘ignored’ Argyll and Bute’s Proposed LDP2 and CCT’s local development plan, FLS told the Courier that it does not itself develop wind farms.

A spokesperson added: ‘Developing new, clean and renewable energy sources is a key part of Scotland’s response in the face of the climate emergency.

‘Scotland’s national forests and land have considerable potential to contribute to this and also to help improve sustainability, benefit communities, and to generate income that will support our efforts to sustain, enhance and expand Scotland’s national forest resource… FLS needs to ensure that it is a financially sustainable business.

‘We continue to explore the potential of the renewable energy resource on the land that we manage and have recently sought proposals for renewable energy generation and storage projects. Any that come forward will be assessed through our evaluation process, with successful applicants being awarded the sites for further investigation. Following the investigation period and further assessment of the proposals successful proposals will have to go through the normal planning process to gain consent.

‘We have not yet released any area around Carradale and we are working with the local communities on the matter. We have engaged with both East Kintyre Renewable Energy Group and CCT regarding the Energy Offering over the last month, holding several telephone meetings with both groups.’