Bunloit and Beldorney Estates – Highlands Rewilding
With aims to achieve nature recovery and community prosperity through rewilding, generating benefits from sequestering carbon, increasing biodiversity, and creating green jobs, the Bunloit Estate in the Highlands and the Beldorney Estate in Aberdeenshire are looking at how land can be managed in new ways, using innovative investment, to deliver benefits for the environment and for local communities. There is a strong focus on stewardship for the future, and on building relationships with a range of stakeholders.
On both estates, collaboration and partnership are important aspects of the projects being taken forward. The estates recognise a need to work with others to achieve the environmental, social and economic outcomes they are looking for. Bunloit and Beldorney take the perspective that humans should exist within rewilding projects and that the views and input of local communities are important. They want to make sure that their activities support and enable people to live and work on the estates and in the surrounding areas, and are currently providing employment for 18 people, 15 of whom live locally. They are open to finding innovative ways to do this, while still generating a return for investors.
A new company, Highland Rewilding Limited, has been set up to take ownership of Beldorney, and to manage Bunloit. The intention is to attract investors of different scales, and they recently completed a £7.5 million fund raise. The company wants to attract large-scale investors and also offer communities the opportunity to invest in the land, have a say in what is happening, and benefit from the activities taking place. Conversations are taking place with neighbouring landowners, with a view to working together to achieve shared aspirations.
At this early stage, a key focus for both estates is understanding the current condition of the land and natural assets. Baseline assessments have been carried out looking at woodlands, peatland, soils, wildlife and biodiversity, giving a full understanding of the condition and potential of the land and so that improvements to the land can be measured in future. It is intended that the results will be shared to help other landowners and managers who want to take action to address climate change and the biodiversity crisis.
The collaborative approach being taken and the willingness to share information extends to academic and rewilding communities. At Bunloit and at Beldorney, connections are being made with other estates and landowners to share information and identify opportunities for innovation, and work is taking place with universities and students, to support research on carbon and biodiversity. This includes a ten-year collaboration with Oxford University. This open and transparent approach is intended to build understanding of the challenges and opportunities around developing natural capital, while supporting sustainable communities.
Those working on the estate recognise that to make progress, new ideas need to be considered and tested and local people need to be included in what is happening. They appreciate that it is not always easy to get this right, and not everyone will be on board, but it is important to try. The advice they would share with other landowners and managers with an interest in conservation and taking action on climate change, would be to measure and understand as much as you can about your land, and to make links with others to identify opportunities to work together.