Culduthel Community Woods
Culduthel Woods Group is undergoing the legal process of acquiring ownership of Culduthel Woodland, an area of urban woodland in Inverness that is currently ownerless. The woodland was previously owned by a house developer in the 1990s, which kept the woods registered under a separate company. When the developer realised they would not obtain planning permission for the woods, they dissolved the company, leaving the land ownerless – which meant it reverted to the Crown. The Queen's and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR), who represents the Crown in Scotland, has first right of refusal and can sell ownerless property on the open market. In the case of Culduthel Woods, however, the QLTR considered that the woodland had no market value so disclaimed the Crown interest in it in 2014. This left the woodland without an owner.
What they did
It wasn’t obvious at the beginning what needed to happen to take on ownership of the land. Since a Community Council cannot own land, and as Highland Council was not in a position to take on the woodland, a community steering group was set up to seek options for ownership in 2018. The steering group had to use a £5,000 public grant to fund a solicitor to understand the legal ownership situation of the woodland. At the time, they were not able to apply for funding as they had to have an official lawyer, making the situation extremely problematic.
Highland Council accepted to undertake some tree maintenance to avoid any potential accident. The group received £5,000 from the Community Council initiative, of which they spent £1,500 on a survey to help the Council with this: around 30 trees were felled which needed urgent work done. The cost of urban tree work is quite substantial: overall, the work was worth £18,000 to £20,000, highlighting that it could not have been done without the support of Highland Council. However, the group had to add an extra £870 to tackle one tree which was missed by the survey.
The Group now has 30 members including six Trustees, and has registered as a charity. As a charity, the organisation is managed by its Charitable Trustees, all of whom are volunteers. The group is hoping to acquire a set of provisional deeds soon, which would allow them to apply for support grants. Although a positive step forward, reaching this point has been a complex, time-consuming legal and administrative burden. The organisation now fully relies on volunteers and grant funding and is working on its first Management Plan for the woods while it waits for the Covid-19 lockdown to be lifted to resume activities in the woods.