EVANTON residents are celebrating the £300,000 takeover of 65 hectares of local woodland from Novar Estate, after a six-year campaign.
The villagers clinched the deal this week after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) agreed to put up £321,000 towards the project, of which up to £200,000 is towards the purchase itself, and the rest for a five-year plan.
The HLF were impressed by the involvement of the community in a series of local events and volunteer activities in the wood and by the evidence of support through surveys and letters from many groups and individuals.
The local Kiltearn Community Council has also made a major commitment to the project from its several wind farm funds, while other backing has come in from Highland Council, EBScotlandLandfill Tax, the Robertson Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, the Co-operative Big Community Vote and local firms Technip and Isleburn/Global.
Further donations of around £3,000 have come in from the community and local firms, and an education and outreachco-ordinator is being appointed to help take the project forward.
A recent open meeting showed that some 25 residents are keen to be involved in the management and development of their woodland, and there is to be a wide range of initiatives and opportunities, including improving access and paths, providing seating, introducing better signposting and interpretation panels and leaflets, compiling an education pack and staging educational events.
In addition, the biodiversity of the woodland is to be improved, with pond development, planting native trees and shrubs, volunteer work days, skills and other training, recording and surveying, plus a range of community events, starting with a special launch on September 8.
Evanton Wood Community Company chairman Adrian Clark said: “This is a just reward for the hard work and commitment by many people over a lengthy period.
“It is a good day for the local community that we have managed to safeguard the future of this wonderful wood and can now provide a wide range of opportunities as a result. We thank our funders for this opportunity.”
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “This is a great project as it shows how local heritage can be a catalyst for lots of different activities.
“It will provide learning opportunities for local schools, training opportunities for volunteers and a chance for everyone to explore and enjoy the natural heritage on their doorstep.
“The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to give Evanton Wood Community Company its support in making this fascinating and beautiful wood accessible to many more people.”
Meanwhile, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in Holyrood, paying tribute tothe Evanton Community Company.
Mr Gibson, who is also a resident of Evanton, said: “It has been a long time coming but, now that the news is confirmed, it will mean a better future for the woods.
“I have been following closely the developments of this community buyout, not least because I live in the village, and am pleased to see it go through.
“Community ownership is proving the best option for many areas across Scotland, and I am sure that the Evanton Woods will be no exception.
“I look forward to the good work that the Evanton Wood Community Company will do in the future.
“It was interesting to see the large range of funders that contributed to the purchase of the woods, including local firms, national bodies, regional council as well as community council wind farm funds. Thanks also has to go to them as they have allowed this purchase to happen.”