Who Owns Scotland?
Land Reform Guidance
Training of Trainers
The Borders Forest Trust - An 'umbrella' organisation co-ordinating the
activities of community-based woodland groups in the Borders
The Borders Forest Trust (BFT) is an environmental charity that was formed in January
1996 by a group of people living and working in the Scottish Borders. The trust was
established to enable the development of a range of integrated environmental, social and
economic projects that would contribute towards the restoration of the area's native
woodland heritage and the development of a new community-based woodland culture.
BFT works in partnership with community groups, agencies, NGOs and individuals, and is
managed by a board of twelve membership-elected Trustees and a team of six staff, the
majority of whom have been involved in the project in some way since the trust was
established. The trust owns land in the Scottish Borders and has also bought land recently
in Dumfries and Galloway. The trust also manages land in partnership with farmers,
landowners, the Forestry Commission and community groups across the south of Scotland.
This case study aims to highlight the achievements of the trust to date, the key
factors which have influenced its development, and the lessons learned in terms of the
future development of the trust and community-based social landownership in the area.
The economy of the Scottish Borders is traditionally based on farming, textiles,
tourism, fishing and commercial forestry, industries which have faced economic decline
across the whole of rural Scotland in recent years. The majority of the 100,000 population
live in rural towns and villages, and a significant area of land is owned by large
estates. The region has the lowest percentage of ancient woodland and near-natural
woodland land cover in Scotland and exports around 90 per cent of its hardwood timber to
be processed elsewhere.
The roots of BFT and the social landownership movement in the Borders can be traced
back to1987, when a community group - Borders Community Woodlands (BCW) - purchased
Wooplaw woods, a 23 hectare mixed woodland located between Lauder, Galashiels, Stow and
The Wooplaw project was initiated when the late Tim Stead, a furniture-maker and
artist, decided he wanted to help restore, as well as use, the local woodland resource. He
began making carved hardwood axe-heads in 1986 to raise money to purchase an area of land
in the Borders to plant trees. The publicity for Tim's project attracted people from the
Scottish community woodland movement, such as Alan Drever and Donald McPhilimy, who
suggested the idea of creating a community woodland in the Borders. This led to the
formation of BCW by a local group of people to take the project forward. Wooplaw came on
the market in 1987 and was purchased by BCW within three months, after a public meeting in
Melrose, in which David Bellamy participated significantly, raised the level of local
support for the project. The purchase was made possible by the proceeds of Tim's axe-head
sales, by grants from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Countryside Commission for
Scotland (now replaced by Scottish Natural Heritage),and charitable trusts, and by
donations from members of the public. WWF have since said they were aware they were taking
a risk when they gave a grant to BCW - a relatively unknown community group with no track
Wooplaw Community Woodland is a successful and productive community woodland which has
been used locally and nationally as a demonstration of the positive benefits of community
land ownership. The woods have enabled local people to learn and share woodland management
and woodland craft skills. Volunteers have planted thousands of native trees, built a log
cabin and a round house, excavated two ponds and developed a network of
wheelchair-friendly paths. Regular children's activity days, work days, arts events,
crafts events and walks take place. The woods are not managed by one geographic community
- members of the management committee come from the surrounding towns and villages of
Melrose, Galashiels, Stow, Lauder, Blainslie, Earlston and further afield. Members of the
original core group of people who were involved in the purchase of the woods are still
involved in the management of the woods today, but over the years many other people have
joined the project and given it renewed energy and direction.
The momentum created by the Wooplaw project was increased when a community group called
Peebles-shire Environmental Concern organised the 'Restoring Borders Woodland' conference
in 1993. The conference was attended by 130 people who were enthusiastic about the
benefits of, and the need for, the restoration of native woodlands in the area, and also
about the need for community decision-making in relation to land management issues. At the
same time the Campaign for the Future of the Border Hills also contributed to the raising
of local awareness, focusing people's minds on the need for change away from unsustainable
land use practices in the uplands.
|In 1994 Tim Stead and Eoin Cox, who was also heavily involved in BCW,
formed 'No Butts'2, and developed a proposal to establish a Borders Environmental Resource
Centre to provide a focal point for promoting environmental restoration projects,
community decision-making and the sustainable use of woodland resources in the region.
Development funding for the project was secured from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and
Scottish Borders Enterprise, and this allowed Tim and Eoin, and others, to work on project
ideas which would later become the core projects of the BFT.
|A butt is a section of a felled tree. "No Butts" embraced the
idea that there should be no more excuses: that the natural and human and potential of the
Borders had to be developed.
The ultimate impetus for the formation of the BFT emerged in response to the
development in 1995 of the Millennium Forest for Scotland (MFS) project, which planned to
secure significant Millennium Lottery funding for native woodland projects across
Scotland. This created a new focus to bring together the groups and individuals already
involved in woodland activities in the area. As a result much-discussed project ideas were
re-considered, in the knowledge that there was a realistic chance of funding being made
available to pull them together under one umbrella initiative.
In January 1995 a public meeting was held in Galashiels under the auspices of BCW to
discuss project ideas that could be funded as part of the Millennium Forest for Scotland
initiative. The meeting was well attended, the mood was very optimistic and the project
ideas discussed were ambitious. Staff from SNH, WWF, Reforesting Scotland, the Forestry
Commission and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) were present and
supportive, and consensus was reached that a bid could be put together for funding to
implement an integrated range of woodland-related projects which would have significant
environmental, social and economic benefits in the Borders.
Various working groups were set up to develop project plans, and funding was secured by
BCW (from SNH and WWF) to employ a part-time co-ordinator to oversee the development of
the MFS bid and other projects linked to community woodlands in the Borders.
Many hundreds of hours of voluntary effort were put into working up realistic and
achievable project plans and budgets. Although the MFS team were supportive during this
process, they did not have the resources to commit a member of staff to spend time with
the community and help with the development of project plans. The responsibility for
submitting high standard project plans and for securing match funding remained with the
mainly voluntary group of people involved in developing the Borders bid. The demands on
this group of people were high, and individuals occasionally became disheartened and
disillusioned with the bureaucracy associated with securing Millennium funding, which
often seemed to be working against the creative enthusiasm and commitment of the group.
The Borders millennium funding bid was shaped around two umbrella projects - 'Living
with Trees' which encompassed ecological restoration, education and community
participation projects and 'Working with Trees' which encompassed economic development
projects related to the sustainable use of land and woodland resources.
Living with Trees was designed to:
|Promote the establishment of community woodlands in both rural and urban settings within
the Borders. |
|Create new native woodlands on appropriate sites, and sustainably manage species-rich
fragments of semi-natural woodlands that remain in the Borders. |
|Work to conserve and restore elements of the Borders woodland flora, associated habitats
and their ecologically significant biodiversity. |
|Provide opportunities for woodland education and widespread participation in woodland
cultural activities. |
Working with Trees was designed to:
|Provide a use for low-grade native hardwood, yielding new, innovative and exciting
|Provide hardwood timber marketing for small woodland owners, farmers and individuals. |
|Provide courses for students and community groups interested in woodworking and woodland
|Create demonstration native woodlands on farms to act as models of integrated land
The bid for funding was successful, ultimately because of the commitment and diverse
range of skills shared by the group of people who put it together, and the strength of the
network of people involved. The group had experience in forestry, ecology, community
education, printing and design, permaculture, farming, teaching, furniture-making,
business management and the arts. The group also had good relationships with the local
council and Scottish Borders Enterprise, the Local Enterprise Company, as well as with
local landowners, SNH staff, WWF staff and MFS staff. Willie McGhee, the BCW project
co-ordinator, and his business partner Alex Smith, gave the group the crucial professional
support and financial guidance needed to pull the bid together.
The success of the bid resulted in the formal constitution of BFT as a Company Limited
By Guarantee without a share capital, with charitable status, in January 1996, and the
establishment of Woodschool, a wholly-owned trading subsidiary. The core group of people
involved in putting the bid together became the first Trustees. These people still remain
heavily involved in developing and co-ordinating projects and are in many ways the
conscience of the Trust, steering it so it stays true to its original vision.
After five years of development, supported by core and project grant funding from the
Millennium Forest For Scotland Trust, SNH, WWF, the Forestry Commission, the National
Lottery Charities Board, Scottish Enterprise Borders, Scottish Borders Council, LEADER II
and other European funding, as well as donations from companies, charitable trusts and
individuals, the Trust has an annual turnover of nearly half a million pounds.
An ambitious range of projects have developed from the original 'Living and Working
with Trees' proposal. The major projects are:
The Ettrick Habitat Restoration Project: the restoration of floodplain habitats in the
upper Ettrick Valley near Selkirk.
The upper Ettrick valley contains a mosaic of woodland, wetland and grassland habitats
of national conservation importance. A community of 200 people live in the area, focused
round the small village of Ettrick. The project is managed by BFT in partnership with
local landowners and farmers, a Community Steering Group of local residents and a
Technical Steering Group made up of local residents, agencies and funding partners.
This project will result in the creation of 25 hectares of new native woodland in the
area; the conversion of 30 hectares of conifer plantation to native woodland; the
management of 15 hectares of willow scrub and the restoration of a 30 hectare mosaic of
grassland and wetland habitats. The project is creating environmental and social benefits;
improving the quality of the landscape, contributing to low-impact tourism and generating
The Carrifran Wildwood Project: the restoration of a mainly forested wilderness in the
600 hectare Carrifran valley between St Mary's Loch and Moffat in the Southern Uplands.
The Carrifran valley was part of a hill farm before it was purchased by BFT in January
2000 after a two-year national fundraising campaign which raised £400,000. The project is
the vision of the Wildwood Group, a group of volunteers from the Peebles area who were
involved in organising the 'Restoring Borders Woodlands' conference in 1993 and who were
also involved in the establishment of the trust. The project is managed by the trust in
partnership with the Wildwood Group, who have overseen the development of the fund-raising
campaign and the development and implementation of the management plan.
Carrifran Wildwood will become one of the largest unexploited areas of wilderness in
the south of Scotland. Through large-scale tree planting and the encouragement of natural
regeneration it is hoped that the valley will ultimately support most of the rich
diversity of native species present in the area before human activities became dominant,
and will become a place of inspiration for future generations.
Woodschool: a centre for the creative and sustainable use of local hardwood timber.
The Woodschool workshop is on the same site as the BFT office at Monteviot Nurseries in
Ancrum, just north of Jedburgh on the A68 trunk road. It supports eight designer/ makers
and the development of their own businesses, while also co-ordinating their involvement in
the development of collective Woodschool products. Woodschool sources low- and
medium-grade timber from local farms and estates, and cuts, stores, processes and sells
this timber to end-users. This timber has particular qualities that are reflected in the
innovative collection of Woodschool chairs, tables and cabinets, which have been sold to
customers from the UK, Iceland, Russia, USA, France and Germany.
The Woodschool project is the vision of Eoin Cox and Tim Stead, and is managed by Eoin
Cox, supported by a voluntary board of Directors, which includes a BFT Trustee.
The profits from Woodschool are covenanted to BFT, with the aim of generating
unrestricted income for woodland projects as well as creating employment and adding value
to the local hardwood resource.
Community Woodlands: the expansion and development of community owned and managed
woodlands in the Borders, encouraging conservation, recreation, education, local
decision-making and the regeneration of native species woodlands.
The project is supported by a full-time Community Woodland Officer (CWO). The CWO,
George Moffat (who was a BCW volunteer), promotes community participation, volunteering
and opportunities for groups and individuals of all ages and abilities to participate
fully in community woodland projects. He also supports the development of new community
woodlands and community woodland management groups, and co-ordinates training activities
and the Borders Tree Warden Scheme.
There are currently ten established community woodlands in the Borders, with plans for
the development of more sites in the east of the Borders over the next three years. All
are managed by community groups - some of which are now independent charities and
voluntary associations with constitutions. The groups which do not own their woodland have
management agreements with the landowners, which include the Scottish Borders Council, and
the Forestry Commission.
Biodiversity Conservation: The conservation of juniper (juniperus communis), a
relatively scarce element of the native Borders flora.
A review of the biology and status of juniper in the Borders was co-ordinated by the
BFT in 1997, and was followed by research into the genetic viability of local juniper
populations and the development of a Borders juniper restoration strategy. In 1998 the
total Borders juniper population consisted of 4,500 bushes. The aim of the biodiversity
conservation project is to establish 50,000 bushes in the Borders by 2010. Locally sourced
juniper cuttings have been established in local nurseries and in schools, and planting to
date in seven core areas in partnership with local farmers has doubled the Borders juniper
population. Discussions have taken place with the Edinburgh Gin Company about the
potential use of native Borders juniper berries as a flavouring for their gin.
Ancient Woodlands: the conservation, regeneration and expansion of 150 hectares of
remnant semi-natural Borders woodlands.
This project follows on from the BFT Woodland Inventory project, which mapped and
categorised on a Geographical Information System (GIS) all woodlands in the Borders. The
inventory project identified a number of ancient and semi-natural woodlands that have been
selected for conservation management. After discussions and negotiations with local
farmers and landowners, fencing and planting is taking place on a network of sites. The
first project sites are located near Lauder, Galashiels, Westruther, Jedburgh and St.
Veteran Trees: the identification and conservation of ancient trees of social,
cultural and ecological importance.
|The first phase of the project involved surveying the veteran trees of
Tweeddale, with the aim of recording ecological information on individual trees and the
types of habitat where they are found, and also their history and cultural connections.
The survey was carried out with the help of the Tweeddale Tree Wardens and other members
of the local community. The project organised the first Scottish Veteran Tree Workshop,
and has identified the threats that exist to veteran trees and recommendations on how best
to manage them.
|Tweeddale Tree Wardens are one of two Scottish Tree Warden groups in the
National Tree Warden Scheme operated by the Tree Council, an England-based organisation
that exists to encourage volunteering, learning and local action.
Education and Arts Projects: environmental education, interpretation, and cultural and
awareness raising activities.
The BFT school grounds project promotes the development of curriculum-linked
environmental improvement projects in Border school playgrounds, and involves tree and
hedge planting and the creation of new ponds, wildlife gardens and outdoor classrooms.
These projects are managed in partnership with committees of pupils, parents and teachers,
as well as representatives from the local Commission education department and ranger
service and other environmental organisations working in the Borders.
The 'Butts to Benches' project promotes the creative use of local hardwood timber to
create sculpted benches and play structures in schools and public spaces, and results in
new creative partnerships between schools, communities and local craftspeople.
The Art in the Woods project has resulted in the development of two environmental arts
projects - 'Woodlands in Time' and 'Seeds in Time'. These projects were managed by a
steering group of local artists and explored and celebrated the woodland environment
through sculpture, music, dance, photography, film and storytelling.
New interpretation projects are currently being developed in partnership with
communities and schools at the Wildwood and Ettrick project sites, and craft and
educational activities continue to be core activities in community woodland projects.
These projects have been successful in encouraging and enabling a diverse range of
people to participate in woodland-related environmental activities in the Borders.
Tweed Rivers: three projects co-ordinated by BFT as part of the 1999 Tweed Rivers
Heritage initiative, a major Heritage Lottery-funded Borders-wide project that is
co-ordinated by Tweed Forum, a consortium of local agencies and organisations.
The BFT Tweed Rivers projects have strong links with existing BFT projects. The Tweed
Valley Community and Semi-Natural Woodlands project involves establishing community
participation in the management of six Forestry Commission woodlands, with the aim of
creating more natural woodlands. The Selkirk and Lindean Woodland Access project involves
access, tree planting and path work linked to the existing community woodland at Lindean
and a new site near Selkirk. The Riparian Woodlands project involves the regeneration of
semi-natural and neglected woodlands in the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys in partnership with
local farmers and landowners.
Community involvement has been critical to the success of the BFT. The trust was
established as a result of local grass-roots support. As the trust has developed, the
principles of local consultation and participation have remained at the heart of all its
activities. Major decisions relating to policy and direction are made at lively Annual
General Meetings usually attended by 60 -100 people, and most projects have a community
group or community representatives involved at the core of the decision-making process.
Encouraging community consultation and participation has often meant project plans have
been significantly altered. For example, the entry points to, and the access paths within,
the 100-hectare Ettrick Habitat Restoration project site were decided by the project's
Community Steering Group, and are different from the original ideas of the BFT staff
involved in the management of the project. At the Wildwood project site the fence heights
and the location of a hill-top fence have been altered from the original plans because of
opposition by local people with walking interests.
In 1997 BFT was offered the chance to buy Bailhill and Lindeanburn woods near Selkirk.
A public meeting was organised in the adjacent village of Lindean to encourage local
people to consider setting up a woodland management committee and a new community
woodland. BFT expected local enthusiasm for the project to be high, but there was
significant opposition to the idea of setting up a community woodland. Although this
opposition made BFT doubt the value of purchasing the wood, local interest in the project
steadily increased after it was bought, and today the woodland is run almost independently
by a voluntary group of local people who have formed Lindean Community Woodland
Community consultation has not always resulted in mutual agreement, and compromise has
not always been reached. There is a vocal group in the Moffat Water valley opposed to the
removal of feral goats from Carrifran valley and the general wildlife policy of the
Wildwood project. The group's demands threaten the successful establishment of woodland in
the valley, and despite numerous meetings with BFT staff and the volunteers in the
Wildwood group, progress has not been made towards an agreement on the best way forward.
BFT is reaching its first milestone - the successful completion of the projects
developed and implemented as part of the Millennium Forest for Scotland initiative.
Although participation in the initiative has caused frustrations, as staff and volunteers
have felt that too much emphasis is put on continuous project reporting and the production
of work programmes and cash-flow projections, these demands have given BFT an
organisational rigour that it might not otherwise have had.
BFT has grown in confidence over the last few years. Our experience has shown that
community-based voluntary organisations have to work proportionally much harder than
larger, longer-established organisations to demonstrate credibility to funders and
government agencies, but that community-based groups can achieve just as impressive
results on the ground. There is also a natural tension between being a community-based
organisation and an efficient business-like organisation, and we feel we are getting the
One of the main constraints to the future development of the Trust is the fact that the
majority of the Trust's income is still derived from a relatively small number of funding
sources. The Trust, like many similar voluntary organisations, finds it difficult to
secure enough core funding to maintain efficient and effective core functions - most core
staff, including the Trust Co-ordinator, also manage projects. Funders continue to place
emphasis on funding new projects and initiatives over the short term, and the Trust is
still heavily reliant on the additional voluntary effort of staff, as well as on the
Trustees and project volunteers, to deliver all its objectives.
The other main constraint on the future development of the Trust is the lack of
affordable land for sale in the Borders. The Trust has tried to get round this problem by
entering into land management agreements with landowners, including the local council and
farmers, as well as opportunistically buying areas of land that have come up for sale when
funding has been available. If the Trust is going to realise its vision, communities need
to have the option to buy land on the scale of the Wildwood Project site, to extend
significantly the boundaries of what can be achieved.
We were fortunate last year to secure three years of grant funding from SNH and WWF,
and are currently working on developing new fund-raising strategies to increase the
diversity of our income and the long-term viability of the trust. We also plan to
commission a formal evaluation of the impact of the work of the trust on the local
environment, and on local communities and their economy. We hope this will help to
demonstrate the value of native woodland restoration and community decision-making not
just for the Borders but for the whole of Scotland.