Langholm community hails deal with Duke of Buccleuch as ‘beacon of hope for people and planet’

A rewilding project on a former grouse moor at Langholm in southern Scotland has doubled in size after a “rollercoaster” fundraising campaign by local activists.

The Langholm Initiative announced on Friday it had finally raised the £2.2m needed to buy out a further 2,415 hectares (5,300 acres) of moorland from one of Scotland’s largest hereditary landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch.

The deal allows the community buyout to reach its original goal of creating a 4,000-hectare nature reserve known as Tarras Valley, more than three years after Buccleuch Estates originally put the land on the market, following an intensive crowdfunding and charitable funding campaign.

Jenny Barlow, Tarras Valley nature reserve’s estate manager, said it was hoped the project, which will include peatland restoration, new native woodlands and bird of prey conservation, would become a “beacon of hope for people and planet”.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, but the generosity and unwavering support of so many wonderful donors and volunteers have got us over the line in the nick of time,” she said.

“This is about a grassroots fightback against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, and helping to create a better future. We are doing something so special here, and our expanding reserve is an amazing opportunity for people to visit this part of the world and be inspired by the wonders of nature.”

The Langholm Initiative had initially sought to buy all 4,000 hectares from Buccleuch for £6m in a single deal, but was unable to raise the full price because of a lack of easily accessible sources of funding for community buyouts of that scale.

The £6m target price was one of the largest seen and the Scottish Land Fund, a Scottish government-funded grants-making body which has £10m a year to help community buyouts, has a ceiling of £1m for its awards.

Buccleuch Estates, which entered voluntarily into negotiations with the Langholm Initiative, agreed to split the sale into two tranches after the campaign was at first able to fund only the purchase of 2,104 hectares, in November 2020, keeping it a fixed price.

Both tranches have been financed by 3,000 public donations and numerous larger gifts from private and charitable trusts, as well as three £1m grants from the Scottish Land Fund and South of Scotland Enterprise, a government investment agency.

Hamish Trench, the chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission, a government body set up to reform land ownership, said he was “just delighted” the Langholm Initiative had succeeded.

“It’s testament to a lot of really hard work and the collaborative approach between Buccleuch Estates and the community. That kind of negotiated approach does work and is one we would like to see others taking,” he said.

“It also highlights the challenges of raising significant finance. At a time when we’re seeing new finance coming into the land market for carbon and nature we need to look at ways that can be harnessed by communities to buy their land.”

Benny Higgins, the executive chair of Buccleuch Estates, said: “This successful outcome is testament to what can be achieved by people working together constructively. [To] see the Langholm Initiative grow the Tarras Valley reserve from the initial 5,200 acres to almost double that is fantastic, and we look forward to seeing the evolution of the project over the coming years.”

(From The Guardian)