Last week many of us (well, many of us opposed to grouse shooting) received an email from Kevin Cummings (or Kevin’s office anyway). Kevin works for the Langholm Initiative (LI), a well-established charity which co-ordinates the Langholm Moor Community Buyout, and the email gave an update to donors to their Crowdfunder (which closed after easily reaching its £5000 target last year). To quote the email:
“The feasibility study you helped fund is now complete and showed that the Langholm Initiative can sustainably manage the land and provide the significant community and environmental benefits we hoped for. It provides a hugely exciting vision, creating the ‘Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’ covering about 10,500 acres of moorland, woodland, farmland and including nearly 7 miles of the Tarras Water.
We have a unique opportunity to create an ambitious legacy for the future. Langholm Moor, a special place with huge cultural importance and populated with some of our rarest and most beautiful wildlife, could become a community-owned nature reserve, supporting positive climate action, native woodland creation, small-scale renewable energy and sustainable business development.“
Langholm Moor, in the Scottish borders, was put up for sale by the Buccleuch Estate in May last year. Langholm is known to most of us interested in the links between Hen Harrier persecution and shooting profits (the former are legally protected, the latter are most certainly not), as the site of two long-term studies which were supposedly intended to better understand the so-called ‘conflict’ between raptors and grouse moor management: the project (which used diversionary feeding thus allowing raptors to remain on the land rather than being brood meddled or shot illegally) ended prematurely three years ago, and as Raptor Persecution UK and others have pointed out the project’s final report is still not in the public domain.
Fortunately, rather than seeing the land being sold on to grouse farmers, a group of locals, calling themselves the Langholm Moor Working Group, proposed a land buy-out to take the grouse moor into community ownership and relaunch it as “species-rich nature reserve to benefit local people, nature conservation and tourism“. As quoted above this land would then be managed as the ‘Tarras Valley Nature Reserve’.
We’re all for converting land from intensive shooting to something far kinder and less exploitative, but would Langholm Moor be worth running as a nature reserve? After all, ecotourism is widely suggested as a viable alternative to the grouse shooting industry, but an area has to be very special to attract visitors in the kind of numbers that would cover management and staff costs in the long-term.
Well, as Kevin Cummings wrote in a guest post on Mark Avery’s blog in December last year, “Among the many great wildlife experiences, I have had on the moor, special mention must go to watching the majestic sky dancing of hen harriers, the intimate display of a black grouse lek, merlin in aerial combat with ravens and so much more over the past year. As somebody who regularly embarks on wildlife watching experiences across Scotland, I can honestly say that this hidden gem in the southern uplands can match anywhere else in the nation“. Hen Harriers, Black Grouse, and Merlin? That would be a resounding yes, then.
The LI is proposing to acquire some 10,000 acres of land. Large parts of the area is already recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the geology, plants, birds and habitats that are found there. It’s a Special Area of Conservation because of its Hen Harriers (and LI is proposing building a ‘Hen Harrier Observatory’ to give visitors better views of them). LI is seeking National Nature Reserve (NNR) status for the Moor, and presumably are confident it would get it. It makes you wonder just how much important land there is in the hands of grouse shooters who have one interest above all – providing artificially high numbers of just one species for the gun, and if that means stripping out functioning ecosystems by removing anything that threatens that species that’s too bad…
The Langholm Initiative website is a fascinating read. A particularly interesting feasibility study published on the site outlines how community ownership would benefit local people (a key part of the project, as shooting has always proclaimed the benefit it brings to locals – which is largely by hiring them to flush grouse to the guns as cheaply as possible or to kill native predators).
LI says that
- The Common Moss will be secured for future generations.
- There will be new opportunities for local organisations to connect with the land.
- Local volunteers having a direct impact on the land.
- Health and wellbeing associated with outdoor activities.
- Potential work experience and training for young people (rural skills).
- Direct and indirect employment through development work.
- Undertaking positive climate action.
All very positive. One section of the study that had given us previous concern was a suggestion that “low intensity sporting activity may be possible in future“. While orienteering or cycling might make sense in some parts of the Moor, we would be extremely reluctant to support any proposal that might include, for example, shooting or so-called ‘trail hunting’ (which hunts use to get around the legal restrictions of the Hunting Act). Kevin appears, though, to have clarified LI’s position in a recent comment on Raptor Persecution UK, saying that, “The feasibility study acknowledges a number of potential uses that were suggested by the community including low intensity shooting (walked up). I can confirm that the final business plan does not include the shooting of grouse in any capacity. Trial [sic] hunting is also not included in the final business plan.” (The bold highlight is ours)
This is a bold and innovative initiative that presents a very real alternative to a hundred years or so of destroying wildlife and the environment so that a few hobbyists can ‘enjoy’ a day out splattering Red Grouse. Or as Rob Sheldon wrote on his blog recently, it “sounds so much better than a degraded landscape managed as a grouse moor so a handful of people can kill a load of grouse each year!”. Indeed it does. The next move is to find enough funds to complete purchase of the land, and efforts are well underway. An application to the Scottish Land Fund has been made, and LI will be seeking private donations in due course. Additionally, a free membership scheme is open to locals living in two postcode areas, DG13 (which covers Langholm) and DG14 (which covers neighbouring Canonbie), and a non-voting Associate Membership is open to supporters further afield.
It seems to be full-steam ahead then, and in fact just today LI blogged that “Langholm Initiative has been approached by the Development Trusts Association Scotland to support organisations in the community to apply for funding from the Supporting Communities Fund.” The fund has been set up by the Scottish Government to support the community response to Covid-19.
As a final thought, LI says on its website that, “For 25 years our projects have been improving the area, and the lives of people that live here. The Langholm Initiative is the link to the wider world, and by developing a network of useful contacts, and a skilled team of staff, we will continue to ensure that this is a great place to live, work and visit“.
If the sound of guns were gone forever, and the sight of Hen Harriers quartering the moors restored, many of us would agree wholeheartedly that Langholm would indeed now be “a great place to live, work and visit“. In fact, we’d be booking our post-lockdown visit as soon as the tickets go on sale…