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Trees for Life is to establish the world’s first rewilding centre in the Highlands – thanks to more than £2 million of support from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other sources.
The groundbreaking centre will be at Dundreggan, the charity’s 10,000-acre estate in Glenmoriston. It is expected to welcome more than 50,000 visitors annually – allowing people to explore stunning wild landscapes, discover Gaelic culture, and learn about the region’s unique wildlife, including golden eagles, pine martens, red squirrels and wood ants.
The centre will boost the rural economy by providing a new attraction on the journey between Loch Ness and Skye, and benefit the local community through at least 15 new jobs.
‘Dundreggan Rewilding Centre will showcase how rewilding and nature can give people amazing experiences, create jobs and really benefit local communities. It will celebrate one of the Highlands’ greatest assets – the wild landscapes and unique wildlife being returned through rewilding,’ said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.
‘Dundreggan has become a beacon of how to rewild a landscape. With this centre, it will become a beacon for rewilding people too.’
An all-weather visitor centre, cafe and events space will act as the gateway to fully accessible trails, child-friendly forest experiences and more adventurous walks. These will enable families and people with specific needs to get out into wild landscapes and get involved in rewilding.
Announcing the award from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, SNH chief executive Francesca Osowska said: ‘A key priority for SNH is to help ensure tourism and other sectors benefit from, and invest in, Scotland’s high-quality environment.
‘Nature and culture are closely linked in the Highlands and Islands, and in many places they are central to the local economy, maintaining rural populations, jobs and skills.’
The core of the centre will include displays and interpretation in English and Gaelic, a cafe, classrooms, Gaelic resource centre and events space. Outdoor facilities will include fully accessible trails, children’s forest experience area and more challenging trails.
The centre will provide events and experiences for visitors to the area, and groups with specific needs – such as those with physical or learning disabilities, families, schools and other groups.
The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund has granted £714,000, while the National Lottery Heritage Fund has given initial support for a grant of £783,000. And £630,000 of other funding has been secured to enable the core of the centre to be constructed. Trees for Life is now seeking additional funding, including to power and heat the centre in a sustainable way.
The rewilding centre has been developed following extensive consultation with the local community. Ten per cent of residents responded to requests for feedback, and all were overwhelmingly positive.
Planning permission in principle was granted by Highland Council in April 2019, and Trees for Life will apply for full planning permission this year. Construction should begin in early 2021, with the centre opening in 2022.
At Dundreggan, Trees for Life is protecting and expanding globally important fragments of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest. The estate is home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species – including several never recorded in the UK before or once feared extinct in Scotland.
Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Highlands. Its volunteers have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites, encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive.