Forestry agency working with community group to save Salen Wood School

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Forestry Land Scotland says it is working with a community group in the hope that the latter can take over ownership of Sgillean nan Coille, the popular wood school at Salen, close to the shores of Loch Sunart.

The Lochaber Times recently reported on the disappointment expressed at a recent meeting of Ardgour Community Council that the Sgillean nan Coille wood school structures seemed destined for demolition.

It was earlier this year, that Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) informed Acharacle Community Company (ACC) – which had managed the site for a considerable number of years but had since withdrawn from the lease – that, in the longer term, it was unlikely FLS would be able to commit to the continued and sole maintenance of the remaining structures.

FLS said in such circumstances it would therefore, regrettably be looking to decommission the project and dismantle the buildings early next year unless it could identify a group interested in taking on the management of the buildings.

However, responding to criticism of FLS which was aired at the meeting, the forestry agency has told the Lochaber Times its local staff are very much invested in the community and that their hard work has been greatly appreciated by local residents and visitors alike.

FLS Regional Visitor Services Manager Robbie Layden said it had been disappointing to read the recent article in the Lochaber Times.

He told us: ‘Local staff are actively working with the local community on this issue and have conveyed the results of civil engineering surveys indicating that the 15-year-old structure is deteriorating and coming to the end of its life.

‘This structure was originally secured via the Sunart Oakwoods initiative alongside a wider benefit of around £4million pounds worth of investment in the area – the project made no provision for the long-term maintenance of legacy infrastructure.

‘A local community group, which is aware that remedial work will need to be done, is looking into ways that it could take ownership of the structure and we are  doing what we reasonably can to work with them to achieve that goal.’

Mr Layden went on to say that FLS has to focus its limited resources on maintaining the day-to-day infrastructure that communities and visitors to local rural landscapes use every day, such as the hide and trails at Garbh Eilean, and the trails and land around Sgillean nan Coille.

‘These sites are freely available to the public and, with permission, can be used for other activities such as outdoor courses or events that support the wider tourist economy in Lochaber,’ he explained.