We are a little over six months into our ownership at the incredible Invergeldie Estate in Perthshire, the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.
Every time I’m fortunate enough to return, I’m struck by how so little, yet so much has changed. Nature is a little like that I suppose, seasonal sprints become annual marathons and generation ultras; over time the pace drops as more is achieved.
It was always our intention to listen, learn, and engage with each site over the seasons, understanding how it lives and breathes. However, the demand for more immediate change is increasing furiously.
The climate is collapsing around us, and we are losing biodiversity at an immeasurable rate. Alongside this, societal demand for change is increasing. Outside of our government system, greater numbers of people are calling for change and that includes the local communities where we work.
Our commitment to patience, listening, and engaging has most often been met with those encouraging us, albeit often feeling like pushing us to go further and faster. On first meetings, people want to know our plans and they expect them to be ambitious whether it relates to new woodland creation, peatland restoration, renewable energy generation, habitat creation, or the potential of more immediate economic interventions including employment or potential property developments.
The reality of buying land at scale is often that we can know very little about a site ahead of acquisition. Rarely visiting a site more than a couple of times and receiving very little, if any, information about the underlying business activities and economic viability of the site, especially where land uses are likely to change, before you even consider receiving an ecological or environmental baseline.
Whilst we have ideas, these must be considered, investigated, and tested before being shared to allow engagement in a meaningful way not just for a rubber stamp. This process is incredibly challenging not least because everyone means something different when it comes to what “local” is and moreover, in what they mean by “engagement” – both words have a tendency of being incredible elastic.
We’ve felt this pressure to act faster more so in Scotland likely due to the scale of our acquisitions. Invergeldie is no different, however, we are learning so much and so quickly that our ambitions for the Estate are changing rapidly too.
We have recognised that we must reduce the number of sheep on the hill if natural regeneration and woodland creation is to be successful. With approaching 2,000 sheep across the estate and the grazing pressure being so significant, we have brought forward our plans to reduce stocking numbers over the next twelve months.
Similarly, we’ve engaged with the Perthshire Deer Management Group and committed to supporting their targets to rapidly reduce growing deer numbers. This will involve us working with a local specialist team of stalkers to remain authentic to our commitment to working locally and to try and ensure as much of this sustainable protein reaches the food chain as possible.
We hope to one day welcome a wind farm to Invergeldie and as such have partnered with the excellent LowCarbon to explore the suitability of the site for wind. It’s early days but the topography, geology, and environmental considerations look positive. This would deliver a huge range of sustainable benefits from green energy to additional employment, improved access infrastructure, and opportunities to utilise construction work to support peatland restoration and habitat creation.
We’ve also made significant progress on our built property portfolio surveying existing buildings and making improvements to residential properties but with a lot more to do, following an extended period of under-investment prior to our acquisition.
Whilst we’ve enjoyed some wonderful interest and support locally of course this isn’t universal; everyone has different priorities and objectives for the landscape. Some just don’t want to see change, others want change but not here, and some would choose to prioritise specific land uses over others and as introduced earlier others want more change more quickly.
One of the most surprising lessons I’ve learnt related to deer and also to sheep. I had initially thought it important to maintain a “traditional” sporting component to the Estate believing this was respectful to the local community however over the last six months, and especially since welcoming the most wonderful Estate Manager from that very community, we’ve learnt that for many people in Scottish towns and villages “traditional sporting estates” are anything but that. Instead, they are reminders of cultural imperialism, of rampant elitism, and of things being taken from rural communities leaving behind a baron wasteland of an environment.
What else will we learn that we’re wrong about in time?
Almost certainly a lot.
I’m therefore left reflecting on the seemingly impossible contradiction that we must work faster but also ensure we take the time to make informed decisions and engage on these locally, if I ever figure out what local in fact means.