Our mission is to Scale conservation and we believe that means delivering positive environmental and social impact, generating a profit as a result of what we do and not the purpose.
At our core, we are a data-driven company, setting us apart from others in the natural capital economy. While many still rely on proximity, relationships, or romantic inclinations when identifying potential land acquisitions, we employ our proprietary data analysis and modelling tools to identify land that maximizes our impact, ultimately leading to the best outcomes for people, wildlife, and our investors.
One of the best investments we’ve made to date was the acquisition of the nearly 12,000 acre, Blackburn & Hartsgarth Estate in the Scottish Borders. This expansive canvas provides enormous potential for positive environmental and social impact, principally through the capacity for the development of one of the biggest onshore windfarms in the UK, storage of up to 750,000 tCO2e through woodland planting and peatland restoration, and creation of one of the biggest and most exciting conservation projects in the UK. It also offers the potential to be the home to several returning iconic species including perhaps one day, the Eurasian lynx.
We believe that the area surrounding Newcastleton is often a missed feature of the UK, providing remarkable impact potential and investment value, essentially offering a Lake District location, climate, topography, and atmosphere for a fraction of the price.
Our Blank Canvas
The landscape here has gone through several environmentally and culturally painful transactions following large-scale community clearance in the 1790’s. The remaining agricultural land has been intensively grazed for an incredibly long time – the legacy of which offers little biodiversity and heart-breakingly little bio-abundance which means key indicator species are largely absent. Far too many sheep for far too long, too many deer (to the point now where numbers are diminishing due to a lack of food), and generations of aggressive focus on sporting pursuits have burned, browsed, and broken this landscape.
Potential for Impact
There are significant opportunities to restore degraded peat using innovative and non-synthetic site-won materials including applying proven river restoration techniques to peatland recovery including the addition of large wooden debris. Following numerous fact-finding trips to ancient peat bogs in northern Scotland, we have observed naturally occurring examples of large wooden debris (think tree trunks and stumps) acting as nuclei for the damming and coagulations of materials within especially deep and wide peat hags. We intend to explore the use of these techniques to help nature kickstart its own peatland recovery.
We are desperate to see trees back in this place. By restoring native, broadleaf woodland initially in ‘gills’ and ‘cloughs’ we can create new habitats and improve water quality in the headwaters of multiple waterbodies (also helping to regulate water temperature / build resilience to the impacts of climate change).
The impacts of flooding are all too real for the communities in and around Newcastleton and the absence of vegetation from the hills and upper slopes is a key part of this problem. We want to help and believe the planting of extensive, native broadleaf woodland will increase interception, increase the natural storage capacity of the uplands and slow the flow of water helping the rivers and their flood plains operate in the way nature intended.
We are committed to bring diversification to the moorland fringe habitats to support the reintroduction of even the most common examples of UK wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies, and maybe even one day, more iconic keystone species such as the Eurasian lynx, blue Hare, and Pine marten.
Above all we believe the greatest impact we can have is working in partnership with the local community.
Earlier this year we had the opportunity to meet many local residents and members of the community at our welcome event, immediately following the acquisition of the site. The openness, kindness, and hope that we were met with was genuinely humbling.
One of the leading members of the local community council explained to me that his son and young family had moved away to find work fearing this often forgotten place offered little in terms of opportunity. He said that we were the ideal buyers of the landscape and had given him hope that whilst he’d lost one son from the community, he didn’t want anyone else to lose another.
We fundamentally believe that if we help restore the very building blocks of nature, the wider environment and the community can be built on these foundations. We want to create opportunities for more people to visit, live and work in and around Blackburn & Hartsgarth.
We will work to create wilderness-based ecotourism experiences and opportunities and have already partnered with leading wild camping specialists, CampWild to offer incredible nature-based adventures, including embracing these unique dark skies and spellbinding celestial performances.
We will explore the development of renewable energy potential such that we can not only restore nature but also reenergise the local community.
At Hartsgarth Farm and Blackburn Farm, we will also invest in the redevelopment of significant rural properties, exploring ways of improving the environmental performance of these homes and buildings which are sadly no longer serving an active role in the community.
Blackburn and Hartsgarth is an incredible blank canvas of a landscape perhaps offering the most potential for positive impact of all the wonderful Estate in the Oxygen Conservation portfolio.
Landscapes, like the canvas of the original impressionist painters, are so incredibly rare and precious that they should never be considered used, done, or finished. Instead, with time, patience, passion, and determination we will continue to partner, innovate, and iterate until we’ve delivered genuinely positive impact for people and wildlife.