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Communities as ‘Guardians of the Future Forests’

August 2022

As part of the Cultivate project, colleagues at the Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth College UHI and Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere hosted a workshop in August to ask communities about the social and cultural heritage of forests in the region. The workshop was held at Ben Shieldaig estate using Couldoran House and the surrounding landscapes. We were supported by Caz Austen, ranger of the Woodland Trust who own and manage the estate and plan to carry out restoration work.

We aimed to bring together voices from across different communities to discuss a number of key questions, such as What do forests mean to you and your community? What kinds of cultural heritage uses and values are important? How are you using the forest today? We also asked participants to think forwards to the future of forests in the Wester Ross region, and what they would like to see happening, and the role that they think communities should play.

On the day we were joined by a small but passionate group of participants from areas including Applecross, West Allign, Erbusaig and Lochcarron. Participants were invited to share initial responses to the questions captured and we then spent time discussing the questions as a group. On the question of how local communities value their woodlands both generally and as cultural heritage, responses included examples like traditional knowledge and skills, poetry, folklore and mythology and notions of wellbeing, health and hope for the future. On how the forests of Wester Ross have changed over time, participants noted both the problems of fragmentation and historic problems with non-native tree planting as well as the more positive sense in which forests have become a vital amenity as a recreational asset. Attendees spoke of a future vision for forests as a healthy, vibrant and resilient, adaptive ecosystem, as involving more woodland crofts, native trees and a vital role for communities as ‘guardians of the future forests’.

By Zoe Russell

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