The Assynt Foundation believes that bringing this area into secure community ownership will result in sustained positive conservation management returning the area to good health, enriching biodiversity and enhancing the experience of visitors to this unique part of Scotland.
So states one of our objectives in a funding application and that is exactly what we are doing. Sustained deer culls have allowed the natural regeneration of native trees around pockets of existing woods throughout the 44,000 acres of Glencanisp and Drumrunie. There were existing planted woods when the estates were purchased. These were at Drumrunie corner, An Coimhleum and Wester Tubeg on the south side of Loch Assynt and at Bad na h- Achlaise. Since the purchase, we have planted woods at Druim Suardlain and at Ledbeg. We are now concentrating on joining up the fragments on the Southside of Loch Assynt. It is hoped that a combination of planted woods, natural regeneration and an increased deer cull will increase the woodland cover benefit all wildlife on the estates.
Deer management is carried out in accordance with the South Subgroup of the West Sutherland Deer Management Group and their Deer Management Plan can be seen here (http://wsutherlanddmg.deer-management.co.uk/deer-management/). We are aiming to get the deer population down to 4 deer / km2 on Drumrunie and 5-6 deer / km2 on Glencanisp.
The whole of Drumrunie Estate is part of the Inverpolly Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the features of the SAC can be found here (https://sitelink.nature.scot/site/8277). Some of the lochs are part of the Loch Assynt and nearby lochs Special Protection Area for Black-throated Divers and you may be fortunate to spot Diver chicks on some of the lochs in the summer. Ospreys have made regular appearances over recent years as have White-tailed Eagles. The Assynt Field Club record all sorts of wildlife and sightings can be seen here (https://www.assyntwildlife.org.uk/).
There are many things we have got to do as landowners; a lot of boring administrative stuff and while we are determined to have people living and working on the land it is a complicated and time-consuming procedure to make happen. We are a small band of voluntary directors who have other lives too! So this will take longer to do than initially thought.
We have been fortunate to have had the help of Woodland Trust Scotland through the CALLp project (Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape partnership). Working in partnership with other organisations works well for us and this may well be a way to create ways of working the land. We do have several leases of small parts of the estate for grazing and would like to increase this use. While directors have been involved in experimental land use that is not really the point. Far better that private individuals benefit from access to land and create the benefits that AF is looking for in regard to land use and increasing the human population.
Pre-purchase Scottish Natural Heritage had erected a number of exclosures on Drumrunie now about 30 years old. These were to see the difference in vegetation with no grazing. Some do have natural regeneration happening and some don’t – where there were no trees in the vicinity. Some have such a thick mat of vegetation that it is almost impossible for seeds to reach the soil. Discussions have recently begun about what to do with these exclosures as some have willow regenerating and are covered in bumblebees in the spring. Perhaps willow is the one species that we should be expecting a lot more of. Interesting discussions ahead and we would welcome any expertise on the subject. The kind of thing about which we would love to host site visits and debate.