Residents in Skye are attending a ceremony today (27 July) to take ownership of the local forest. The Sleat Community Trust has bought a massive 440 hectares of Sleat woodland from Forestry Commission Scotland for their community and will officially take ownership at a ceremony attended by Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment.
The Sleat Community Trust secured £330,000 through a mixture of private and public funding to buy the Forest under Forestry Commission Scotland's National Forest Land Scheme and the Trust has recently appointed a community forester, Chris Marsh.
The National Forest Land Scheme provides an opportunity for community groups to buy or lease parts of Forestry Commission Scotland's National Forest Estate and community ownership of Tormore Forest will provide a wide range of benefits to both the local community and the wider public, offering the means to generate income which can be used for community development projects.
The Trust is managed by a team of 16 multi-skilled local directors on behalf of around 470 members and the wider community. It has wide spread community support for a number of plans which will improve amenities in the Sleat peninsula.
Henry Mains is Secretary of the Trust and says that the group is delighted to finally be taking ownership. "This ceremony is really a milestone in the history of Sleat. For the first time ever the community will own the land where we live.
"In the first three years we will be harvesting the timber to open up the wood. As well as the replanting of native species we will also be looking at how to offer pathways for access for both local people and visitors."
He added: "We are extremely grateful to all those individuals who have given generously to help us meet our target for community fundraising, and to all the public sector funders who have supported our cause."
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment Alex Neil said:
"The Scottish Government is committed to community empowerment and we believe that sustainable solutions for rural Scotland should emerge from rural communities themselves.
"This project is testament to the hard work and determination of the local community working together to secure ownership of Tormore Forest. Under the auspices of the Trust, I am sure the forest will remain a keystone of the community and will bring a sense of pride for generations to come."
The valuable timber harvested will meet the growing demand locally for firewood, will offer a secure source of woodchip for Sleat Renewables woodfuel business, and will provide a supply of sawlogs which will be sold on to generate income for further community benefit. The project will provide new employment and recreational opportunities for the people of Sleat.
Chris Marsh, the new Community Forester, previously worked for the Forestry Commission. "I'd like to think that Tormore forest will be both a productive and sustainable woodland with thriving biodiversity that will include people - working or visiting and perhaps even living there," he commented. Chris will be holding talks in the area to keep local people informed on how the Sleat Community Trust will manage the forest.
Pam Noble of Highlands and Islands Enterprise said: "HIE has been working with the community company throughout this process and we are delighted that they have finally taken over such an important community asset. The forest can be developed for the benefit of the whole community long into the future."
Funding has come from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council, Scottish Investment Fund, Highland Opportunity, Triodos Bank, the Tudor Trust and the Co-operative Fund as well as from the community itself which has raised over £16,500.
Further details on the National Forest Land Scheme can be found at: www.forestry.gov.uk/nfls