The land is gleaming under the sun when we crest the hill; the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, based in East Dumfries and Galloway in moorland browns and yellows under the bluest sky I’ve seen in weeks.
I’m here with Jenny Barlow and Kat Mayer from the Langholm Initiative, who are proudly showing me the expanse of land bought by and for the community in March 2021. Over 5000 acres of peatland, moorland, woodland and rivers are now under their management – and there may be more to come.
There’s a lot about this buy-out I already know; before I worked for the Crichton Carbon Centre, I assisted and then managed the Wild Eskdale project for the Langholm Initiative. This was an environmental education and ecotourism project working in Langholm and the nearby village of Canonbie, engaging school pupils with the nature all around them. My then-manager, Kevin Cummings, took on the opportunity to help the community buy the land around Langholm that the Buccleuch Estates announced for sale in May 2019.
The buyout succeeded, and looking at the fruits of that labour underneath the glorious sunshine sets something right in me that I didn’t know was feeling off.
Jenny points out the native scrub of trees around the river and talks about regeneration and planting to create a woodland corridor all the way upstream; reducing riverbank erosion, downstream flooding, and providing spawning ground for fish. There’s a lot of Sitka Spruce, too, and they talk about cutting as much of 90% of that out to control the non-native tree, seeded from plantation forestry elsewhere.
Then we hop back into the truck – still branded with the Wild Eskdale logo, which makes me smile – and go via the locally known ‘hen-harrier corner’. There’s some sphagnum (and peatland) here, and the hen harriers and other birds of prey can be seen right from the laybys at the right time of year. In fact, the hen harriers are one of the reasons that part of the land is designated as SSSI and SPA, and why the drive for sustainable ecotourism was an arm of the Wild Eskdale project – the quality and quantity of wildlife, accessible from the roads, is astonishing.
We continue on towards the Tarras river itself and onto the land that is not yet part of the Reserve – but that the team hope will be soon. We park up at one of the farms Jenny and Kat would like to work with to bring regenerative grazing to the reserve, and walk on towards the fire-gutted building that they talk about developing into a field centre.
We stop at the base of that house. The view here is magnificent – not quite the open landscape mentioned at the start of this blog, but one that looks up into the two valleys that meet. Your vision is lifted into and up the hills, and they echo the only sound for miles: the strong river at our feet.
Yesterday, the team launched the second community buy out to finish what they started. A further 5300 acres, kindly held off the open market by Buccleuch Estates, is in their sights.
The Tarras Valley team need to raise £2.2 million by the end of May 2022 to buy the land. If successful, the 10500-acre reserve will protect Langholm’s wildlife, carry out natural woodland regeneration and other measures to further support the native flora and fauna, restore the damaged peatlands (important in tackling the climate crisis), and create many green jobs for an area still haunted by the loss of its textile industry.
I can personally attest to the way the Valley sells itself under the sun – but even in other weathers, in can be in turn dramatic, inspiring, awesome, and haunted. The powerful landscape lends itself to creativity, nature-watching, and ecotourism – the potential is huge.