Wild Land Alliance Eyes Up Borders Hills

Conservation charities the John Muir Trust (JMT) and the Borders Forest Trust (BFT) are racing to raise funds to make an offer on the Talla and Gameshope estate in the Scottish Borders, a huge area with some of the best upland country in southern Scotland. Their long term aim is an ambitious wild habitat restoration project.

Talla and Gameshope from the air, 132 kb
Talla and Gameshope from the air

The Talla and Gameshope estate consists of 5,300 acres (2,150 ha) of spectacular hill country in the heart of the Ettrick Forest, and includes the summits of Great Hill, Molls Cleuch Dod, Carlavin Hill and Firthhope Rig. It is on the open market at an asking price of £1.1 million. The two Trusts hope to make a joint offer later this month.

Talla and Gameshope is a relatively remote area but its formerly wild and natural qualities have been largely tamed due to overgrazing - damage that the Trusts hope to reverse. Both organisations have a solid track record in conservation management.

The JMT already owns and manages some of the finest wild areas in the UK including Ben Nevis, Schiehallion, Sandwood Bay, part of the Cuillin, Quinag and 3,000 acres of Knoydart.

BFT is a charitable trust which works with local communities and landowners to develop and manage habitat restoration and community woodland projects, reversing the decline in native woodlands in the South of Scotland. Their flagship habitat restoration project is Carrifran Wildwood, an area of regenerating woodland adjoining Talla and Gameshope.

The two organisations have joined forces for what they call a once in a generation opportunity to bring a very special but largely overlooked part of Scotland under conservation management. They say they're pooling their experience and resources because they share a vision for the future of this area.

John Hutchison, chairman of the John Muir Trust said:

'This is the finest area of wild land in the Scottish Borders. The scale of the hills and crags is breathtaking and yet it's highly accessible from central Scotland and the North of England.'

'There are 12 magnificent hills over 600 metres in height as well as the magnificent valley of the Gameshope burn running from a high mountain plateau down to the Talla reservoir.'

'We have a unique opportunity to protect and enhance this area. In 10 years' time this property could sustain a flourishing mosaic of young woodlands and open hill tops, but we're relying on support from members of the public to make that happen.'

John Hunt, chairman of the Borders Forest Trust, added:

'After centuries of overgrazing the land is seriously degraded in biological terms and there is huge potential for ecological restoration to bring back natural, more diverse vegetation and greatly enhanced wildlife.'

'Talla and Gameshope lies at the heart of the historic Ettrick Forest and borders Carrifran Wildwood. Linking these properties would bring a large connected area under conservation management.'

'This is a rare opportunity to restore a network of hills and valleys on a landscape scale, providing habitats extensive enough to be truly sustainable.'

If their bid is successful the two organisations would work together to manage the property with the help of volunteers. They say the wild character of Talla and Gameshope is under threat from a number of potential developments, from which they would hope to protect the area.

Grazing pressures would be reduced to enable the vegetation and soils to recover naturally. Some native trees would be planted with the long term aim of establishing a natural tree line, something not seen in Britain today. This sort of large-scale restoration project would benefit key wildlife such as golden eagle and black grouse, as well as rare mountain plants, they claim.

The Borders Forest Trust and John Muir Trust are inviting pledges of support from the public. Anyone who wants to contribute should contact: Kate Barclay, JMT fundraising manager by email or on 0131 5540114

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