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Community projects help north Scotland locals learn more about nature and landscapes

17th April 2013

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Photograph of Community projects help north Scotland locals learn more about nature and landscapes

Two community-based projects which have raised awareness and helped people get involved in nature and landscapes in Caithness and Sutherland have been praised.

In December 2009, two grants from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) were matched with money from The Highland Leader Programme to provide 80,000 for biodiversity projects in Caithness and Sutherland.

These included work involving woods, lochs, ponds; river banks, garden birds, Arctic terns, puffins, and bats. One project even identified a rare insect in a project which is expected to make a significant contribution to insect knowledge.

The Caithness and Sutherland Partnerships embarked on the three-year environment funds' which have now reached a successful conclusion.

Under these, Involvement' projects helped encourage more children and adults to learn and care about nature, and get involved in looking after the environment.

And under the biodiversity' theme projects which improve, protect and manage native species and habitats were highlighted.

Commenting on the successful conclusion of the two schemes, SNH Unit Manager Lesley Cranna said: "We have been closely involved with the Caithness and Sutherland Partnerships since they came into being and we were delighted to help them establish these Environmental Funds in 2009.

"They have succeeded in getting more people actively engaged in their local environment and we would like to congratulate all involved in delivering these projects for their hard work."

The Sutherland Partnership administered their environmental fund through the Sutherland Partnership Biodiversity Group chaired by noted local naturalist Ian Evans.

Over the course of the Sutherland scheme, 14 community projects were delivered. Seven of these included training events and projects and three improved footpaths to encourage people get out and about and enjoy the countryside.

The Caithness Environment Group, chaired by councillor Robert Coghill of Stemster, has been responsible for approving their grant awards. Over the three years of the scheme the fund has helped 16 projects with assistance ranging from 240 to the maximum allowable under the scheme of 6,000.

Caithness projects included building bird boxes, creating a pond as well as path works and nature trails. A number of projects also involved creating better outdoor spaces in more urban areas such as wildlife gardens, a sensory garden for people with special needs and an all abilities viewing platform beside the River Thurso.

Fiona Mackenzie, development officer for Sutherland Partnership, said: "I am really pleased to say that now our scheme is complete we have far exceeded our original targets and expectations. The fund delivered a range of community-led projects tackling a multitude of biodiversity issues and the majority of these projects involved learning, with many specifically targeting young people.

"The grant aid from Highland Leader and Scottish Natural Heritage has also allowed our knowledge and understanding of species and habitats to be increased not only here in Sutherland but also at a national level."

John Green, chair of the Caithness Partnership, stressed: "I think we have clearly demonstrated the great value of working in partnership. Between us we delivered an environmental grant scheme of significant benefit to Caithness. I would like to thank all involved but particularly Scottish Natural Heritage for helping us devise such a simple and effective grant scheme."

Both funds were set up to support the objectives of the Caithness and Sutherland Local Biodiversity Action Plans, and both National and Regional Biodiversity Action Plans.

Examples of funded projects

Stoer Parent Council used the funding to engage primary school pupils with their environment. Their project used drama and art-based activities to show how the land has been shaped and continues to be influenced by humans.

Assynt Field Club set up a malaise trap', a large, tent-like structure of fine netting designed to trap flying insects. The club gathered information on insect life in Assynt and produced some important results for the area including the first confirmed record of the rare lacewing Helicoconis hirtinervis. The results from this project are expected to make a large contribution to knowledge of insect groups.

Gearchoille Community Woodland Trust in Ardgay completed two projects from the Sutherland Partnership environment fund; one for a wildlife pond, the other to stage an environmental event. The first saw an old pond recreated to enhance biodiversity and has been used for training and learning events for school children and locals. The trust's well-attended environmental day focused on the pond and had a number of specialist nature guides and events for all ages.

Caithness Biodiversity Group was successful in three bids to the fund. Its leaflet raising awareness of salmonberry, a non-native invasive plant, was the smallest award at 240. The group also received one of the larger awards of 5709 for its planting the future' project at Ormlie. This saw a therapeutic garden and plant nursery adjacent to Thor House created. The establishment benefits people with learning difficulties and other vulnerable groups.

Watten Community Council created a nature trail with an interpretation board between Bain Place and Achingale Place, and beside Loch Watten. Other areas in Caithness to benefit from grants were Dunnet Forest; Wick; Dunbeath; Bower; Thurso; Keiss, and Rumster.

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