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21 May 2021

Threave Landscape Restoration Project: our 100-year vision

Written by Sam Gallacher, Operations Manager for Dumfries & Galloway
An aerial view of farm fields, divided by hedgerows, pockets of woodland and a couple of roads. Occasional white buildings can be seen in the landscape. A river winds in the distance.
Kelton Mains Farm is a former dairy farm, part of Threave Estate, near Castle Douglas | Photo: Mike Bolam
It often feels like the loss of natural habitats, green spaces and our rich flora and fauna is almost inevitable, and that what is lost is lost forever, but that doesn’t need to be the case. While we all take steps to lessen our impact on the environment, there are also big positive changes we can make on a larger scale to help nature bounce back.

And this is what the Threave Landscape Restoration Project is all about. We’re taking 81 hectares of land – a disused dairy farm surrounded by some of the richest ecologically protected habitats in southern Scotland, along the River Dee in rural Galloway – and looking at how we can turn an area of land formerly used for intensive agriculture into a fully restored woodland-wetland ecosystem, self-sustaining and self-adapting to Scotland’s changing climate.

This isn’t about re-creating something from the past (that past is lost), but instead we want to find new ways, methods and technologies that can support the evolution of existing habitats and encourage the regeneration and creation of new habitats. It’s all about how best we can maximise biodiversity in the future. It’s about how we can manage land sustainably, whether that’s forestry or cattle grazing.

The National Trust for Scotland has been building up research on how we do this at Threave since 2017. Working with experts in woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, we have sought out new technologies for conservation grazing and studied the whole site holistically. We’ve now put together both an immediate and long-term plan to help kickstart and support natural processes, but we’ll also use this site as a massive experiment to help us find best practice and methods. We hope these will be useful and inspire others in similar settings, whether in Scotland or further afield. It will be an exciting experience for our visitors and members to learn and engage with landscape restoration in action.

Working with our local funding and project partners, the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership scheme, we’re putting £250,000 into establishing some major initiatives in 2021. This year, we’re looking at how the land can be undrained, allowing flow to be restored and wetlands fully re-created. We’re shifting from non-native plantation woodlands to trialling replanting methods and native woodland regeneration – we want to see a 30ha native woodland established here. We’re taking away fences but keeping ecologically valuable conservation grazing, using new technology to help farmers manage their livestock from their smartphones. We’re also slowing waterways, monitoring key species of fish, geese and invertebrate, helping to restore our rich wildflower meadows in time.

Through this project, Threave will become an established centre of excellence in landscape restoration, providing visitors, other land managers and the National Trust for Scotland with best practice methods and approaches.

Work starts on site in spring 2021, with primary improvements scheduled to be complete by March 2022. Keep an eye on the website for further project updates.

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