Update, December 2019

It has been a couple of months since most of you have heard from Affric Highlands, a time which has been used to focus on the ‘5 First Steps’ circulated after the introductory meeting at North Affric Estate.  Affric Highlands’ central premise is that a large scale partnership based on goodwill and shared wisdom can create a landscape where nature, people and business support each other to thrive.  The first steps for the project are largely about illustrating what the benefits for people and business can look like within such an agenda.  So I’ve been working for the last few months on developing robust means to do this.  It took a little longer than I would have liked to make progress with this, but we’ve been set on bringing the right calibre of people to bear on the challenges and the wheels are now in motion on three scoping projects and this update is designed to bring you up to speed on what’s planned, when it will happen and how you can get involved.

Scoping the possibilities for jobs and business

There is plenty of evidence that a landscape where nature is recovering and beginning to thrive has significant potential to underpin a more diverse and resilient local economy. The trends in the tourism market in Scotland alone are certainly enough to give pause for thought, with growing numbers of people coming to the country and an increasing proportion of them interested in nature-related experiences. Trees for Life is also aware, from first-hand experience, that the market in carbon offsetting through woodland creation is showing strong signs of growth that can add significantly to income from the land. Farming, timber, non-timber forest products and wild food are all further areas where a nature-based approach can diversify activity and generate income which may remain comparatively modest, can be enough to create jobs and circulate money in small communities.

Whilst all this makes complete sense in theory, we’ll all need hard evidence that it can work in practice. It was with this in mind that we commissioned Conservation Capital to scope out the business potential in Affric Highlands. Conservation Capital combine business acumen with a background at the interface between business and the environment with a strong emphasis on the contributions of people on the ground, so we are really looking forward to working with them and all that we’ll learn along the way.

With funding and resources from Trees for Life and Rewilding Europe, Conservation Capital’s brief is to look systematically at how changes in the natural landscape can create opportunities for businesses in the area. This will include an objective assessment of the economic significance of the opportunities and of the level of investment required to realise the potential of nature-based business in the area. The programme for this work is summarised in the table below, extracted from the brief. Once complete, the intention is that the report will form the basis of a funding proposal for a second phase of work to develop the business opportunities into detailed implementation plans.

Input from local people is built into Conservation Capital’s approach and we are currently setting up a kick-off meeting with a small group of people from the initial Affric Highlands meetings at North Affric and Dundreggan. This will happen in early January and Conservation Capital will be following that up with research and consultation with people from the business community over the following 3 months. If you are interested in joining the kick-off meeting, please drop me a line – 07825 041291, alanm@treesforlife.org.uk.


Phase Focus Description
1 Contextual analysis Desk based analysis of the current context, involving a high level mapping exercise of key stakeholders which relate to both nature-based business and the Affric Highlands initiative as a whole.
2 Market analysis The above phase will run in parallel with analysis of current and anticipated future trends in the key economic sectors which relate to the Affric Highlands project area. This will ensure that the initial meetings with stakeholders (see next phase below) are informed and targeted.
3 Initial stakeholder consultation Consultation with priority stakeholders in the Affric Highlands area to better understand the current economic situation (and to understand the current linkages between businesses and the aims of the Affric Highlands initiative). During this process there will be opportunity for CC to share some initial insights into the future opportunities in the area, informed by work phases 1 and 2 above.
4 Framework of opportunities CC will then prepare a high level framework of nature-based business opportunities for the Affric Highlands area, considering how best to enhance existing businesses and outlining the scope for new business development.
5 Investment requirements Based on the outcomes of work phase 4, CC will provide an outline of the types and level of investment required to realise the nature-based business potential in the area.
6 Presentation of draft findings CC will then present our provisional findings and recommendations to priority stakeholders, working closely with Trees for Life management and other Affric Highlands stakeholders to ensure this is integrated with the wider Affric Highlands project progress and messaging.
7 Phase 1 report Upon receipt of feedback, CC will then prepare a report summarising the findings of this first phase of work and setting out the suggested focuses for a second phase of work. The second phase of work will involve further in depth analysis of priority identified business opportunities and targeted consultation with relevant stakeholders and potential industry partners. This will result in detailed and practical implementation plans for all key business opportunities.


Regenerative farming

One important strand of business where we have an opportunity to make early progress is farming. Affric Highlands came to the attention of Roots of Nature, a training and hill farming consultancy which specialises in making low input, soil-focused agriculture pay its way in today’s farming economy. We’ve had some really thought provoking discussions with them, exploring the potential for them to add value to Affric Highlands.

Roots of Nature are about to trial their approach to landscape scale farming on two Scottish estates and are keen to explore whether something similar might be possible through Affric Highlands. They work with both established farmers and with land managers considering reintroducing livestock to their land. They are confident that their approach to grazing can make businesses more resilient by remaining financially viable in the face of the many uncertainties in agriculture, diversifying farm income sources and contribute to ecosystem health for the long term sustainability of the farm unit. Our conversations at the moment are about finding the right opportunities for them to share their approach with interested people in the Affric Highlands area.

Carbon is money

2019’s acknowledgement of the climate emergency has increased the focus on carbon sequestration through land use changes such as woodland creation and peatland restoration. However, the market in carbon offsetting has been gradually growing for a few years now as businesses seek to reduce and offset their carbon emissions. As Timon from Rewilding Europe set out to those of you who were at the North Affric meeting, the growth of corporate interest in purchasing accredited carbon offset units offers a major opportunity for Affric Highlands.

Trees for Life has a woodland carbon scheme at Dundreggan which has been validated as holding over 50,000 tonnes of carbon accredited under the Woodland Carbon Code. So far, we have had a few discussions with large businesses interested in buying all of these carbon units in a single transaction at £10 per tonne. Recently, we have had other conversations suggesting that the market is in fact a good deal higher than that.

This remains new territory for us and we are learning as we go, but it is clear that the interest in this market is strong and that Scottish carbon schemes which provide benefits to nature and people are attractive to buyers. There is scope to capitalise on this by creating an Affric Highlands carbon cooperative. This would streamline the technical processes of developing market-ready carbon products from new woodlands created in the area and then market and sell these under an Affric Highlands carbon brand. Basing this brand on the story of a landscape evolving to the benefit of people and nature would allow the carbon to reach something of a premium price with the many companies looking to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility as they offset carbon emissions.

Golden Eagles

We’ve also been talking to the North of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, a partnership between Highland Council and Scottish & Southern Energy which is preparing a funding bid to provide opportunities for people to experience eagles through events, short films, interpretative panels, a wildlife hide, and a tour of local businesses. The project, led by Highlife Highland, also wants to work with schools and communities by employing rangers and using satellite tagging to allow them to find out about and engage with individual eagles in the area. There is clear scope for this project to complement Affric Highlands’ objectives and we wish them well in their funding bid. If you want to find out more about the Eagle project, get in touch with Janet Bromham: info@loch-side.co.uk

Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life, December 2019

01309 691292