On a learning exchange week in the Highlands in April, we saw impressive landscape-scale conservation work in practice at Trees for Life and Highlands Rewilding. We visited a community bike workshop and heard about the diverse range of projects happening at Lochaber Environmental. We explored the community forest at Abriachan.

Almost the whole team came along to the learning exchange trip, which was the first time that so many of us could come together in one place. We were on a shared mission to learn from our hosts and from each other. And this is what we discovered.


1. We all want to do more


The first stop on our learning exchange trip took us to Fort William. Ruth, Chris and Emma from Lochaber Environmental Group talked with us about what they do with their active travel and food-growing projects. We got into the nitty gritty of running projects with Emma and Ruth, and Chris gave a tour of their very well-organised bike workshop.

Looking around their bike workshop, ACT's bike refurbisher Jamie Joyce was impressed by the neatly arranged and comprehensive tool setup and the way the community is invited to access the bicycle repair equipment. More importantly, they have space inside for two bikes to be worked on at one time, no matter the weather. And they are ready to expand further.

What we learned at Lochaber Environmental is that we are not alone. We all want to reach more people with what we do, growth is inevitable – we are all determined to do more.


2. We are tree huggers at heart


Ross Lilley and Ian Dow at Trees for Life rewilding centre

Photo by Stan Phillips/ NatureScot

On a visit to the new Trees for Life rewilding centre at Dundreggan, we couldn’t resist but give some special trees a good old hug.

Dan Griffiths, our ranger from Blarbuie Woodland, showed his appreciation for a 250-year-old granny pine tree. Ian Dow, one of our woodland coordinators, made his way across a gorge to get close to a couple of mature aspen trees. Ian and Ross Lilley, ACT's chair, show the scale of another ancient tree in a joint effort to wrap around it (see photograph above).

We encountered these very special trees on a tour with Kat Murphy, Trees for Life education manager. After marveling over the tiny montane birch and willow, the rows of pines in the tree nursery that are almost ready to be planted out, we ventured further into the estate to see their rewilding practices in action. It was exciting to see the progress Trees for Life are making at Dundreggan and to learn from their experiences so far.

As we plant more trees around Argyll through our rainforest restoration work, we can only hope that in 250 years there will be a group of people like ourselves ready to appreciate those trees enough to wrap their arms around them.

Tree nursery at Trees for Life


3. We can’t stop talking about what we can do 

Photo by Stan Phillips/NatureScot

We spent a couple of days at the Trees for Life rewilding centre before we moved on to visit Highlands Rewilding at Bunloit Estate. At Highlands Rewilding, we gained insight into the approach that a newer rewilding project is taking. We saw their peatland site, the beginning of a food forest, and talked about how integral the community is to what we all do. Spending a couple of days together as a group, meeting with other people working in conservation gave us plenty to talk about.

On a walk up a hill or through a gorge, over lunch, while travelling between estates, no matter what we were doing, we couldn't stop talking about what we do and our goals. The trip gave us the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of different approaches and think about how we are doing things.

“Having these conversations has been really valuable,” said Angharad Ward, ACT’s peatland initiative site manager. “We have a real range of expertise across ACT. Although we work on quite different projects, each of our perspectives adds something different when we talk about our projects.” 

4 Community is at the heart of what we do

Community is central to what we do here at ACT. Lori Silven, MAKI Pups outdoor nursery practitioner, and Dan Griffiths, Blarbuie Woodland ranger, stopped in at Abriachan to see how they engage the local community at their woodland.

Outdoor learning and woodland development, there are a lot of overlaps with what we do through our outdoor nursery, community woodland and wellbeing in nature projects. Lori and Dan enjoyed looking around at the raised beds, playground, forest school and nursery, and woodland walks, as well as speaking to the Abriachan Forest Trust team.

5 We are doing great

The ACT team, and Nature Scot representatives, at Trees for Life Dundreggan estate 

“It’s been reaffirmed how brilliant it is to be a part of this team,” said Julie Young, ACT chief executive. “The conversations we’ve had as a team, and with all of these organisations, reminds me just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown since ACT began in 2014.”

We learned a lot from speaking to other organisations and seeing their work in person. We don’t own land or significant assets in the same way that these organisations do, and that’s ok. Our strength is in our partnership working between communities, landowners, businesses, agencies and organisations serving Argyll. Coming together as a team, in person, was one of the biggest rewards of our learning exchange trip. It reminded us that we are on the right track. It reminded us that our greatest asset is our people.  

Thank you

Thank you to NatureScot for supporting this learning exchange trip and to the organisations who hosted us:

Lochaber Environmental Group

Trees for Life

Highlands Rewilding

Abriachan Forest Trust

Header photo by Stan Phillips/NatureScot