In June last year, Scottish Forestry (SF) instigated a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process on the proposed scheme to put a 12 mile fence through the heavily designated scenery of south Assynt.
Catch up on our previous reports on the Eisg Brachaidh fencing project
Freedom of Information requests result in Scottish Forestry calling for an Environmental Impact Assessment
The findings from the initial FOI request reveal anomalies in the funding process and plans for a huge cull for deer trapped within fence boundaries
An overview of the unconsulted publicly funded £400k+ fencing project
They were to get back to participants within a month or so, but progress was slow, and as the summer and autumn progressed, it became apparent that, under due and proper process, this project was struggling. In the autumn, we learned that with the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Partnership (CALLP) being wound up, that their match funding was being removed. We were also aware that fencing costs had increased very significantly over the previous six months and that therefore, the grant funding received would not cover the significant cost of such a major piece of infrastructure anyway.
In early December, information was sought from both Nature Scot and Scottish Forestry under FOI, and the Nature Scot information has now been returned.
We can see that from July through to September or so that Nature Scot were assuming that the project was on schedule to be completed by March 2022. Some time in September, alarm bells obviously started to ring more loudly, and the exchange of emails increased. Everyone was being very polite, but gradually the penny was dropping that this was not going to happen.
On 14th September the phrase “Use it or lose it” is used, referring to the allocated funding. On 24th November, the Woodland Trust admitted that it would be the “New Year” before the EIA process would “begin”, although it had actually begun in June. Perhaps they meant “end”, or perhaps they didn’t know where they were with the EIA. One communication to Nature Scot from Scottish Forestry back in July said that “in their view, the proposal would have a significant effect on a European site”, and they asked Nature Scot to provide them with a proper evaluation of what the impacts might be. It is not apparent that Nature Scot were ever able to do that.
It was no surprise then that the following day, 25th November, Woodland Trust wrote to Nature Scot, saying that they could not make their timetable of achieving EIA clearance and finishing the work by the end of March this year, and they could not therefore take up the near £200,000 of Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF) money previously allocated to them.
Nature Scot had been concerned that they might receive adverse publicity for pulling the funds. The real story of course is why it took them so long before they realized that this was not a viable project. No-one is going to criticize them for finally coming to their senses.
Unfortunately, the project is not yet dead. There is now a new grant fund that has been launched by Nature Scot called the Nature Restoration Fund, inviting applications of up to £250,000. The FOI material shows the discussions that took place, enquiring whether the funds could be rolled over in to this, but that was not possible. However, a fresh application will obviously be considered if received.
So, this is not over yet, and we will need to continue to engage with the EIA process, and try to persuade people that there are better ways of doing this to avoid damaging such a wild and unspoilt landscape.
You can find the FOI documents in the downloads section.