How community ownership can ‘unloch’ the potential of local land

Loch and the sky above, with a wooden sign reading "Castle Loch Walk" and "Castle Lochmaben"The heart-shaped Castle Loch in Lochmaben is right at the heart of Dumfriesshire, and certainly has a warm place in the hearts of its residents. To mark Community Land Week 2018, in this guest blog Darren Flint tells us how community ownership of the loch has created new opportunities for locals and increased visitor numbers…  

In 2013 there were rumblings that the site was coming up for sale and the communities of Lochmaben, Royal Four Towns and Templand saw an opportunity, which they seized with both hands.

This initial chatter around the Royal Burghs snowballed following their enquiry to the helpful staff at the Scottish Land Fund, which boosted their confidence about what could be achieved. Lots of community consultation and legal stuff followed, culminating with the Scottish Land Fund awarding £198,500 of funding for the community purchase of this historic and wildlife-rich site.

I entered the scene in early 2014 as the site’s Project Officer. I wear many hats: habitat management to community engagement, encouraging volunteering through to media and promotion. These hats are certainly mixed, and designed to both protect the site and help the local community bring their vision to life.

So, what has been delivered over the last few years?

  • Creation of ‘Forest School’ areas, which are now regularly used by school and nursery groups
  • Completion of new footpaths and bridges creating a full 3-mile loop through the various habitats
  • Conversion of an old barn and cottage for community use
  • Walks, talks and events appealing to a broad range of people

This was all delivered through the dedication of a large band of volunteers, who each bring their time, skills and unwavering commitment. Last year we broke 1000 hours donated and in June 2018 their enthusiasm culminated in the winning of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Some of the highlights:

So, what does the future hold?

Members of the local community gathered near the loch, with a ruined structure in the background

Well, really it is more of the same. More school group visits, more volunteering, more patching footpaths, more community talks, more protecting the wildlife habitats – all of which wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated volunteers and the Scottish Land Fund helping us to achieve community ownership of the loch.

If you happen to be in the area or passing by on the M74 during Community Land Week 2018, why not take a short detour from your journey and visit us? For more information about the project or to keep up to date with the latest information please visit our website or see our Facebook page.

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