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World’s first rewilding centre opens near Loch Ness

Glenmoriston facility creates 20 jobs and expects to bring 70,000 visitors to the area

Trees for Life Chief Executive, Steve Micklewright at the opeing of the rewilding centre.
Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Trees for Life Chief Executive, Steve Micklewright at the opeing of the rewilding centre. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

The world’s first rewilding centre is opening near Loch Ness with the aim of inspiring people to do their bit for nature recovery.

The £7 million Dundreggan Rewilding Centre at Glenmoriston has been created by Trees for Life.

It will act as a gateway to the 10,000-acre Dundreggan Estate where the conservation charity has been working to protect and expand fragments of the ancient Caledonian Forest.

Centre opens to public on Saturday

The centre, which opens to the public tomorrow, has created 20 new jobs and expects to bring a major economic boost to the area, with eventually up to 70,000 visitors a year.

Dundreggan is home to 4,000 plant and animal species and the new facility is expected to have a major impact on nature restoration and climate and nature crises.

It forms part of Affric Highlands, the UK’s largest rewilding landscape which will potentially cover over 500,000 acres.

Trees for Life launched Affric Highlands in 2021, in partnership with Rewilding Europe and an initial coalition of communities and landowners.

The 30-year initiative aims to create one vast nature recovery area over four glens stretching from Loch Ness to Kintail.

The centre showcases rewilding and the Gaelic culture. Image<br />Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive, said since taking over Dundreggan 15 years ago hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted and peatlands restored.

Golden eagles have returned to nest for the first time in 40 years and black grouse are thriving while in decline in other parts of Scotland.

“The emphasis now is encouraging people to get involved and inspiring them by coming here so they may go off and make their own contribution.

“For me what rewilding says is that we can do something, we can bring back nature, we can help with the climate crisis and we can create jobs.

“I hope one of the take home messages is that this is a very special place where rewilding is happening but I can do it in my own back yard, or my school or in the city where I live.”

What’s inside the centre?

The centre features a stunning tree sculpture of reclaimed metal, created by artist Helen Denerley.

There are displays on rewilding and the Gaelic language, a storytelling bothy showcasing local history and a series of heritage walks and trails.

There is also a café and events space and a 40-bedroom accommodation building.

Centre director Laurelin Cummins-Fraser said: “Whether a visitor has just an hour for a quick visit or wants to stay with us for an immersive rewilding experience, our centre will welcome people to discover stunning landscapes, unique wildlife and Gaelic culture, while connecting with the wonders of the natural world.

“The rewilding centre is embedded in the landscape and the community.”

Mother and daughter staff members Rachel (right) and Maddie Hayes. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Deirdre MacKinnon, chairman of Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community Council, said the year-round facility is good for the area.

“The hands-on and interactive events for children will be good to get them to understand more about nature and rewilding. It will also be of interest to visitors.

“It’s good for the area, for tourism, for jobs and for getting back to nature.”

Rachel Hayes and her daughter Maddie, who live two minutes from the centre, work in the café.

They welcome and jobs and tourism income the centre bring to the area.

“A lot of people tend to go to Urquhart Castle and then Skye and miss this area out”, says Rachel.

Rewilding nursery supplies other estates

“The centre provides somewhere for people to appreciate it.

“Since we moved here 15 years ago we’ve found it somewhere really nice to walk and enjoy nature.

“It’s good that we can now share that with everybody.”

The centre also has its own tree nursery, growing 90,000 native species a year for Dundreggan and neighbouring estates.

Among its volunteer workers is Shirley Potts, a retired Skye GP who has swapped saving lives for helping save the planet.

She said: “Scotland is a very nature-depleted country. I’m very aware of the lack of natural space and that much of it is human impacted.

“We are facing quite a climate and biodiversity crisis and it is important to try to help address that.

Retired Skye GP and now Trees for Life volunteer, Shirley Potts at the centre nursery. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“Since I’ve retired I’ve been coming here because I love woodland and nature and I want to do something to help restore it in at least part of the Highlands.

“I was a GP and increasingly felt that you can only do so much in helping with people’s health and healing people. With climate change and the planet crisis it could all be for nothing.”

Funders of the centre include the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, led by NatureScot and funded through the European Regional Development Fund; National Lottery Heritage Fund; Bòrd na Gàidhlig; Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Program; SSE Sustainable Development Fund; Audemars Piguet Foundation; Improving Public Access Fund; FERN Community Funds; Fort Augustus Community Council; Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

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