Environmental campaigners in Moray have secured a funding boost to revitalise a forgotten beauty spot as an education venue.
The former trout fishery at Loch of Blairs near Forres has fallen into disrepair since it closed down about 15 years ago.
During the last year, volunteers have dedicated more than 600 hours to clearing mounds of weeds and rhododendrons from the woodland area.
Now the campaign group Friends of Blairs Loch has secured £10,000 from the Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation to restore a 19th century boat shed and bothy to its former glory.
Once complete it is hoped the loch-side shed will be fit to welcome groups of up to 18 school pupils to learn more about the natural environment.
Brian Higgs, a trustee of the group, said: “We had initially considered it as a study laboratory for students at Forres Academy, simply due to the size of it.
“At the moment they are having to travel to the other side of Inverness for their field studies, which means there is a long drive eating into the time they have there – this is only 10 minutes away.
“Some of the local primary schools have small classes too though so we hope it will be used by them as well.
“We want to keep the rustic feel to encourage wildlife to return here. Once there is fish in the loch we also hope to attract osprey as they head to Findhorn Bay.”
The funding boost from the Baxter Foundation will cover about a third of the total costs to restore the boat shed, which will be the first part of a wider vision.
Eventually the group wants to convert a former pony stable into a second venue at the loch capable of hosting nearly 40 people, which will take the total cost of the project to about £100,000.
Mr Higgs believes the backing of the Baxter Foundation will give the campaigners more credibility when approaching other funders to secure the remaining cash.
George McIntyre, a trustee of the Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation, said: “The thing that impressed us was how sustainable it is and how inclusive it wants to be.
“The environment is one of the key factors for us bit this is also about bringing something back that has been lost over the years, which also made it appealing.”
>> Keep up to date with the latest news with The P&J newsletter
The funding announcement made by the Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation about the Loch of Blairs was just one of many totalling nearly £90,000 yesterday.
Groups across the north of Scotland benefitted from cash from the organisation, which distributes money from the personal legacy of the couple that ran the Speyside soup giant.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust’s three year missing salmon research project received a grant of £50,000 to pinpoint where young fish are dying.
It is hoped that findings from the tagging system will lead to recommendations to help reverse a downward trend in fish populations in rivers flowing into the Moray Firth, including the Spey, Findhorn and Deveron among others.
Meanwhile, the Forres Cycling Club received £1,500 to pay for new carpeting in its clubhouse, which is regularly used for training.
There was also a £25,000 grant for Wasps (Workshops and Artists Studio Provision Scotland) who are forming a creative academy and Inverness and £2,000 for the Boat of Garten Community Company to help revitalise woodland at Milton Loch.
The foundation has distributed more than £1million to causes across the north since it was established in 2013.
Manager Kay Jackson said: “We look forward to watching their progress as they continue to make a difference in their respective communities.”