Highland estate bought by green entrepreneur to fight climate change and create 'new livelihoods'

A Highland estate is set to become an “open natural laboratory” to fight the climate crisis and create new livelihoods after being bought by a solar energy entrepreneur and former scientific director at Greenpeace.

The Bunloit Estate near Drumnadrochit will be rewilided under the ownership of solar energy entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett who aims to work with local people to promote biodiversity and lock-up carbon on his new property. PIC: Jeremy Leggett.

Jeremy Leggett has purchased the 511-acre Bunloit Estate near Drumnadrochit and will work with Rewilding Europe to revert generations of land management practices to create new native woodlands and wildlife corridors.

His vision will also restore peatlands and create ‘prosperity with a purpose’ on the banks of Loch Ness.

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Mr Leggett, who relocated to Bunloit just before lockdown, said local involvement was key to the estate’s success. A fleet of ‘Bunloit rangers” will work on the estate with a small number of eco-homes to be created by Inverness timber construction firm Makar, with Mr Leggett now sitting on the board of the firm.

Jeremy Leggett, the new owner of the Bunloit Estate in the Highlands.

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The properties will be sold with small parcels of land for home farming, with preference given to local people and employees. Meanwhile, talks are underway with both Edinburgh University and the University of the Highlands and Islands on how to collaborate on carbon and biodiversity qualifications.

Mr Leggett said he was drawn to Bunloit, not just because a love of the Highlands was forged when he was a “youth hostelling boy”, but also because of the ‘amazing’ mix of habitats on the relatively small estate that was already absorbing more carbon than it releases.

He said: “The estate is a collage of broadleaf woods, native Scots pine woods, mixed woodland, non-native coniferous woodland, peatland and pasture - all within 511 hectares. It is already a net carbon sink, but I am excited by the prospects for making it much more so, while growing biodiversity at the same time. In my eyes the project is all about new tools for restructuring economies to fight the climate crisis and build back better after the Covid crisis. My challenge is to make the estate a successful business so that folk can see real-life evidence of how new approaches to land management can lead to prosperity with a purpose, and create new livelihoods.”

Mr Leggett is a director of global firm Solarcentury and chair of SolarAid, a charity that builds solar lighting markets in Africa. He was a climate campaigner with Greenpeace in the 1990s.

He said he was on a “steep learning curve” at Bunloit and was taking a year to work with various parties before creating his final masterplan and launching the project in April 2021.

He added: “That’s going to be a bit difficult for a ‘just do it’ entrepreneur like me. But this project has the potential to inspire a lot of people around the world, I believe, if it limits its mistakes to small ones.”

Bunloit is on the edge of the East-West wild landscape corridor, which runs from Loch Ness through Glens Cannich, Affric, Morriston and Shiel. Landowners here aim to enhance the wild nature of the landscape in a bid to lock up carbon and promote biodiveristy. Money raised at Bunloit through forestry revenue, nature-based tourism and income from carbon offsetting could potentially buy up further estates in the area.

Jamie Lawrence of Rewilding Europe said: “Bunloit is a fantastic learning laboratory. Basedon such a visionary mission and management approach, I’m really excited to see how rewilding progresses here.”

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