Jeremy Leggett has purchased Beldorney Castle and Estate near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, to expand his work on sequestering carbon, increasing biodiversity and creating a new ‘frontier’ against the climate crisis through scientific research and development.
At Beldorney, he will expand his work, already started at his Bunloit estate near Drumnadrochit, of creating green jobs and re-populating through the building of affordable eco-homes.
Mr Leggett has also made a commitment to share 10 per cent of the profit made on the estates with the surrounding community.
Mr Leggett said: “At Beldorney, we will be employing as many people as cash flow allows to work on really labour intensive horticulture and regenerative agriculture.
“On housing, we want to contribute with building affordable eco-homes and we are cautiously encouraged by prospects for that given existing efforts by the Cabrach Trust, which exists to bring jobs and people back into the area. I am hoping that we will be able to contribute usefully to that re-peopling."
It follows on from similar efforts at Bunloit, where proposals for 16 eco-homes are now in the planning process.
"I am not an environmentalist who thinks that humans should get out of the way. All our work is community-centric. We will create a lot of sustainable prospects for the people around us,” he added.
Mr Leggett was a founder of Solarcentury, which he has now sold to help fund his projects in Scotland which helped to popularise solar PV panels in the mainstream market. The associated charity, SolarAid, uses five per cent of company profits to fight climate change and poverty by funding solar lamps for communities in Africa.
In Scotland, he said that the money would go into “care homes and other places where it will make a difference”.
Mr Leggett said that profits would chiefly come from a new system of farming subsidies which reward carbon sequestration and biodiversity. They are being devised by the UK Government and are under discussion at the Scottish Government.
Importantly, Beldorney offers different opportunities to develop climate change science compared to Bunloit given the land is almost 80 per cent pasture and ripe for developing new techniques to optimise the way that carbon is held in soil – a major area of research.
He said: “My personal ambition is to create an outdoor lab, that if not the world leader, is a world leader where we synergise as we go with nearby centres of excellence, the soil carbon experts that we already have in Scotland including at the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute.”
Profits will also be made at Beldorney from the eco-tourism, with the 16th century castle to be rented out to guests.
A critical part of the work at Beldorney will be developing the “natural capital” verification systems that accurately measure how much carbon can be stored by different environments, such as forestry and peatlands.
He added: “There is a job to do persuading other landowners who are operating on a more traditional model and show them a more environmentally friendly way of generating prosperity .”