Ancient woodland linked to Robert Burns and Scottish royalty transformed after community buyout

An ancient woodland with links to Robert Burns and Scottish royalty is being transformed into a community space and outdoor education centre for children in central Scotland.

Blackwood Estate was the ancestral home of the prominent Weir family from medieval times until the 1930s.

While the grand house no longer stands, the grounds are steeped in history – even hosting a Covenanter’s grave dating back to 1685.

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Famous visitors include Scotland’s national bard, whose brother and sister spent time living on the estate, Scottish royals and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who stayed there in 1898.

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It also lies close to the castle where Mary Queen of Scots stayed on her journey south to be tried and executed by Elizabeth I of England.

Today the estate’s Loch Wood is a popular spot for local walkers and a haven for wildlife, including protected species such as tawny owls and kingfishers as well as many historical trees.

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Now thanks to a successful £230,000 fundraising campaign, 65 acres of the woodland – covering an area the size of 49 football pitches – has been bought out by the local community, with ambitious plans for its future.

The funding will also help establish the estate as a centre for biodiversity through partnering with higher education facilities for climate and environmental work and see a Victorian path network running throughout the forest reinstated.

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Blackwood Estate Community Association treasurer and trustee Vicki Connick and trustee Terry Wise with Robin Winstanley, sustainability and external affairs manager for Kype Muir wind farm owner Banks Renewables
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The successful buyout, by Blackwood Estate Community Association (BECA), comes following an initial grant of £82,000 from nearby Kype Muir wind farm, administered by South Lanarkshire Council.

A further £150,000 was secured from a range of public organisations, including the Scottish Land Fund and Scottish Landfill Communities Fund, to purchase the site.

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After carrying out essential repairs, maintenance and health and safety adjustments over recent weeks, BECA is now hosting outdoor workshops for local children.

Restoring a limited path network throughout the woodland is next on the agenda in coming months – responding to local people’s wishes for restricted walking access and greater wildlife conservation.

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Vicki Connick, treasurer for BECA and a resident of the estate since 1989, began work on the project in mid-2018, so that local children can access the area for both learning and play.

She said she believed the estate provided an ideal opportunity for youngsters to develop a sense of responsibility, ownership and interest in nature.

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“Conserving the woodland is a massive passion,” she said.

“I’m so glad the kids are now able to get in and enjoy it safely.

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“Our outdoor learning sessions started at the beginning of June and the kids have been loving them so far, especially after over a year of being stuck mainly indoors.

“The kids are able to walk to us from their respective schools and have been enjoying outdoor activities.

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“A longer-term plan is to strengthen links with local schools and agricultural students for climate change and environmental work.

“We’re also investigating the options for wildlife rehoming.

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“We hope that eventually the woodland will become an outdoor environmental hub for our communities of Blackwood, Kirkmuirhill and Boghead.”

Robin Winstanley, sustainability and external affairs manager for Kype Muir owner Banks Renewables, welcomed the work being carried out at Blackwood.

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He highlighted the benefits to both local people and the wider environment.

“Woodlands absorb and store carbon from the air which helps combat climate change at the same time as preserving Scotland's precious biodiversity,” he said.

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“As we approach COP26 down the road in Glasgow, we want to send a clear message to communities that we encourage applications like this which help secure the future of valuable woodland and at the same time benefit the local community.”

Councillor John Anderson, chair of South Lanarkshire Council’s Community and Enterprise Resources Committee, said: “This is the most sizeable and ambitious project that the Renewable Energy Fund has contributed to in the area, but an extremely worthwhile one for the local communities.

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“Once complete, the project will provide an opportunity to bring communities together while also promoting sustainability, outdoor learning and wildlife rehoming into the area.”

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