We are hiring our first rangers to help look after the estate at the moment (and have some terrific applicants from Drumnadrochit!). Ahead of that we applied for planning permission to install a base for them in a tumbledown barn at Bunloit Farm (a loo, a store room, a meeting room etc). We will also be able to offer teas and coffees there for our few visitors, including university researchers. It is an upgrade of an existing building, a stone barn, so we hadn’t imagined needing to confer. This may have been a mis-step on our part, because we have had a series of questions from Glen Urquhart Community Council.
Here are the answers we submitted.
Q: Is this to be an all-year-round facility?
A: Yes for the rangers, team and some scientists, season only for most visitors.
Q: What do you anticipate the number of visitors on a daily basis to the facility to be?
We are hiring two maybe three rangers, actively favouring local/Highland folk as we have with all three full-time team appointments so far. As for visitors in the season, from 2022 we will be stopping the existing rentals of the two farm cottages (5 bedrooms between them) to general tourists, and replacing the latter with specialist eco-tourists keen on nature recovery, for whom we will arrange guided walks around the estate’s habitats led by experts, including local ecologists. We are keen actively to limit numbers on the estate, in order to protect the habitats and not risk disturbing the natural-capital experiments that will be running (for example with rotational grazing to improve soil carbon content). We are minded to aim for a maximum number on any one day of c. 20. The rationale for this is that the famous Knepp Wildland, which is 3 times bigger than Bunloit, limits their daily visitor tally to c. 60.
Q: What number of scholars do you anticipate will enrol to your educational facility on a daily/monthly/yearly bases?
A: There will be no enrolling: the converted barn will be a shelter and meeting place, not an educational facility. (There may be some confusion here with the small woodwork furniture school we are hoping to site in North Bunloit, which is intended to have an annual intake of c. 20 apprentices, [again with preference given to locals]).
I would estimate perhaps half a dozen scientists pursuing research projects on the estate at any one time, mostly from Scottish universities and research institutes, with most of them (probably) from the University of the Highlands and Islands. This will involve some fieldwork, but these days so much can be done by scientists combining remote sensing with ground-truth sampling that I don’t envisage many person-days. Perhaps one day per month per person, as a very rough estimate. We have also offered open use of the estate to the local high school, and have had quite an enthusiastic reception in principle. I imagine any outdoor biology classes, or other such activities the school might want to arrange, will involve shuttling students up to Bunloit in a minibus (at least, that was the my sense of our discussion session with headmistress and staff).
Q: Can you forecast the impact of traffic to the area?
A: Minimal. The specialist eco-tourists will cancel out the existing crop of general cottage renters. One can think of the rangers as cancelling out contractors we would have to hire anyway for estate upkeep if we didn’t offer people full-time employment. Similarly visiting scientists should not be much more numerous than the visitors that a “normal” owner might have, in terms of socialising!
Q: How does this particular plan/phase – fit into your overall plan?
A: Our vision for our time on the estate, as you know from your visit, is to show how carbon-sequestration and biodiversity-gain can be accelerated, even in a terrain where they are already high, and in the process to become a front-line leader in natural-capital verification science of the kind the world will need if civilisation is to survive the climate-and-biodiversity crises . While we do this, we want to be people- and community-centric, and as such make a good contribution to the build-back-better process in the post-covid economic years (hence the rangers, and the North Bunloit idea). We aim to be a place Scotland, and (most in) Glen Urquhart, can be very proud of. A barn conversion adding toilets, store cupboards, and a small meeting room for refreshments is a pretty vital first step.
In later years, if our model works and we can afford it, we would plan to build a beautiful beyond-zero-carbon state-of-the art wooden facility on the slope above the barn, low to the skyline, moulding into the hill, and a joy to behold for all who visit. That, were it happen, would obviously be subject to a separate planning application, and by then be enthusiastically endorsed by many local folk, not least our employees.