Although this work is based in North Ayrshire, the story of wild and and beautiful places being destroyed by development is a story that has been going on for a long time, replicated in many places. My purpose is not just to highlight what we have lost but how we could seek justice for what has been done by working towards through the reintroduction of native woodlands, allowing nature to flourish again.
Behind the town where I stay in Largs, is high moorland. Lovely burns, the Gogo and and it’s tributary the Greta, flow down from the hills through waterfalls and pools and beautiful Hawkshill Wood, before coming to join the sea in the heart of the town.
Like many locals I have enjoyed Hawkshill as an (unofficial) community woodland for many years - for walking, meeting friends, seeking peace and quiet, picnicking, swimming and art. It has been a refuge from our a world where it is increasing difficult to do anything without consuming something and spending money. Above all I have enjoyed watching the ever changing beauty of nature throughout the seasons.
Woods are important not just for humans. As the Environmental Impact Assessment for the hydro scheme shows, Hawkshill has a wide variety of trees and plants and is home to many species of birds and mammals (including endangered species such as otters). It includes types of woodland which, due to their scarcity, are classified as both nationally and internationally important. These areas have been irrevocably damaged by the development of the hydro scheme. Although the area of forest affected may be small, the impact is large. Because such places are so scarce to start with, any loss is very serious. There is simply no other unmanaged woodland for miles around.
But my point is not simply to bemoan our losses. These landscapes have now been irrevocably changed and there is nothing we can do to alter that fact. The development is in two stages with the application for the commercial forestry plantation being considered by the Forestry Commission shortly. As part of this process the plans will be put out to public consultation for a period of 28 days giving us the opportunity to argue that the developers must mitigate some of these losses by providing for a substantial community forest on the hills behind the town.
It has been reported that the developers are proposing to plant native broad-leafed woodland on the slopes facing the town. This has the potential to create a new ecologically rich habitat, provide a new home for many species of plant, animals and birds and make some small compensation for the damage caused by the current development. It could also form the basis of a community woodland accessible to all - depending on the details. This is a welcome starting point but we should also consider how to extend the proportion of native woodland further, for example to the south of the Gogo as well.
Some people have expressed concerns that proposals from the developers are likely to fall far short of a real community woodland. Certainly, since a mature habitat will not be seen for many years, any proposals must give the local community long term security. It is also very important that there are adequate resources to enable the community to manage the site. If these are not forthcoming in the proposals, we should argue for them.
I hope to see of beautiful, wild, native woodland return to our hills and with a large enough woodland there could be opportunities for many different uses such as the provision of wheelchair and buggy accessible areas for example. When the plans are put out for consultation we should respond by arguing for an extensive native broadleaved woodland on the slopes facing the town and to the south of the Gogo. The days of blanket Sitka spruce plantations with no consideration for the ecology or local communities are over. Many other communities are seizing opportunities to develop their own community woodlands and so should we.