Outdoor learning centre in Blackwood

An expanse of ancient local woodland, spanning more than 49 football pitches, has been transformed into an outdoor education centre for children.

There are plans to reinstate the Victorian path network in the woodland.

A combined grant of £230,000 from public funders, Banks Renewables and South Lanarkshire Council will also help establish Blackwood Estate as a centre for biodiversity.

Blackwood Estate Community Association will partner with higher education facilities for climate and environmental work.

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This will see the Victorian path network being reinstated throughout the woodland, which is home to protected species such as tawny owls and kingfishers, as well as several ancient specimens of tree.

Home to protected species such as tawny owls.

Loch Wood in Blackwood Estate, the ancestral home of the prominent Weir family from medieval times until the 1930s, is popular with local walkers who appreciate its unspoilt nature.

Following an initial grant of £82,000 from Kype Muir Wind Farm and South Lanarkshire Council, the Community Association was able to secure a further £150,000 from a range of public funders, including the Scottish Land Fund, to purchase the land.

After carrying out essential repairs and maintenance, it is now hosting outdoor workshops for local children.

In addition to educational sessions, restoring a limited path network in the woodland is next on the agenda as a response to the local community’s wishes for limited walking access and greater wildlife conservation.

Trustees Terry Wise (left) and Vicki Connick (right) with Robin Wistanley from Banks Renewables, which contributed £82,000 towards the project.

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

The woodland provides an ideal opportunity for young children to develop a sense of responsibility, ownership and interest in nature.

She said: “Conserving the woodland is a massive passion. I’m so glad the kids are now able to enjoy it safely.

“We’re so grateful to Banks and SLC as their first grant approval and support incentivised the remaining grants from the Scottish Land Fund and Scottish Landfill Communities Fund, which covered the costs of both woodland purchase and restoration.

Wind farm cash was used to help pay for the woodland.

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

The recorded history of the estate dates to 1314, when Thomas Weir was first recorded as “the proprietor of the lands at Blackwood”. The family had been present in Lanarkshire as early as 1165, and their association with the Abbots of Kelso resulted in the transfer of the estate to the Weirs.

While the house no longer stands on the grounds, the estate is steeped in history, including a Covenanter’s grave dated 1685. Notable visitors are said to have included poet Robert Burns, whose sister Isabella was married to the estate factor, members of Scottish Royalty and even the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who visited in 1898.

Vicki added: “Once our outdoor learning programme is established, a longer-term plan is to strengthen links with local schools and agricultural students for climate change and environmental work. We’re also investigating options for wildlife rehoming, working under the advice of Scottish Natural Heritage.

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

Vicki applied for the funding from Banks Renewables and South Lanarkshire Council Renewable Energy Fund which aims to maximize the social and economic benefit to communities within a 10km radius of Kype Muir Wind Farm,

Over the course of its 30-year lifetime, Kype Muir is set to give over £100 million back to communities local to the development, while generating up to 155MW of electricity per annum – enough to meet the needs of over 110,000 homes or a city the size of Aberdeen.

Councillor John Anderson, chair of South Lanarkshire Council’s community and enterprise resources committee, said: “This is the most sizeable and ambitious project that REF has contributed to in the area, but an extremely worthwhile one for the local communities.

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

Robin Winstanley, sustainability and external affairs manager at Banks Renewables, added: “Vicki, Terry and the other board trustees are doing a brilliant job in conserving a beautiful area that can help bring people closer to nature.

“As we approach COP26 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 benefit their local communities.”