The power of persuasion
Alan Watson Featherstone could have been forgiven had he felt in reflective mood when Trees for Life unveiled their brand new Rewilding Centre at Dundreggan
Thirty-seven years on from founding this remarkable organisation he was guest of honour as their state-of-the-art, multi-million pound visitor centre opened. It’s been quite a journey. Alan is full of admiration what the team at Trees for Life have created, five years on from stepping back from the organisation he’s better placed than most to appreciate the road travelled.
“You have to be determined. By staying true and committed there is always a way to achieve your goals,” he told me. “The setbacks, and there are many in environmental work, are often actually an opportunity to do things in a different way. You learn to step around rather than going straight ahead, to perhaps think differently, to be creative. Indeed, I’ve almost grown to believe that hurdles are there for a purpose. They may seem like a big obstacle and hassle at the time, but overcoming them often makes your vision stronger. Both in my career and in what the team have achieved here you can see determination winning out.”
“My wider vision now is that I hope my life and what I’ve done will perhaps inspire others. Because you see I’m no different to anyone else, but I decided to follow the call of my heart, and not let anything get in my way. That was the driving force for me when I got involved in restoration work in Glen Affric in 1986. I made a commitment to do something, and it took me three years to raise the money, educate myself in what was needed, and make contact with land owners before I could begin on my rewilding path in earnest in Glen Affric.”
lan would surely reflect that the Dundreggan Rewilding Centre is an equally determined triumph. The staff in Glenmoriston have created something that is special in so many different ways. From the bright 100 seater auditorium, to the two 20-seater classrooms. From the charming story-telling space, to the cosy 74 seater café. From the interactive modern interpretation to the stunning ‘living tree’ sculpture in the atrium area. This is a centre that oozes modernity, yet will serve to bolster our threatened ancient Caledonian pinewoods.
An adjacent, purpose built, single storey accommodation building, replete with ensuite single and double rooms, will ensure a warm welcome for those who linger beyond a day trip. And the centre will clearly boost the local economy, both in the highly visible act of employing 20 new staff and more subtly in the commitment to supporting a local sourcing model. The project here, as Dundreggan Rewilding centre director Laurelin Cummins-Fraser noted in her opening speech, has “Always been about people and community.”
Ian Richards, is the equally energetic and eloquent Head of Operations and Development for Trees for Life, and certainly believes that not only is Dundreggan a great development in the here and now, but that it will deliver an exciting future. “We will expand the trail network so you can get out and see even more of what is happening here. Things like creating a suite of hides and investing in technology such as direct streaming of wildlife footage are in our sights. I’m confident we will invest in quality interpretation around the trails network to improve that self-guided experience. In short it is going to be a continual development for us. A critical part in all of this project is the whole concept of inclusivity. The ideal is that we can provide both physical and intellectual access for all groups, be they people with mobility issues, people of different ages, people from different social backgrounds, nobody will be excluded from the natural and cultural experiences we can offer here. We can sow the seeds that will help nature beyond this estate.”
He is understandably enthusiastic about the impact Dundreggan will have. “Our rewilding centre allows everyone to experience the tangible benefits of rewilding for our landscape, our nature, our culture, our personal wellbeing, and our local economy. It is a snapshot of what could be, and shows us all how we can make a personal contribution to making a better future.”
It seems likely that Dundreggan will now become a valuable part of our eco-tourism landscape. As Laurelin noted on the opening day “We posed ourselves a few questions some time ago. What could we do to involve more people in the work the we do, how could we give more people access to nature and the cultural landscape that is so special here, and how could we provide more benefits to the communities in which we work?” The new purpose-build centre probably answers all of those questions and more.
Let’s give the final word to Alan Watson Featherstone. “This is a great project,” he enthused. “It’s remarkable how much energy and effort has gone into it, the sheer scale of it. It has the potential to really touch and inspire many, many people. And we need that of course, we need to emphasise that nature is in crisis but that we can act together to improve things.”
Here’s to a project that captures the imagination, provides continuity to a super story, and offers hope for the future. Those folks at Dundreggan, past and present, have set the bar mighty high.
The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme, which runs through to 2023. This is one of two ERDF Strategic Interventions led by NatureScot – the other is the Green Infrastructure Fund.