27 January 2019
BACKGROUND UPDATE/COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Where is Coilhallan Wood?
Coilhallan Wood is an attractive mixed woodland on a sloping site south west of Callander town centre, between the river Eas Gobhain to the north and Cock Hill and Ben Gullipen to the south. It has a pedestrian entrance on the A81, opposite McLaren High School and The Creep and another entrance and car parking on the Invertrossachs Road. It covers around 83 hectares running east to west slopes down to Invertrossachs Road. It is currently owned and managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland (Forestry and Land Scotland from April 2019).
What is the Plan?
The long-term vision is that Coilhallan Wood will be largely restored to native woodland, managed to make it more attractive and accessible for people, while enhancing its wildlife and recognising its importance as a visual backdrop to the town of Callander.
Why should a community group manage Coilhallan Wood?
Under the current management, there has been little investment in helping the local community enjoy the wood, improving habitats or controlling non-native invasive species. A community led management group would be able to access other sources of funding and volunteers who want to get involved in woodland and countryside projects.
Why is the Callander Community Development Trust leading on this?
There are restrictions on what Community Councils are allowed to own and on what they may do. For this reason, many communities throughout Scotland have set up development trusts to work alongside their Community Councils. The Development Trusts Association Scotland recognises over 200 development trusts throughout Scotland.
Who is on the Community Woodland Group
The Callander Community Development Trust established this group to oversee the purchase of the wood and to use the 2017 Feasibility Study and Woodland Management Plan to generate the detailed plans for Coilhallan Wood. Its members are local people with a wide range of relevant skills and interests. View the full list of current members.
What are the benefits of community management over Forest Enterprise management?
Forest Enterprise is a large public sector organisation with its own priorities for timber production and little or no funding to invest in the kind of leisure activities that we would like to see in Coilhallan. Many of the proposals in the feasibility study depend on the input of volunteers which Forest Enterprise do not have.
Why can’t the wood be leased to see if community management works?
Leasing would add an additional annual cost to the project that could not be supported by grants. The available funding through the Government’s Scottish Land Fund supports the transfer of assets, such as land, to community-led organisations like ours.
Why can’t the work be done in partnership with Forest Enterprise?
For some years, until 2015, there was a community agreement with Forest Enterprise for the management of all the woodlands around Callander. In practice, the arrangement led to very few projects being carried out for community benefit. We want to change that.
Are there any there any other community-run projects like this?
Yes, there are around 200 community-managed woodlands in Scotland from the highlands to city centres. A good example nearby is the Strathfillan Community Woodland at Tyndrum, run by Strathfillan Community Development Trust. More examples can be seen on the membership page of the Community Woodland Association’s website at www.communitywoods.org.
How much will it cost to buy the Coilhallan Wood?
The proposed cost is £140,967. This includes a discount from the £275,000 valuation set by the District Valuer based on a calculation of the value that would be added by community ownership from use of volunteer labour, grants and monies from other sources. We expect that this cost will be met by a Scottish Land Fund grant so there will be no capital cost to the community.
Who will pay for it?
We are applying for a Scottish Land Fund (SLF) grant to cover the whole purchase price, which means that there will be no cost to the community. The trust has already received an SLF grant to investigate the feasibility of the project. Other funding is available for project development, forest management and for individual projects. Sale of timber from the existing commercial plantation will also provide some revenue in the early part of the project. The decision panel will only agree the sale if they can see that there is greater public benefit than if it were to remain in Forest Enterprise management.
What will the wood be used for?
The feasibility study, carried out for Callander Community Development Trust in 2017, explored how the project could be funded and what could be part of the project to the benefit and enjoyment of residents and visitors. This could include:
• improved paths
• improved access for a wide range of leisure activities, such as dog walking, running, cycling and horse riding.
• interpretation and signage
• woodland events and activities
• routine woodland management tasks
• training in sustainable woodland management
• management of non-native invasive species
• habitat improvement and wildlife conservation
The detail of exactly what will happen is still developing and will continue to evolve depending on community input.
Who will benefit from this project?
The local community and visitors will benefit through improved access to a thriving woodland with routes that link to the wider network of paths around Callander. Schools and other educational groups will have better access for projects in a variety of subjects and everyone will enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that come from enjoying the countryside. Wildlife, plants and trees will also benefit from the input of enthusiastic local volunteers, managing invasive species and running conservation projects. If there is more for visitors to do then they may stay in Callander longer to the benefit of local businesses and thereby residents.
Isn’t it mainly a project to install mountain bike trails?
No; although discussions on community control of woodland began when a group of people interested in mountain bike trails were looking for suitable sites near Callander, it is now a much wider project. The aim is to improve the woodland for as wide a range of activities as possible. If mountain bike trails are something that gains support in current and future consultations, they would have to be carefully placed and secure planning permission and funding.
What is the evidence for community support?
In 2016, a steering group organised surveys and consultation meetings to ask the community what priorities should be put into the Callander Community Action Plan 2017-22. A total of 512 surveys were returned and 56 people attended the meetings. One over-riding observation was that residents appreciate the town’s beautiful setting and that improving access, signage, paths and activities in the surrounding countryside should be a priority. The long-term vision to become the ‘outdoor capital of the National Park’ was also confirmed with almost all respondents agreeing that it was still a valid aim.
The 2017 community woodland feasibility study included an on-line survey which received 107 responses, 77% from local residents, 7% from people within 10km, 16% more than 10k. In this, 77% of respondents supported the Development Trust’s plans and provided ideas for the project. In face-to-face consultations at Summerfest 2017, a further 85 signatures supporting the project were gathered, around 70% from local people.
Is there a particular level of support needed?
There is no specific requirement but we do need to demonstrate community engagement and a level of support that would make the project viable. The woodland group paused the application process in September 2018 to spend more time and effort on this, with activities such as public meetings, newspaper articles and presentations to local groups. The group has also gained new members with specific skills in woodland management and forestry, and several people who want to volunteer in the woods if the project goes ahead.
Who will be responsible for maintenance?
Callander Community Development Trust will own the woodland (probably through a subsidiary community enterprise), so will be legally responsible for its maintenance.
They will organise the projects, work and maintenance on a routine basis. While it is likely that at least one member of staff will be needed to manage the wood, it will also depend on volunteers, in a similar way that the Community Hydro Scheme is operated.
The project has to provide a Woodland Management Plan to show how it will be managed over the next 25 years. A draft plan is included in the 2017 feasibility study.
Who will be liable for fallen trees or accidents to visitors?
As the owners, Callander Community Development Trust will be responsible and relevant contact details will be given to neighbours and displayed in the wood so people know who to contact. An arrangement will be made with contractors so that urgent issues will be dealt with quickly and appropriately and appropriate insurance will be taken out.
What if community management fails?
The land will revert to public sector ownership (Forest Enterprise or its successor). This is set out in the legal framework for transferring woodland to communities.
Will there be new car parks and more traffic?
Although it is expected that visitor numbers should increase, it is not anticipated that more car parking will be needed. Careful consideration and discussion with residents will be needed for visitor signposting and access.
More visitors will destroy the peace and quiet for neighbours in Invertrossachs Road and the Mollands
Although the intention is to increase access to Coilhallan, the Community Woodland Group is committed to ensuring that the needs of these new woodland users will be sympathetically managed so as to minimise any potential negative impact. There will be opportunities to see and comment on plans before they are finalised.
Are there plans for the part of the wood on the north of Invertrossachs Road near the car park?
No, this area, which borders the river, will need sensitive management and it is unlikely that access would be encouraged.
Who would ‘police’ anti-social behaviour, littering, overnight parking in the car park?
Anti-social behaviour will be dealt with by the police as it is at present. Litter management will be part of an Access Plan and litter picks would be one of the likely volunteer activities, as they are in other areas around town. A plan for management of the car park will also be developed.
What interaction/cooperation is there with the caravan park and Wheels/Trossachs Tryst?
Discussions have happened or are planned with all neighbours of the wood and it is important to continue this. Wheels and FABB are keen to work with the woodland group and link into community activities with an all-abilities path at the western edge of the wood that has been planned for some time. They may also be able to offer facilities and services to visitors.
Will new paths be installed? Where will they be?
To start with the project will probably include reinstating old paths and possibly installing some new ones. For example it would be desirable to have circular routes that avoid using the road. We will ensure the needs of all the users are met sympathetically.
New paths will require planning permission from the National Park Authority, so will be subject to consultation with neighbours and other bodies, such as the Community Council and Scottish Natural Heritage. New routes will be planned to be sensitive to the needs of wildlife and would aim to be in keeping with a natural woodland location.
Will it be more likely that parts of the wood could be sold for housing or other private developments?
It is expected that one of the conditions of the asset transfer is that there will be no residential development on the site and only low-impact commercial development such as a café or toilets and these would need planning consent from the National Park Authority. Should community management fail, all of the land would revert to Forest Enterprise ownership and could not be sold off for other uses.
Won’t more visitors disturb the wildlife?
In the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park at Aberfoyle, there is a hide within about 20 metres of the main forest track. In spite of high numbers of walkers and cyclists, the hide is very peaceful and is regularly visited by wildlife. The Community Woodland Group has a commitment to ensuring that the community ownership of Coilhallan will have a net benefit for wildlife.
How will tree diseases like larch dieback be dealt with?
The feasibility study highlights the potential risk posed by larch dieback and the Woodland Management Plan takes them into account. The 25-year cashflow plan includes a contingency based on the likely costs. Forest Enterprise has already constructed a road of the type that would be needed for contractors to remove infected trees. Removal of diseased trees and harvesting of trees from the existing plantation will be sensitive to local residents.