The first time the NorthWest2045 group heard about the improbably titled ‘Regional Land Use Partnership Pilot’ project was in February 2021, when we discovered that Highland Council had been chosen as one of the five pilot areas by the Scottish Government. As the group discussed the possibility of bidding to have the NW2045 area chosen as the Highland pilot area, a lot of technical phrases and new language were thrown about. Those of us in the group without the same level of ecological experience as others smiled and tried to decipher the practical applications behind such buzz phrases as, ‘Just transition’, ‘Green economy’, ‘Net Zero’, ‘biodiversity risk’, ‘carbon credits’ and what exactly ‘taking a collaborative and inclusive approach to supporting decision-making, making sure they meet local priorities while supporting our national endeavour to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change’ actually means for the communities living and working in the North West. Thankfully the ecologists in the group noticed our discomfort and began to explain what it all meant. Crayons and fuzzy felt were not deployed. The one thing we were all agreed on was that this was an opportunity to work more closely with both Highland Council and the Scottish Government. More importantly it was an opening for us to reinforce the ambitions we have for the area’s aspirations; build support and ensure that the area is given the focus and attention it demands from the Scottish Government. We finally received word at the end of June 2021 that the NW2045 area had been successfully chosen as the Highland pilot area. By the end of August, it was agreed by members of the group that Assynt Development Trust would support the recruitment of a project officer to kick off the RLUP. As is often the way in the North West, it took two rounds of advertising before we had enough candidates to start the interview process. By November we had whittled the applicants down to one candidate, who had all the qualifications and experience to get their head around the multiple implications of the RLUP and, as a local, was passionate about putting our communities to the fore. Her name is Rachel Skene.
Rachel grew up in Tongue, went to Golspie High School as a hosteller then Glasgow School of Art; she has since worked in the private, public and third sectors, studied some more - and came to us after a decade working with Highlands & Islands Enterprise. Rachel is passionate about the North West. Her combination of skills and perspectives provide the ability to see through the complexities to find solutions, with a deep understanding of the blessings and challenges of life here – position her perfectly for this role.
Rachel has been in post since January 2022; her first task was to catch up with the several missed months of Phase 1, begin to establish systems for working with the partners, as well as initiating the Natural Capital Assessment work https://www.northwest2045.scot/nw2045-land-use-partnership. Phase 2 of the RLUP pilots started in April 2022, with the focus on four key areas, leading towards the creation of a Regional Land Use Framework:
1. Stakeholder collaboration: implementation of a stakeholder engagement strategy
2. Natural Capital: identification and agreement of regional Natural Capital assets
3. Data: identification of relevant data sets required for development of RLUF
4. Regional Priorities: identification and agreement of regional priorities and objectives
The main thrust of the work so far has been the Natural Capital Assessment - the first of this type of work in the area, within which we have endeavored to work closely with the external consultants, supporting input from our partners and community across the area and laying the groundwork for what we hope will be rich collaboration with communities in the future.
Having established our foundations, we are now beginning the all-important work of reaching out to our communities. As part of the first Highland Climate Festival, we held an online event entitled ‘What does the land do for you?’ where we explained the Natural Capital Assessment process and sought ideas and thoughts from participants. It was a good learning experience for all. Next, we will have a presence at the Durness Games on Friday 29th July to share our work so far and see what the Games-goers think of it....
These are just two events elements of what we anticipate will be a substantial effort to gather ideas and feedback to shape the next phase of work. We look forward to plenty of collaborative activity ahead, to really pilot this ‘Regional Land Use Partnership’ approach, and make sure it works for us in the North West Highlands.