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What does the land do for you?

What does the land do for you? This is the question NorthWest 2045 posed in Durness late July. Northwest 2045 is a collective working together on the vision set down by the communities in North West Sutherland and Ross-shire, as launched in August 2021. This community mandate captures the experience of those of us who live and work in and for the area and those people who, for many reasons, left but forever remain connected to the place. The common ‘ground’ that unites is the shared ambition to forge a positive, sustainable future for people here now and, more critically, the next generation.

The Durness Gathering is the literal representation of community coming together. The 2022 event on Friday 29th July saw people united and reunited, in this 50th year of the Gathering. Locals and visitors, young and older, mixed amongst the culture rich activity - enjoying being together in one of the most northerly gathering places on mainland Scotland.

Credit: N Malcolm

NorthWest 2045 had a tent at this Durness Gathering. This was a collaboration between NatureScot Peatland ACTION and the NW2045 Regional Land Use Partnership (RLUP) pilot, seeking to share about land use now and future, including valuable presence from UHI North Highland; The North West Highland Geopark and The North Highland Climate Action Hub. All these organisations hoped this tent would be a place to actively share ideas, knowledge, hopes for the future- from toddlers upwards. All those who took up a pen; a brush; put their hands in the soil (brought from across the NW2045 area); added thoughts to the ideas tree or banged the drum-these current, and future, land managers, crofters, teachers, artists and musicians- all played their part in the day. The hands-on learning continued outside the tent with people making, and in this instance being invited to leave, their mark.

The land of the North West 2045 area- the ownership; the land use; the opportunities and the challenges are all part of the mix as we move towards Net Zero. This collaborative, community connected ‘capital’ is at the heart of the Durness Gathering and NW2045 activity:

Ewen McLachlan, a Development Officer with the Assynt Development Trust and a member of the Northwest 2045 team, said,

“You couldn't have had a better day for the Gathering, the sun shone, the crowd loved it, as did those competing. All the tents were busy, particularly the Northwest 2045 one which attracted families keen to take part and explain just how important the land is to us all. Maybe it was just the sunshine, but at a time of uncertainty and the age of doom scrolling, there was an air of optimism and a can-do attitude from the crowds on the hill cheering on the strongmen to the smallest of the pillow fighters!"

Becky Shaw from NatureScot, there on behalf of Peatland ACTION, was happy to collaborate with NW2045 and partners. Becky told us after the Durness Gathering:

“I had some very interesting and worthwhile discussions on peatland restoration and developing local skills to undertake restoration work on peatland. Peatland ACTION is working with land managers to restore peatlands to good health, reducing emissions of carbon and improving water quality”

The fundamental connection between our community capital and our natural capital is the common ground of the NW2045: we heard this in all the words and wishes expressed in the tent- that we all want to steward this place with care while increasing our critical knowledge and capacity, from the grass roots up.

The hidden ‘treasure’ in our Durness gathering NW2045 croft was a book by Jenny Grant. Jenny’s view of the natural world through her creative interpretation was won by Bettyhill girl Lexi Munro, whose hand-drawn, willow flag she planted closest to the secret spot. Lexi was delighted to hear this news from one of the NW2045 collaborators, Skerray based Konstantina Pateraki, whilst at the Tongue fun day the next day.

Here’s to more community collaborations, more sharing of our collective capital in this northerly place – with the future of the next generation at the heart of what is pushing us all to come together and making this land work for all. Thank you to everyone who have been part of this so far.

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