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Ayrshire woodland estate wins top climate change award

An Ayrshire estate has been named a Climate Change Champion in the annual ‘Tree Oscars.’

The annual awards are made to recognise Scotland’s top forests and woodlands — and owners’ efforts to tackle climate change.

And Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill, near Straiton, came top of the pile.

Judges were wowed by Balbeg’s “integrated approach” to tackling climate change through activities with actions relating to “mitigation, adaptation and knowledge exchange.”

The estate is owned by Andrew and Lynne Sinclair, who were delighted with the victory.

In fact, it’s a double for the estate as Balbeg won a second award — the Quality Timber Award and John Kennedy Trophy — for multi-purpose forestry for a whole forest, or estate.

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Receiving the two awards, Andrew Sinclair said: “I do not know that much about woods. I have relied on so many people to help me and I feel quite humbled because I have gone with my gut and listened to advice given to me.”

Judges at the Scotland’s Finest Woods award said they were determined to find a worthy winner for this new award — and had certainly done so at Balbeg.

Professor Chris Quine, chief scientist at Forest Research, who led the team assessing the Climate Change Champion entries, said: “The estate demonstrated an integrated approach to tackling climate change throughout its activities with actions relating to mitigation, adaptation and knowledge exchange.

New growth on the horizon at Balbeg Estate
New growth on the horizon at Balbeg Estate

“The owners demonstrated a strong commitment and a real consistency of vision which made this site a very worthy champion.”

Balbeg is a small woodland estate with hill ground and holiday lets.

The owners have planted 52 hectares of new woodland (about 125 acres) over the last three years.

Judges in the Quality Timber Award for a whole forest or estate said there was a strong sense of commitment to ensure the woods will be “well-managed” to provide the “widest possible range of benefits” — timber production, footpath routes for the holiday lets and an area of pasture beside the river to “provide access to the woods” for people in Straiton village.

The judges said: “The estate management was exciting and innovative, demonstrating a modern approach to land and business development.

“We were particularly impressed by the owner’s enthusiasm for trees and multiple benefits to forestry, particularly in the light of his quite recent introduction to the discipline.”

The Ayrshire region won additional recognition as Hannahston Community Woodland, in Drongan, East Ayrshire, was commended in the Small Community Woodland Award category.

Judges said Hannahston Community Woodland was “an excellent example of how a poorly restored opencast site can become an attractive and valuable community woodland.”

The 28-hectare site (about 70 acres) has been managed by the Friends of Hannahston Woods and East Ayrshire Woodlands for more than 20 years with Drongan, Rankinston and Stair Regeneration Group recently successful in securing ownership of the woodland.

The Judges praised the “drive and ambition” of those involved in taking ownership of the woodland and creating long term community benefits.

Angela Douglas, executive director of Scotland’s Finest Woods, said: “The strength of the awards depends on maintaining very high standards and recognising entries that deserve the title ‘finest woods.’

“After a Covid cancellation in 2020, I’m delighted we have been able to bounce back with such a high-quality programme — and I would like to congratulate Balbeg Estate on a superb double victory — and Hannahston for its commendation.”

The Climate Change Champion Award was selected from entrants who had to show that their woodland had “contributed” to mitigating climate change, “adapted” to the changing climate or “raised awareness” about the issue.

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