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UHI Inverness partnership creates Scotland’s first community food forest at Loch Rannoch

By Philip Murray

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The site of the planned food forest on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire.
The site of the planned food forest on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire.

An ecological first for Scotland is just months away from launching thanks to a groundbreaking partnership involving UHI Inverness.

The college has teamed up with partners Earthself to create a test site on a Highland estate for Scotland’s first sustainable community food forest – the cultivation of a forest ecosystem for human food production.

And, if it’s a success, it’s hoped it could fuel the creation of food forests around Scotland.

The Institute for Biodiversity and Freshwater Conservation at UHI Inverness is collaborating with Earthself Community Interest Company to plan the Emiel Food Forest, named after the late son of the landowner.

Talladh-a-Bheithe Estates is providing 1.3 hectares of land on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire for Earthself to steward in memory of Aemilius Justin Matthias van Well, who was known as Emiel. Emiel, who had a great love of sustainability and the natural environment, died from a protracted illness in January 2022 at the age of 26. The food forest initiative hopes to honour the memory of who he was and his passions.

The Loch Rannoch test site will be planted in September.

The partnership between Earthself and UHI Inverness will run for three months initially to develop knowledge on site preparation, planting and identifying the most appropriate and beneficial plants for food production. It will also establish the most effective design and plan for the location, capturing transferable lessons for other sites.

Food forests are intended to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in the natural world and have been embedded in the practice of many cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Once established, they are expected to require hardly any maintenance work and no fertilizers, pesticides or tractors. Due to their diverse and mixed species, food forests advocates argue that they are potentially more resistant to diseases, pests, weather extremes and climatic changes. It is also hoped they will help mitigate climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbn dioxide.

During the research the partners will assess how food forests can be a viable nature-based solution to Support Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy by 2045 and contribute to the Nature Positive goals locally and globally.

Dr Euan Bowditch, a researcher of forestry and social ecology who is leading the project for UHI Inverness, said: “Food forests, forest gardens or dynamic agroforestry systems are not new but are rarely established, especially at a scale that would be meaningful to a community.

The late Emiel van Well.
The late Emiel van Well.

“There is a deep heritage connected to these mixed systems that entwines with local knowledge and practice which I believe has been lost in the UK. We hope with the help of others we can play a part in bringing back this practice and supporting greater investment in mixed land systems and paying homage to Emiel’s memory by creating this legacy.”

Tabitha Jayne, founding director of Earthself, said: “As a community interest company we exist to benefit Earth itself and its human and more-than-human inhabitants. Stewarding the creation of Emiel’s Forest and integrating it into our business model is an amazing way for us to demonstrate this and show our clients that we lead by example when it comes to creating net zero and nature positive earth-connected businesses.”

Adrian van Well, Emiel’s father, said: “After 35 years of estate ownership, I wanted to honour my son Emiel, who loved Talladh-a-Bheithe for its sound of silence, beautiful nature and wilderness, by creating the first community food forest in Scotland. As the landowner, I’m lucky to have found a great team in Earthself and UHI Inverness to help make this project a reality.”

If you interested in or wish to help support Emiel’s food forest, contact either Tabitha Jayne (tabi@earthself.org) or Euan Bowditch (euan.bowditch.ic@uhi.ac.uk)

The partnership has been created through the Scottish Innovation Voucher Scheme run by Interface which enables Scottish small and medium enterprises to collaborate with Scotland’s universities, colleges and research institutes.

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