‘Citizen rewilders’ urged to buy shares in Scottish Highland projects

Ordinary people are being invited to invest in Scottish Highland regeneration projects by a company which is restoring nature on two estates and is looking to expand its regeneration portfolio.

Citizen rewilders can invest a minimum of £50 and up to £200,000 in £10 shares in Highlands Rewilding, which hopes to provide a 5% annual return on investment over 10 years.

Since its initial funding by 50 major investors, Highlands Rewilding has purchased two estates: Bunloit, 513 hectares (1,270 acres) of hardwood forest and grassland on the shores of Loch Ness; and Beldorney in Aberdeenshire, a 349 hectare riverside site of overgrazed pasture and conifer plantations.

Dr Jeremy Leggett, its founder and chief executive, said: ‘It seems to be the only way, at present, for Scottish citizens to become co-owners of land where nature reclamation is pursued for profit.’

The company, which last month won an RSPB award for its nature reclamation work, hopes to generate revenue mainly from the sale of carbon credits and biodiversity credits, which big business is increasingly interested in. to buy to demonstrate that they are “positive for nature”. Other sources of income include ecotourism, nature-friendly high-value agricultural products and eco-construction.

Although it is suspected that some ‘green lairds’ wish to exclude people from Scottish lands in order to rewild them, Highlands Rewilding says community involvement is a key part of its restorative mission – enabling local people to co-own , work or live on rewilding lands. they buy.

“We hope in our dreams that there will be lots of sign-ups from the local communities where we work,” Leggett said. “The mass ownership model that Highlands Rewilding operates is unique and popular. This is not a corporate deal where a giant corporation comes in and buys a huge swathe of Scotland.

On Bunloit, the focus is on restoration and creation of new hardwood forests, while Beldorney is a ‘blank canvas’ for nature reclamation, with the removal of non-native conifers and riparian regeneration along of the River Deveron. Beldorney also has 10 crumbling crofts in which new rural populations could settle.

Leggett, a former Greenpeace climate campaigner who previously ran solar company Solarcentury, hopes to raise £8million to expand his projects and acquire new land.

‘There is a cost of living crisis and for citizen rewilders £50 is a lot of money but big capital investors are now seriously interested in this space,’ he said. “By the end of February, hopefully we will have landed the first serious institutional investment, which would be a game-changer.”

The Green Finance Institute has calculated that there needs to be between £15bn and £27bn of private investment over the next 10 years for the Scottish Government to meet its ambitious carbon and biodiversity targets.

“It’s an Everest of a target and we’re not even in the foothills yet, but it’s an effort to get into the foothills,” Leggett said.

According to Leggett, natural capital investment in carbon sequestration and biodiversity recovery is at a similar stage to the solar industry just before it took off, but with one difference: no company is resisting calls to reduce carbon and restore biodiversity.

Instead of oil and gas companies, “the incumbents are traditional landowners who have historically done a great deal to trash biodiversity,” he said. “The zeitgeist of landowners now is: ‘This has to change.’ Even estate agents in Scotland no longer sell properties based on how many red deer you can knock down, but on their natural capital potential.

The citizens’ release offer is only available to UK residents, with overseas residents having to offer a minimum investment of £10,000. The Financial Conduct Authority considers investment in Highlands Rewilding to be high risk as it is a start-up business.

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