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A new environmental charity is launched across the highlands and islands today (Wednesday March 3) with the sole aim of encouraging community-based projects which will restore and regenerate the area's natural beauty, amid unprecedented wildlife and climate challenges.

The Highlands and Islands Environmental Foundation (HIEF) will help to fund projects by partnering with communities and local groups to develop nature-based solutions to solve the environmental challenges on their doorsteps. 

Ahead of today’s launch, the charity has already raised more than £100,000 over the past year and hopes to raise hundreds of thousands more over the next few years from individual donors and businesses with a passion for the highlands and islands.

Hugh Raven, co-founder of HIEF, said: “Our research through the Environmental Funders Network into Scotland’s green funding clearly shows the case for more vital, regional investment in the wildlife and climate challenge in the highlands and islands.

“Often, when we are faced with environmental problems, there can be a real sense of pessimism as the scale can seem overwhelming.  HIEF funding provides a unique opportunity for individuals, local groups and communities to do something about the challenge facing them.

“What’s encouraging about the situation in the highlands and islands is that often a little investment can make a big difference and we hope that HIEF will provide an important incentive for local people to help tackle the challenges they see on their doorsteps.”

Created in partnership with the Conservation Collective, the HIEF is the philanthropic network’s second place-based foundation in the U.K. Co-founded by Ben Goldsmith, the network’s Chair and Founder; Hugh Raven, Chair of the Environmental Funders Network; and a local Steering Committee, the new foundation will develop impactful nature-based solutions working with local communities, donors and networks to restore and regenerate the area’s natural beauty, biodiversity and eco-systems. 

Spanning almost half of Scotland, the highlands and islands are famous for their rich biodiversity, rare flora and fauna, and intricate marine ecosystems. Sadly, there have been dramatic and alarming reductions in the numbers and varieties of plants and animals over recent decades.

To relieve the direct pressure on the area’s fragile ecosystems and help Scotland reach its biodiversity targets, the HIEF’s goal is to collate funds from donors and businesses, providing grants and investing in community-led, grassroots environmental projects that offer both biodiversity and economic benefits.

Ben Goldsmith, Founder of the Conservation Collective and Co-Founder of HIEF said: “We are excited to bring together people and communities who are passionate about restoring the nature of the highlands, and the islands. By encouraging and nurturing all sorts of new, bold environmental projects across the region, we can restore the terribly depleted natural fabric of these landscapes and in the process offer a pathway to economic and social renewal.”

The HIEF welcomes donations and involvement from individuals and businesses and encourages local groups to apply for grants. To date, the HIEF has raised over £100,000 with future funding to be used in support of fieldwork, community engagement, campaigns, capacity building and technical support.

 The four inaugural grants of the HIEF are:

  • Highland Primary School Birdbox Project: will supply the 175 primary schools across the highland area with ten birdboxes each over a four-year period.  Project lead and primary school teacher, Tom Rawson, will build and deliver each box. Built from sustainable and recycled materials, the birdboxes will be accompanied by teaching resources, a website and social media, in accordance with RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology best practice. The project aims to inspire local school children to learn about the natural world on their doorstep, while also providing nesting opportunities for threatened local, native birds. 
  • The Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot: joins an impressive and growing number of Hope Spots (based around Marine Protected Areas) around the world which aim to help local communities protect and restore marine biodiversity on a local, regional, national and international scale. The Argyll Coast & Islands Hope Spot covers a large expanse of Argyll’s waters, from Ardnamurchan to almost the southern end of the Isle of Jura. New funding will go towards a part-time coordinator enabling the team to drive forward the Hope Spot’s aims for conservation and community education during 2021, Scotland’s re-scheduled “Year of Coasts and Waters”.
  • Lochaline Native Oyster Restoration: will grow native oysters in suspended baskets in Lochaline for a minimum of three years, with a view to restoring the depleted local native oyster population combining ‘citizen science’ outreach work with the local schoolchildren and a nature-based solution to improve the local marine habitat.
  • The Alliance for Saving Scotland’s Rainforest (ASR): aim is to raise the profile of the rainforest amongst key target audiences. ASR have already commissioned a film and website and will use these to attract funding for a minimum of two much needed landscape scale regeneration projects against the background of Scotland’s green recovery agenda. 

Tom Rawson, Project Lead for the Highland Primary Schools Birdbox Project said: “We are lucky to live in a country where our cities, towns and villages are surrounded by wild places. The aim of this project is to bring these wild places to the playgrounds of schoolchildren across the Highland Council region. With the help of the HIEF, I hope to inspire those children to become the future guardians of our nation’s precious wildlife.”

John Aitchison, Chairperson of the Friends of the Sound of Jura & Hope Spot Champion said: “We would like the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot to inspire coastal communities throughout Scotland to appreciate the life in the sea on their doorsteps. We are delighted that, with the HIEF’s help, we will be able to show many more people that there is great value in protecting marine areas for the future.”

Julie Stoneman, Saving Scotland’s Rainforest Project Manager, said: “While many people are familiar with some of the stunning woodlands of our west coast – few seem aware that these woodlands are part of Scotland’s very own rainforest, a globally important habitat which we should be proud of. With support from HIEF, the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest aims to raise the profile of this precious habitat to convince those that can make a difference, to take action to address the threats it faces.”

Danny Renton, Director, Seawilding, said: “The marine environment is struggling and we face a biodiversity collapse, so it's exciting and empowering for community-based organisations such as CAOLAS (Community Association of Lochs and Sounds) and Seawilding to help restore their local marine habitats. We are all stakeholders in the sea, and it has been mismanaged for too long. Community action like this can help bring about the sea-change we want and need".

 There are four vital ecosystems of the highlands and islands where the HIEF will continue to grow and expand its grant-giving and support: 

  • Freshwater Habitats: Lochs and rivers are a lifesource, but are severely threatened by climate change and global warming.
  • Marine & Coastal Habitats: The region’s marine and coastal ecosystems are six times larger than its landmass but overfishing and pollution pose serious challenges.
  • Forest & Woodland: Famous for its ancient Caledonian Forest, the area is now one of the most heavily deforested in Europe
  • Montane Habitat: Instantly recognisable landscapes characterise this area but overgrazing and drainage threaten vital blanket peat bogs and their flora and fauna.

Sally McNaught, Executive Director of the HIEF said: “It is now more important than ever to work to regenerate and restore our damaged environment. The highlands and islands offer unique opportunities to improve Scotland’s environmental future and support a green recovery. Our aim is to work closely with local communities, supporting their projects to deliver practical and sustainable benefits for both the community and for nature. We invite individuals and businesses with a passion for Scotland and conservation to join us.”