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30th July 2021

East Ayrshire – People, Places and Pollinators!

We’ve spent the last week or so posting across our platforms about the latest Team GSAB day out, and thought it would be good to include a more fulsome article here. We don’t get many chances to meet as a group; home-working still applies, and location-wise our staff is spread across all four corners of the Biosphere – though since the region covers more than five and a half thousand square kilometres, we estimate there are rather more corners than that!

The purpose of these expeditions is for the whole team to meet Proud Supporters and holders of the Biosphere Certification Mark, to visit key locations, and to stay up to date with what’s happening in terms of nature, culture, community, and business. For this most recent excursion we focused on East Ayrshire, where – as you may have readCoalfields Communities Landscape Partnership  are delivering a programme of community-led projects that will benefit both people and nature. Laura from East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative was our very welcome guest.

Even first thing in the morning the weather was outrageously warm. We started the day at Craigengillan Estate, a Proud Supporter of our UNESCO Biosphere where the ethos is to farm ‘with nature, rather than in conflict with it.’ This outlook is holistic, extending through all branches of Craigengillan’s operations from glamping and holiday cottage rentals through weddings, corporate events, and active outdoor pursuits. The estate covers 3,000 acres including two Sites of Special Scientific Interest – Ness Glen and Bogton Loch – and owner-manager Mark has prioritised care for the environment via sympathetic landscape restoration and protection of biodiversity. He is committed to cooperative engagement with the local communities around Craigengillan who have strong personal and cultural connections with the land and its history, and who were heavily impacted by the closure of local coalmines. Mark has used Craigengillan as the locus for education, training, and employment opportunities, supporting the local economy and helping to inspire pride among the people who live here.

Our next stop was Loch Doon, oft described as a rather underappreciated jewel in Scotland’s crown. If you have ever felt peckish along the Doon Valley perhaps you’re already familiar with the Roundhouse Café, next to which is the Osprey Lounge with its live camera feed from Loch Doon’s local nest. This was a chance to say hello to another Proud Supporter – albeit during their Friday lunchtime rush! We try to check in with Biosphere businesses as often as possible: these are reciprocal relationships and we want to ‘support our supporters’ in any way we can, even if sometimes it’s just a few minutes’ chat across the counter.

The sunny shore of the loch also provided an opportunity for our newest members of staff to get better acquainted. In case you haven’t seen, we have a Meet the Team page where you can get to know us better too! Esther Tacke (of Galloway Cycling Holidays fame) has joined the Business Development team and is already building some exciting new Biosphere initiatives with Marie – all to be revealed in due course! Andrew Tait, our new Land Use and Biodiversity lead, will start in post on 2 August so his info is still ‘pending’, but feel free to get in touch if you’d like to connect: any of our staff are reachable via

After lunch we were off again (driving through necessity, but we do car-share on all group activities), heading up the road to Dalmellington. Here we met with Colin McKee, Heritage Projects Co-ordinator for East Ayrshire Council. Colin talked us through the plans for the Old Kirkyard in Dalmellington, a historic site that includes the McAdam mausoleum and a memorial to covenanters of the parish erected in 1929. Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership with East Ayrshire Council will be facilitating a community volunteering project that aims to revitalise the kirkyard, addressing health and safety concerns through renovation, enhancing plant and insect biodiversity, and giving people the chance to learn more about the several hundred years’ of history that lie between the graveyard walls. If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved with please don’t hesitate to get in touch; CCLP are contactable directly via the contact form on their ‘Opportunities’ page (about the kirkyard or any of the other projects which launched earlier this month).

The sun was still relentlessly blazing at the end of the afternoon, and our final hilltop stop might rather generously be described as ‘breeze-swept’. Dunstonhill is one of the sites where EA-CEI is leading the Coalfields for Pollinators project, working with communities to create new pollinator habitats. The location is a former open cast mining site, already well used by local people for exercise and recreation but with untapped potential in biodiversity terms. Pollinators such as butterflies, bees and hoverflies require connected areas of wildflower-rich habitat in order to move across landscapes, and seeding a strategic route will support threatened insect populations. You can stay up to date with the project (and everything else that’s going on in East Ayrshire) at EA-CEI’s Facebook page – they’ve also made the local press, which you can read here.

That rather rounds off our team induction days – for now at least. Consensus of opinion is that spending this time as a group is extremely useful indeed, particularly for getting to know representatives from partner organisations whom we are otherwise unlikely to meet outwith email or Teams! So, since you probably know our faces rather too well by now, do keep a look out for us as you explore the Biosphere, and if you spot us up a hill, in a graveyard, or anywhere else, please do come and say hi!

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