Rural Alternatives Shared Futures: a community NTFP project


Gathering chanterelles at Sunart. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.A few years ago, when Reforesting Scotland started working on non-timber forest products (NTFPs), virtually no one knew what this term meant. Now interest in NTFPs has grown, both as things that people gather for domestic use and as a commercial harvest. Over the last few years, Reforesting Scotland has tried to develop and distribute information for people who are interested in starting small-scale NTFP enterprises. The Rural Alternative Shared Futures project (RAP) arose because without practical examples of how NTFPs can be developed, it is difficult to demonstrate what NTFP enterprises could do for rural communities.

(Image: Gathering chanterelles at Sunart. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.)

The Rural Alternatives Shared Futures project was designed to show what community woodland groups could do with their local NTFPs - to get to the stage where small enterprises could be set up and to use those examples to demonstrate to other community groups how they could develop NTFPs themselves. Non-timber forest products in Scotland are under-used and have enormous potential to provide more cultural, environmental and economic benefits - provided they are harvested sustainably. The project has provided support to partner communities to develop NTFP use and benefits locally, and to develop ideas and learn lessons that will enable and stimulate wider use and appreciation for NTFPs in Scotland.

Acorns. Photo by Les Bates.The Rural Alternatives Shared Futures project focused on four community woodland groups. However, it is hoped that other groups in these areas will also become involved and be able to benefit. The first three groups to get involved were Culag Community Woodland group (Lochinver), groups based in the Sunart Oakwoods area (Acharacle) and Tinne Beag Workers' Coop (Newton Stewart). Kirkhill and Bunchrew Community Trust (Kirkhill/Bunchrew) joined in February 2006.

(Image: Acorns. Photo by Les Bates.)

Project activities included:

The project increased the awareness, understanding and appreciation of traditional knowledge relating to the identification, harvesting and uses of a very wide range of woodland flora, fauna and fungi. The diversity, history and sustainable management of woodland habitats that make up a very significant part of Scotland's natural heritage were explored and, using available resources and skills, opportunities for revenue generating activities for local communities were identified. The focus depended on local needs but included wild foods from berries, herbs and fungi, beekeeping and honey production, medicines from plants and fungi, and the production of crafts, dyes, floral greens and cosmetics from plant products.

The community groups had ideas from the start as to what they hoped to achieve from this project. For example, Culag Community Woodland Trust already knew something of the NTFPs they could derive from their woods, but had little sense of the scale required for an economically viable project, and no knowledge at all of the marketing requirements. The group in Sunart hoped to develop a good local food source, stimulate some economic activity, develop new skills, and raise awareness of natural free foods. Tinne Beag had specific plans for beekeeping, papermaking and encouraging edible mushrooms to grow in their woodlands, plus a wide appreciation of other potentials and possibilities of their site.

Project and research findings have been disseminated through displays at events and reports on this website. Further information is available on our Forest Harvest website, which contains information on all Scotland's non-timber forest products and has a page for people to suggest additional NTFPs.

A sample of Rural Alternatives Shared Futures project news

Representatives from three community woodland groups met in October 2005 to begin the project. The recruitment process for project officers began in January 2006. By early March all four community groups were on board and all four Local Co-ordinators had been appointed, as well as the national Project Manager.

Gatherers at Sunart inspecting chicken-of-the-woods. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.Training events and transect walks commenced in June 2006, starting with 'Developing identification and survey skills for Non-Timber Forest Products' in the Sunart Oakwoods area. The event was largely field-based, focusing on transect walks and inventory methods for surveying NTFPs - four half-day workshops and one full day workshop at a variety of sites throughout the area.

(Image: Gatherers at Sunart inspecting chicken-of-the-woods. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.)

Other events included:

Kirkhill and Bunchrew - a walk through Glen Reelig wood in July 2006 with visiting NTFP expert Keith Williams, followed by a Meadowsweet and Gooseberry winemaking workshop;

Sunart - a display for the Sunart Show in early August 2006;

Culag - transect walks and mentoring session;

Tinne Beag - greenwoodworking workshop;

Edinburgh - 7 August 2006: "Non Timber Forest Products - lessons learned from Northern Vancouver Island and their application to Scotland". A talk by Keith Williams from British Columbia, Canada, hosted by Reforesting Scotland. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh;

Germany - Nature Exchange Study Tour, 27 August - 3 September 2006. A report of the tour, jointly written by Jake Paul and by participants from other organisations, is available online. Click here to download the study tour report ((PDF file) 787KB).

Preparing fungi at Sunart. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.December 2006

For the a project news update see Radical Rowan newsletter no.33.

(Image: Preparing fungi at Sunart. Photo by Isabel Isherwood.)

Summer 2007 workshops

Croft7 and Kirkhill and Bunchrew Community Trust

Making oak and beech leaf wines; Nettle day; Gorse flower day; Paper making; 8 September: Reelig Glen Wood Survey.

Sunart and Ardnamurchan

Paper making; Beekeeping (dates to be confirmed); Natural dyes, spinning and wool crafts.

Culag Community Woodland Trust

Afternoon guided walk on traditional remedies with Mary Beith and evening talk (Mary is the author of 'Healing Threads', about traditional remedies in the Highlands and Islands); Celebration of wild foods at Assynt Foundation Open Day; All-day winemaking course at Glen Canisp Lodge; All-day workshop on natural dyes at Glen Canisp Lodge



Reports from the Rural Alternatives Shared Futures project, including formal reports to funders, six case studies from project partner communities, and articles by project manager Jake Paul, can be found on the Rural Alternatives Shared Futures project reports page.

The team behind the project

Hilary MacDonald ( ) - local co-ordinator for Culag Community Woodland group (Lochinver).

Isabel Isherwood () - local co-ordinator for Sunart Oakwoods area (Acharacle).

Helen MacGillevary of Sgilean Na Coille was involved in coordinating the training events for Sunart.

Jeff Colhoun (c/o ) - local co-ordinator for Tinne Beag Workers' Coop (Newton Stewart).

Les Bates ( ) - local co-ordinator for Kirkhill and Bunchrew Community Trust (Kirkhill/Bunchrew). Les is also developing a forest garden project - see the Croft7 website.

Jake Paul ( ) was the national Project Manager for Rural Alternatives Shared Futures, based in the Reforesting Scotland office in Edinburgh.

The Rural Alternatives Shared Futures Project was funded by:

The National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund, The JJ Charitable Trust, The Mark Leonard Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian, Scottish Natural Heritage, Garfield Weston Foundation, Sgillean na Coille project, The Craignish Trust, Miss KM Harbinsons CT, Barfil CT, Woodroffe Benton Foundation, Co-operative Community Dividend, Acharacle Community Company

The National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund logo

The JJ Charitable Trust logo

The Mark Leonard Trust logo

Scottish Natural Heritage logo      The Craignish Trust logo      The Co-operative logo

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