Community History

Abriachan is a scattered rural community of about 140 people set high above the shores of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, half way between Inverness and Drumnadrochit. Abriachan Forest is one of the largest community-owned forests in Scotland, and consists of a mixture of planted commercial forest, some remnant old pines and a substantial area of naturally regenerating open hill.

In the mid 1990s, Forest Enterprise (FE), the state-owned forest management company, decided to include the Abriachan Forest in their programme of forest sales and invited communities to indicate whether they wanted to retain rights of access to adjoining land in the event of any sale. We responded by expressing our wish to retain community access to an area that had once had been our common grazings and peat-banks. When Abriachan Forest came on the market in November 1995 there was a sense of outrage in the community because no mention of access was made in the sales particulars. To safeguard the local interest, a steering group was formed to monitor the sale, and came up with the radical idea of buying the forest.

Towards the end of 1996 the Abriachan Forest Trust (AFT) was established as a company limited by guarantee. It was set up to take ownership of the forest on behalf of the community. There immediately followed a period of intense activity as we frantically tried to raise capital for the purchase before the closing date in March 1998. After successfully securing considerable funding we learnt that two of our applications had failed. We had to change our strategy and go for the smaller of the two buy-out options, which was still a substantial 534 ha, valued at £152,000 (€214,000).

With the closing date rapidly approaching, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) donated the £20,000 (€28,000) required to make up the asking price, and the sale was concluded in March 1998. The hand-over ceremony was a truly memorable occasion. Local people, our funding partners and representatives of the media all crowded into our village hall to witness Sir Michael Strang-Steel of Forest Enterprise hand over the title deeds to representatives from our community.

The Abriachan Forest had been planted between 1970 and 1980 and consisted predominantly of lodgepole pine and sitka spruce with some Scots pine and larch. Little had happened in the forest for over 15 years except the occasional visit of a forester.