Plans to develop a forward-thinking landscape partnership across the Garnock Valley have been given the go ahead following a funding award by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Garnock Connections, which covers an area stretching from Lochwinnoch to Irvine, with the River Garnock at its heart, has been given the HLF award as part of a £220,000 development phase, which also includes funding from Ayrshire LEADER.
This phase will enable the creation of a suite of projects which will ultimately form a £2m initiative, set to begin in 2018. The projects will aim to restore a network of wildlife habitats and historic sites, as well as encourage local people to become involved through public engagement, training and volunteering opportunities.
The landscape partnership is made up of RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), North Ayrshire Council, Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Anne McCall, Regional Director for RSPB Scotland, said: "We're really delighted that HLF has supported the development of this new landscape partnership project within the Garnock Valley. This area has a rich natural and cultural heritage that is closely intertwined, but it is also threatened by a broad range of pressures.
"By working together within this partnership, and with the involvement of local communities, we hope to develop something that will go on to have a lasting legacy for many years to come."
The aim of the initiative will be to raise the profile of the Garnock Valley, conserve and promote important historic and natural features in the landscape, and develop new ways for organisations, local groups and individuals to work together to look after vulnerable heritage.
Dr John Raven from Historic Environment Scotland, said: "We are looking forward to working with our project partners and the local community to make the most of the local heritage in the area. Our aim is to enhance some of Garnock Valley's fascinating historic sites and landscapes, and engage with the local residents to celebrate, and raise awareness of their historic surroundings. Ultimately it's about improving understanding of the historic environment, and how we can work together to maximise its wider contribution."
Councillor Jim Montgomerie, Portfolio Holder for Place at North Ayrshire Council, said: "This is a fantastic result for North Ayrshire. We have seen the success of landscape partnership initiatives of this type elsewhere. We are excited about the transformational benefits that this project could deliver for the environment, communities and visitors alike, and we can't wait to work with the partners to make this happen."
Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "Nature lies at the very heart of what makes Scotland special but the enormous pressures upon it mean that we have to approach its restoration and conservation on a bigger scale than ever before. The LP programme does just that, and more. Thanks to National Lottery funding, we can help Garnock Connections bring real cohesion to the natural and built heritage of the region, reconnecting people with what often lies overlooked on their doorstep."
The River Garnock has played a central role in many of the area's industries, from water-driven lace mills, to the boat yards of Irvine Harbour, and the once-famous Nobel's explosives factory. This history is sadly in danger of becoming lost as sites are forgotten or developed.
The area, with its wetlands, estuary and sand dunes, is also an incredibly important home for nature, with recent surveys uncovering several rare invertebrates, such as the hairy-footed flower-bee, which has been found nowhere else in Scotland.
The development stage of the project will offer lots of opportunities for local communities and interest groups to get involved. Project staff will be in place after Christmas but in the meantime to find out more, contact RSPB Scotland on 0141 331 0993.
· The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
· HLF's Landscape Partnership (LP) programme operates a two-stage grant approval process. Today's announcement means that money has been set aside by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the scheme. The applicant initially receives development funding, then progresses to the second round and submits a further, fully-developed application to secure the full award. This early level of strong financial commitment means that Landscape Partnership projects can move forward with the assurance that funding for their scheme is in place provided that their final proposals fully meet the programme's criteria.
· HLF's Landscape Partnerships are helping bring together members of the community as well as local, regional, and national organisations to deliver schemes which benefit some of the UK's most outstanding landscapes and rural communities. Grants range from £100,000 up to £3m. The next closing date for LP applications is May 2017.
· About the Heritage Lottery Fund: Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery. For more information please contact: Katie Owen, HLF Press Office, on 020 7591 6036/07973 613820.