There are two types of conservation at work within the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative (IFLI) and both are vitally important for the rest of this century and beyond.
A Heritage Lottery funded partnership, IFLI has four years to get us all to a stage where we are willing to fight tooth and nail to preserve the natural beauty and wildlife of the landscape on our doorsteps and its associated culture and heritage at all costs.
Thanks to £2 million of lottery cash in 2014, IFLI has been able to attempt to lay the groundwork which will hopefully allow this to become a reality.
The RSPB might be the host organisation, but the IFLI is about more than just the protection of birds, it is a partnership between a number of bodies – including Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling local authorities – which is doing all it can to protect the unique landscape and history of the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth.
It hopes 50 projects – operating independently but linked to the common goal – which stretch the length of the region will be enough to start the ball rolling.
IFLI’s Sue Walker has been involved in the communications side of conservation for 20 years and is passionate about getting the message out there to as many people as possible.
She said: “We are all advocates for the landscape and the area. The landscape is out there to be enjoyed by everyone for free. If we don’t appreciate it the landscape as we know it will disappear.
“The more people who care about it and protect it now, the greater the chance it will be around for future generations to enjoy and protect. This is a great area – people just see the factories and the industry and don’t see the fantastic wildlife and natural beauty we have here.”
The initiative’s projects seek to turn people’s perceptions of the Inner Forth around, connect disparate habitats to create a landscape flourishing with biodiversity, celebrate, protect and improve access to important historical and natural features and train and support committed and motivated local community groups, individuals and organisations to take action to conserve their area.
The IFLI has enough funding to run to 2018, but once their four-year mission is complete they hope residents will take up the role of protectors of the landscape and its heritage.
“If you want to boil the whole aim of the IFLI right down,” said Sue. “It’s about reconnecting people with their landscape and their heritage and restoring people’s sense of pride in their area.”
The initiative is also providing education to youngsters in schools and even giving experience and skills to job seekers in a bid to help them gain employment.
Dr Kirsty McAlister has a PHD in Scottish History and was involved with the Ochils Landscape Partnership before taking up her post as cultural heritage officer with IFLI.
She said: “It’s a brilliant job and there’s something different to do every day – there is such diversity in the projects and in the people who work on them. We cannot do it without all our partners and volunteers.
“One of our most important projects is researching our local heritage and we can provide training for people to enable them start their own research or local history projects.
“Without our cultural heritage buildings are just buildings - we need people’s stories and recollections to fill these buildings with life and give them some kind of personal connection and relevance.”
Kirsty organises free training in heritage skills sessions dealing with desk-based research, archaeology and oral history all with a mind to get more people digging up the past and keeping it alive.
Four projects currently underway in our area include the enhancement of wetland and reedbed habitats at Bothkennar Pools between Skinflats Village and the River Carron in Falkirk; the restoration of the Falkirk Woodland Network, specifically Kinneil Woods between Grangemouth and Bo’ness; Forth Crossings – a volunteer research project that will investigate historic trading around the Inner Forth area; and Views into the Past at Polmont Woods, which aims to give people a clearer view of the World Heritage classified Antonine Wall by removing trees and scrub which have grown to obscure sections of it over the years.
The Inner Forth Festival is one of the IFLI’s most ambitious undertakings so far and takes place throughout the entire month of September.
Featuring 11 events in the Falkirk area alone, there is everything from a bat hunt in Polmont Woods to a talk on archaeology at Callendar House.
Organisers plan to launch the festival with a special cruise on the Maid of the Forth on September 1, allowing VIP passengers – including MSPs and MPs – to get an overview of some of the initiatives 50 projects which are ongoing at the moment.
Visit www.innerforthlandscape.co.uk for more.