The final master plan for Bute Forest is to be published by the end of March. The master plan has been adjusted to take into account feedback from the extensive consultations carried out by Bute Community Land Company (BCLC)  and then Bute Forest Limited (BFL) since the forest was purchased in a community buy-out in 2010. Extensive negotiation and consideration has gone into the plan over many months to ensure it captures fully the community’s views and provides a balanced way forward for the project.

BCLC purchased 161 ha of forest on the northern part on Bute and have access rights to an additional 550ha of adjacent land. The area of ownership includes 79.3ha of woodland called the Oak or Balnakailly  Wood which is mostly designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and 81.5ha of commercial plantation (called Rhubodach Wood) which consists of 33% conifer trees, 52% broadleaf trees and 15% unplanted. The master plan brings together the aspirations expressed by the community into a coherent long-term strategy and framework for the forest development, taking into consideration local planning designations and restrictions. It suggests designs for buildings although these are not conclusive. The detailed design of buildings, business planning and investigation into functionality will fall into the next stage of planning.

The plans for the Oak Wood include a shelter on the patch of land past the fence and before the bridge into the forest, new signposting to areas of interest, a small picnic area and interpretation board next to Balnakailly Farm, a wilderness campsite and kayak jetty in Wreck Bay and a building atop the WW2 bunker which will provide shelter and bird viewing facilities. The plans for the Rhubodach Wood include a multi-functional Forest hub which can be used as café, meeting place or training centre, a lodge for overnight groups of visitors, a set of eco-lodges for small groups or families, an adventurous play area including bouldering wall, mountain bike trails, viewpoints and picnic sites, a small timber processing area, an accessible woodland walkway, parking, outdoor performance area, sculpture trail, trim track (outdoor gym equipment alongside a pathway), tree house, children’s pixie dell and information boards at sites of interest.

The plans may take many months to come to fruition fully but producing the final master plan will ensure the project can now move forward to the next stage of development. There are several themes underpinning the approach which will be taken with the forest development; the protection and enhancement of the environment, opportunities for education and training, the use of local suppliers wherever possible, financial sustainability and employment opportunities. BFL want the Forest to be an exciting destination for local people and to attract additional visitors to the island.

The Forest Support Group has already endorsed the final master plan issuing a statement saying “We believe this exciting final version of the master plan will successfully balance the various opinions expressed by BCLC Members, the local community and other stakeholders. The Bute Forest Limited Directors and Forest Manager have worked hard to consult with local residents and the views expressed have been important in shaping the project, as seen with the downsizing of the shelter near the Balnakailly Farm settlement.  We are reassured that the community’s views are and will continue to be taken seriously.”

BCLC Members will be asked to submit any final and reasonable justifications for rejecting the plan within two weeks of the plan being published. Assuming no major points are raised by members, the plan will be adopted by BCLC and BFL.

Forest Manager Emma Cooper said “Many months of work have gone into the master plan and whilst we cannot please everyone, we hope that we will have pleased the often silent majority of people. The time for consultation has come to an end and we have to now move forward with the plans. The master plan confirms the facilities and placement of these facilities. It does not confirm building design or functionality; this is a matter for the design stage. We are asking if Members have any justified reasons to reject this plan or can see any significant barriers to the achievement of the projects aim – to provide an excellent, exciting and responsible community asset which will attract local and international visitors to our beautiful island”

Neil Sutherland of Neil Sutherland Architects, responsible for putting the plan together, said “this is an exciting project to deliver facilities and opportunities which marries together a number of important elements including community ownership, the responsible use of natural resources and timber design and construction. The completion of the Masterplan marks an important milestone in the evolution of the project. We believe that it provides a firm foundation for interaction within this community forest asset for the future”.

People on the electoral register on Bute can become members of BCLC. People under 18 can become junior members. People with an interest in the project who do not live on Bute can become associate members. A membership form and information can be downloaded from http://www.bclc.co.uk.