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UHI Inverness Research Partnership Cultivates Change by Creating Scotland’s First Community Food Forest

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Researchers from UHI Inverness are working with partners Earthself to create a test site on a Highland estate for Scotland’s first sustainable community food forest – the cultivation of a forest ecosystem for human food production.

The Institute for Biodiversity and Freshwater Conservation at UHI Inverness is collaborating with Earthself Community Interest Company to plan the Emiel Food Forest, named after the late son of the landowner.

The site of the planned food forest on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire.

Talladh-a-Bheithe Estates is providing 1.3 hectares of land on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire for Earthself to steward in memory of Aemilius Justin Matthias van Well, who was known as Emiel.

Emiel, who had a great love of sustainability and the natural environment, died from a protracted illness in January 2022 at the age of 26.

The food forest initiative hopes to honour the memory of who he was and his passions.

The Loch Rannoch test site will be planted in September 2024, and it is hoped it will be the catalyst for a wider partnership that will develop food forests around Scotland.

Earthself has an initial 10-year agreement with Talladh-a-Bheithe to cultivate Emiel’s Food Forest for the benefit of the local community.

The partnership has been created through the Scottish Innovation Voucher Scheme run by Interface which enables Scottish small and medium enterprises to collaborate with Scotland’s universities, colleges and research institutes.

It will ensure the test site actively contributes to Scotland’s biodiversity, climate and community gaols.

The partnership between Earthself and UHI Inverness will run for three months initially to develop knowledge on site preparation, planting and identifying the most appropriate and beneficial plants for food production.

It will also establish the most effective design and plan for the location, capturing transferable lessons for other sites.

Food forests mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in the natural world and have been embedded in the practice of many cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Once established, they require hardly any maintenance work and no fertilizers, pesticides or tractors.

Due to their diverse and mixed species, food forests are potentially more resistant to diseases, pests, weather extremes and climatic changes.

They also help to mitigate the impacts of climate change as they absorb large amounts of CO2 in the soil, roots, trees and support complex relationships to produce valuable nature benefits.

During the research the partners will assess how food forests can be a viable nature-based solution to Support Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy by 2045 and contribute to the Nature Positive goals locally and globally.

Dr Euan Bowditch, a researcher of forestry and social ecology who is leading the project for UHI Inverness, said:

“Food forests, forest gardens or dynamic agroforestry systems are not new but are rarely established, especially at a scale that would be meaningful to a community.

“There is a deep heritage connected to these mixed systems that entwines with local knowledge and practice which I believe has been lost in the UK.

“We hope with the help of others we can play a part in bringing back this practice and supporting greater investment in mixed land systems and paying homage to Emiel’s memory by creating this legacy.”

Tabitha Jayne, Founding Director of Earthself, said:

“As a Community Interest Company we exist to benefit Earth itself and its human and more-than-human inhabitants.

“Stewarding the creation of Emiel’s Forest and integrating it into our business model is an amazing way for us to demonstrate this and show our clients that we lead by example when it comes to creating net zero and nature positive earth-connected businesses.”

Adrian van Well, Emiel’s father, said:

“After 35 years of estate ownership, I wanted to honour my son Emiel, who loved Talladh-a-Bheithe for its sound of silence, beautiful nature and wilderness, by creating the first community food forest in Scotland.

“As the landowner, I’m lucky to have found a great team in Earthself and UHI Inverness to help make this project a reality.”

If you interested in or wish to help support Emiel’s food forest, please contact either Tabitha Jayne (tabi@earthself.org) or Euan Bowditch (euan.bowditch.ic@uhi.ac.uk)

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