The Southern Uplands Partnership (SUP) is 14 and still going strong. I manage the initiative working from Lindean Mill, while other project staff are spread across the region.
The SUP’s mission is to help keep people living and working sustainably in the southern uplands of Scotland.
The need has not diminished over the years. Indeed, many of the pressures have increased. Upland agriculture is dependent on subsidy and many farmers have given up.
The loss of farming families has a knock-on effect on local schools, shops, and businesses. Increasing fuel costs make rural transport and heating of older houses expensive. For many communities things seem to be going downhill.
However, it doesn’t have to be like this.
Recent work in the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys shows that rural communities are rich with skills, ideas and energy, and that when these are brought together, exciting initiatives take shape.
For example, the community felt that the recent mountain biking bonanza had passed them by, but now efforts are being made to create cycle links between the Tweed Valley and the tranquillity of the Yarrow and Ettrick and the hope is that cyclists will discover new places to explore.
Southern Scotland is so close to urban centres where we know people are hungry for the peace and quiet we have here and yet there is a perception that you have to go north to see real Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage has been promoting the “big five”, the otter, red squirrel, the harbour seal, the golden eagle and the red deer, and all of these can be found in the south.
Nature-based tourism is a rapidly-growing market. Visitors increasingly want to experience local natural heritage as well as the cultural attractions. The SUP has been working with businesses to help them better understand the opportunities that this offers. It is not just the “big five” that people want to see. It is also the more common wildlife that we often take for granted. A well-informed guide who can tell a story as well as point out local wildlife can add significantly to the experience that a visitor has.
The SUP is running a series of events this year to help businesses better understand what we have and how it can be experienced whilst also being cared-for.
Other areas of work tackled by SUP include lobbying on the rural broadband issue, stimulating debate on National Parks, promoting Eco-schools and conserving black grouse.
If rural communities are going to remain vibrant we need to create more opportunities for partnership working, bringing people together from different walks of life to see how they might do things differently. The SUP has 14 years of experience of this process and the projects it has developed have brought in several millions of pounds to the local rural economy.
Inevitably, the current economic climate is putting pressures on local charities. SUP is exploring a number of income-generating schemes which it hopes to progress later this year and is especially keen to hear from people who would like to support its work or become members.
For more information visit www.sup.org.uk