Borders’ new tree-man

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HIS grandfather told him hawthorn hedges were made of cheese – gorgonzola, in fact. Despite, or perhaps rather because, of this Callum Rankine has gone on to carve out a high-flying career in conservation.

The new full-time director of Borders Forest Trust (BFT), originally from Stirling, started work with the environmental charity on Tuesday.

His grandfather was his inspiration: “Archibald Rankine came from a long line of miners and to get away from the pits he would go for walks round the countryside with his friends and take his grandchildren with him: I can remember seeing red squirrels in Stirlingshire in the 1970s.

“He had a good way of telling you about things. For years I thought hawthorn hedges were made of cheese because that’s what he told us: he just made things memorable, it was always enjoyable to go out with him. He didn’t know a huge amount about the natural world but he was very observant. He’s still alive in my head now.”

Mr Rankine, 48, followed his biology and geography degree with a masters in ecology before working for the former English Nature (now Natural England) as an ornithologist. Moving to WWF, Mr Rankine worked his way up to beciome head of species conservation protecting the likes of pandas and tigers. From 2006 to 2009, he was chief executive of the Mammal Society before setting up an environmental consultancy and a wildlife tourism business in Ross-shire.

He explained why he was attracted to BFT’s top job: “I believe in what the trust is trying to do. As an environmentalist, it is very difficult to work for an organisation if you don’t believe in what it is doing – and it’s impossible to lead one. When I looked up what the trust does, I thought ‘that’s exactly what more people should be doing’. Previous director Willie McGhee did really good work here. Hopefully I can take the trust forward and move on.”

BFT manages more than 2,000ha of land and has planted more than a million native trees, its aim to create a network of wild places with native woodlands and other habitats cared for by local communities. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the trust teaches locals woodland management skills and has developed Forest Schools and leads educational woodland visits.

Asked what difference he hopes to make, Mr Rankine said: “I hope there will be a lot more native woodlands in the south of Scotland and more people involved so people would have a local woodland near them which they can explore and maybe find the same sort of enjoyment I had as a child.”

Charities always face financial challenges, he said, so the current cash situation is just something the trust has to get on with by attracting more people through membership and legacies.

Other challenges will be working with people on the ground and persuading them of the importance of the trust’s work.

This week the new director is meeting staff and looking at BFT’s work.

“We are trying to grow the trust. The idea is to do more of what we are doing. Woodlands are wonderful. They’re one of the best places you can go to relax – they’re a great stress-buster.

“But the Borders have lost 99 per cent of their native woodlands – that’s like putting your hand in your pocket and expecting to find a pound but finding you’ve only got a penny. We need to do more to get our native woodlands back, ” said Mr Rankine.

For more information see www.bordersforesttrust.org