Trusts’ bid for Borders ‘national park’ pipped at the price post

Talla Gameshope from the air
Talla Gameshope from the air

CONSERVATIONISTS have failed in their attempt to buy “probably the best bit of wild land in the Borders”, writes Sally Gillespie.

Despite putting together a bid in excess of the £1.1million sought, Borders Forest Trust (BFT) and the John Muir Trust came second to an unknown buyer for the 5,400-acre Talla and Gameshope Estate, pictured right, between the Grey Mare’s Tail and Talla Reservoir.

BFT chairman John Hunt said: “We are bitterly disappointed. We saw this as a very important piece of land, particularly because of its potential in the long term.”

The 2,160 hectares of upland hill country includes the summits of Great Hill, Molls Cleuch Dod, Carlavin Hill and Firthhope Rig, and borders BFT’s Carrifran Wildwood, an ongoing restoration project.

The area was once the heart of the historic Ettrick Forest which for centuries provided a sanctuary for outlaws such as the Borders Reivers and others, including Scots patriot William Wallace. Its earliest known history was as a royal hunting forest in the 12th century, but it is now reduced to small isolated pockets and the majority of the land sold is grazed.

Mr Hunt said: “It is a very special piece of land, probably the best bit of wild land in the Borders. A huge amount of effort went into pulling together the bid which was well over the asking price.

“We were very close, there was very little between the two top bids, one of which was ours.”

He had earlier described the sale as “a rare opportunity to restore a network of hills and valleys, providing habitats extensive enough to be truly sustainable”.

And he said it had represented the chance to, alongside Carrifran, create a small national park.

The John Muir Trust Borders group’s John Thomas echoed these thoughts: “The property’s position between the Grey Mare’s Tail and the Carrifran Wildwood on the one hand and the Tweedsmuir SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) on the other would have created an area of conservation on a landscape scale.

“This would have been a huge asset for the Borders, comparable to a small national park.”

He went on: “Let us hope this opportunity is not lost on the new owners.”

Mr Thomas told us: “The opportunity to create a conservation area is past for another generation or who knows how long. The main feeling amongst all of us is disappointment. It’s a real loss to the Borders.

“We put in a seriously competitive bid, it was a fantastic effort.”

The conservation groups had wanted the restoration to benefit “key wildlife” such as the golden eagle, black grouse and rare mountain plants.

James Carnegy-Arbuthnott, of selling agents CKD Galbraiths, said: “It was a very competitive closing date. There were eight offers and there was interest from both sheep farmers and conservationists.”