Bunloit - Nature recovery and community prosperity through rewilding

7th March 2022 By Ben Hart

Juniper Ridge


Introduction

Bunloit Rewilding is a natural capital management company with a purpose to “enable nature recovery and community prosperity through rewilding.” Through our values of leading by example, with courage we aim to create as large a positive impact on the natural world as possible. 

Throughout 2021 - our first year of operations – we developed a natural capital baseline assessment of the 511-hectare Bunloit estate on the shores of Loch Ness. Our aim was to use the most innovative tools and suppliers available to assess the carbon and biodiversity stocks found within the estate, at the most granular level possible. We then summarised the findings into our first Natural Capital Report (downloadable here) which was released at a COP26 event in Glasgow in early November. 


What did we find?

Full details of the methods and calculations used can be found in our Natural Capital Report, with the headline findings as follows: 

Carbon

  • Our baseline calculation of the carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) stored within the natural systems of the Bunloit estate is between 845,472 and 1,234,334 tonnes. This is the equivalent of 2% of Scotland’s current yearly emissions. 
  • Between 708,778 and 1,097,640 tCO2e is in the peatland and 115,748 (i.e., up to c. 10 times less) in the woodlands of all types, with 20,946 in the grasslands.
  • The existing woodlands and grasslands of the estate cover some 441 hectares, 86.3% of the estate land area. We calculated that 866 tCO2e / year is being sequestered here. 
  • However, our peatlands, which cover c. 70 hectares, or 13.7% of the land area, tell a different story. Modelling work undertaken with support from the University of Highlands and Islands and the James Hutton Institute showed a loss of 1,106 tCO2e / year.

These final two points show that the Bunloit Estate is a net source of greenhouse-gas emissions, with an estimated average net loss of 240 tCO2e / year.

Biodiversity

  • NatureMetrics analysed Environmental DNA (eDNA) - nuclear or mitochondrial DNA released from organisms into the environment - to provide an indirect window into fungi and faunal inventories for us. From 42 soil samples, with at least one from each of our representative habitats, a total of 1,168 fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and 352 faunal OTUs were detected. 
  • Plantlife UK conducted an initial check of the eDNA data against the ICUN red list of the datasets and identified several rare and threatened fungi species. These included Russula lilacea and Clavicorona taxophila.
  • A Plantlife specialist team also completed a full botanical assessment of the estate, including lichens, vascular plants and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). They identified 580 separate plant species: 271 lichen species, 155 vascular plant species, and 154 bryophyte species.
  • Results from camera traps provided by NatureSpy over a 90-day study period showed that estate wide, sika deer are by far the most numerous – accounting for 53% of all classifications. Wild boar classifications came in second at 12%. Other key large mammals on the site are roe and red deer, badgers, foxes and red squirrels.
  • Based on point counts and ad-hoc observations by local ecologists Wychwood Environmental, 77 bird species have been recorded to date. Some species e.g., geese (e.g., Canada, Greylag), swans (e.g., Mute) and large eagle species (e.g., White-tailed) were recorded flying over the estate.
  • At least six bat species of the 10 known to Scotland have been recorded across the estate
  • Of the 19 dragonfly and damselfly species in the Scottish Highlands, 11 have been observed on Bunloit by dragonfly enthusiast Larry Templeton. 

The major key finding is that the survey work identified that Bunloit estate is of international importance in terms of lichen communities, and of regional importance in terms of unimproved grasslands. 

It is also likely that the estate is a key dragonfly site in the Highlands due to the presence of the uncommon Northern Emerald and the Brilliant Emerald - the latter being one of the rarest dragonflies in the Highlands.


What has been the reception?

The Bunloit team have been pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received in the few months since releasing the report. Example comments include: 

  • Jason Beedell, Director of Research, Strutt and Parker: “I have not seen this type and depth of analysis before. It is an extraordinary addition to the work being done on natural capital.” 
  • Louise Alexander, Head of Forestry, Galbraith: “This report is having a big impact. It is the talk of the town.” 
  • Davy McCracken, Head of Integrated Land Management, Scottish Rural College, University of Edinburgh: “The innovative monitoring programmes at Bunloit are exemplars of how biodiversity and environmental metrics can be used to inform regenerative management practices whilst maximising the use of local and regional expertise.” 
  • Charlie Burrell, co-founder, Knepp Wildland: “Groundbreaking.”

Individually, many of the findings would not be unexpected from the scientific community – it is well studied that degraded peatlands are a large source of carbon emissions for example. However, the combined focus on both carbon and biodiversity stocks, and the use of both cutting edge technologies - from satellite observations to eDNA sampling, and local ecological suppliers, seems to have been well received by the emerging natural capital community.

Our hope is that this report, and our ongoing natural capital work at Bunloit Rewilding, can continue to contribute to the fantastic research on natural capital going on across the UK and globally. We also aim to provide a showcase to investors looking at the sector, and other land managers who are trying to understand what it all means, and where to start. 

To this end, following the report launch, several land managers for estates with rewilding ambitions reached out to find out more. Ben Hart - our Carbon and Biodiversity Accounting Consultant - presented a webinar and Q&A session in early December, talking through a presentation that he made at our COP26 event in Glasgow. If you are interested in finding out more and hearing a discussion on the current state of natural capital policy and schemes, do click here to watch


What’s Next for 2022? 

As we enter the new year, the Bunloit team are building on the findings from our first report to develop an estate management plan, and to implement interventions that can both increase biodiversity and help the estate natural systems revert to a carbon sink. 

Importantly, the results from the modelling work clearly showed 2 key interventions that are essential to these aims: 

The first is to fell conifer plantations sitting atop the peat, letting the compressed bogs “breathe” again, with healthy moss growing and drawing carbon dioxide down into the wetland, meanwhile planting broadleaves elsewhere on the estate to compensate for the carbon stock loss in the plantations. 

The second is peatland restoration, by blocking drainage channels so as to promote moss growth by retaining water in the bogs. 

Felling of non-natives has been happening this winter, to avoid any impacts on the bird breeding season in the spring. We have also been engaging with specialists from Peatland Action, and the University of Highlands and Islands to create a Peatland rewetting and restoration plan following the removal of the plantations.

We are currently in the process of writing up an estate management plan – using the learning from the baseline study to identify further interventions that can best kick-start the natural systems on the estate, with the eventual aim of these systems needing no further intervention. 

Baselining activity will also be started on our second estate - Beldorney, as well as further yearly monitoring on the Bunloit estate. With our new Chief Scientist in place in early spring taking the lead, we are looking forward to continuing to develop our natural capital monitoring and verification programme and communicating further results as we go. 

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