Coigach-Assynt Panorama
Picture credit Alex Nail

It’s one of Scotland’s least populated areas. The far North-West – the area from Ullapool to Lochinver and beyond – is special in many different ways. It has one of the most diverse geologies in the world – so much so that it’s one of the few Geo-Parks in the UK. Its mountains – the so-called Inselbergs – are unique in Scotland. Isolated peaks such as Stac Pollaidh, Cùl Mòr, Suilven and Canisp are striking features rising out of the landscape. Its mountains, moorlands, lochs and coastline provide habitats for species such as golden eagles, wildcats, black-throated divers and freshwater pearl mussels.

Stac Pollaidh from Sgorr-tuath   Picture - Alex Nail
Stac Pollaidh from Sgorr-tuath
Picture – Alex Nail
This is a special area which deserves protection; and now the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced a grant of £3million, including £100,000 development funding, to do just that. One of the remotest places in Europe, the investment will bring long-term social, economic and environmental benefits to the area.

As Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, explains, “nature lies at the very heart of what makes Scotland special and no where is that more evident than the astounding scenery of Coigach-Assynt,. However, the enormous pressures upon these landscapes mean that we have to tackle their restoration and conservation on a bigger scale than ever before. The Landscape Partnership programme does just that, and more. It brings real cohesion to the natural and built heritage of the region while reconnecting its communities with the nature that lies on their doorstep.”

The area covered is massive – some 606km2. As part of a 40-year vision for the area, a partnership called Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape (Call) has been set up. Led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), the work will involve restoring blanket bog and heath moor, repairing paths and reconnecting fragmented native woodland.

Coigach-Assynt  The least populated part of Europe
The least populated part of Europe
Some of the money will also go towards excavating and preserving Clachtoll broch, an internationally significant Iron Age settlement which was a local centre of power around 300BC. And finds are still being made. Last year, archaeologists reported finding the remains of what they believe was an important Bronze Age site – a pit with a channel to a nearby stream discovered at Stronechrubie. While not entirely sure what it had been made for, there’s speculation that it could have been used for bathing, though it could also have been used cooking and feasting or even brewing.

The Project Manager of the Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape (CALL), Viv Halcrow, said that the funding “could have a great impact across the whole Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape. It would not only benefit the natural, cultural and built environment, but could help to increase integration between communities, landowners, and organisations. The CALL partnership is very grateful to have received a stage one pass and are looking forward to developing the project in preparation for a stage two submission.”