GIVING LAND A HELPING HAND

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A pioneering young couple have begun a new life inpsired by woodlands. They are passionate about bringing back natural processes – and people – to their new home.

Quitting your job in London and moving to the Scottish Highlands may be a romantic notion for many but it takes bottle to actually commit to the idea. Ed Townley and Becca Worsley did exactly that, and with just a tent to sleep in, they went in search of somewhere they could make a living and call home.

A year earlier Ed had visited Finland where he worked in the woods for two months, an experience that would change his life. Returning home invigorated and hooked on the idea of a career in forestry, he set off in search of opportunities in northern Scotland, where he landed a job helping a green woodworker. While there, he took a bike ride down Glen Affric. “It was a horrible wet day with loads of midges,” he recalls, “but I was completely blown away. I couldn’t believe places like this existed in the UK. I couldn’t stop talking about it and I got a bit obsessed,” he laughs.

“It was totally amazing, and we instantly fell in love with it.”
– Becca Worsley

So, in March 2021, they headed north. “We wanted to find a place that needed some help to get it back to a more healthy state,” Ed recalls. At first they were frustrated by the lack of land available but their luck changed when they discovered Dubh Allt croft, near Lochailort, perched on a rocky headland with views out to the Isle of Rum. “It was totally amazing,” Becca enthuses, “and we instantly fell in love with it.” Two months later they returned with Ed’s family and with their help, they became custodians of a small wooden cabin nestled within a significant patch of birch woodland and heather moorland. And a large herd of red deer.

Ed and Becca are well aware they have been fortunate, but life here is basic, not that this seems to bother this resourceful young couple. Much of the furniture in their off-grid cabin was made by Ed, and he hopes to capitalise on his skills to sell bespoke pieces locally. But for now, they have their hands full making the cabin comfortable, installing a small hydro-electric system and building a composting loo with one of the best views in Scotland!

They talk passionately about bringing life back to the land and hope in time to be able to offer other young people the opportunity to work, and even live, on their land, passing on skills they’re rapidly acquiring. Other plans are being hatched, including facilitating woodland regeneration on the higher slopes. By creating deer "exclosures" around several lochans, they hope to provide the opportunity for trees to take root naturally. On the lower ground, invasive rhododendron is the enemy, which they’re tackling head on armed with a chainsaw and billhook, carrying the brash out by hand. The bigger stuff will be used to make charcoal, while thinner stems are being put to great use protecting young oaks from deer and cladding their loo-with-a-view.

As Ed explains, their long-term vision resonates with a rewilding approach. “We want to get to the point of allowing natural processes to do their thing and take a step back but we also want to make it available for people.” With their passion and zest for hard work it’ll not be long before their vision becomes a reality. 

Dubh Allt croft is part of the Northwoods Rewilding Network.