QUESTION marks hang over whether Helensburgh’s Duchess Wood will maintain its status as a ‘local nature reserve’ when Argyll and Bute Council hands over control of the site later this year.

Advice from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has indicated that designated Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) must be owned or leased by their local authority.

Argyll and Bute Council is due to hand responsibility for management of the wood over to Luss Estates when its current agreement expires later in 2020.

Members of the wood’s LNR committee are hopeful of gaining clarity over whether it can maintain LNR status once that happens.

The committee’s chair, Helensburgh councillor Lorna Douglas, said at a meeting on Tuesday, February 25: “It was not Argyll and Bute Council that designated the Local Nature Reserve status – we inherited it.

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“It means that the area designated has to be seen to be managed, so it is a conundrum on how it is going to be managed once control is passed.”

Shona Barton, committee manager with Argyll and Bute Council, said: “I have consulted with one of our solicitors, who said that in her view, a Local Nature Reserve must be owned or leased by the local authority.

“We have also had information back from SNH confirming what the solicitor said, but it is open to interpretation.

“It only relates to the designation of LNR status, so I have asked the solicitor for clarification and once I have it I will let the committee know.

“As it stands, the council’s view is that it is not going to be quite as easy as we thought it would be to carry on with LNR status.

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“But that is before the solicitor has seen the latest update.”

In a document published on its website, SNH states that a proposed LNR should “be owned or leased by the local authority, or be under an agreement from the owner or tenant.”

Martin Grafton, secretary of the Friends of Duchess Wood, called for clarification to be sought in time for the committee’s next meeting on Tuesday, June 9.

Mr Grafton said: “One thing from my point of view is that it says ‘prior to declaration of LNR’, so what is SNH’s view on sitting LNRs?

“If you look at what an LNR tries to do, I don’t think it is incompatible with how we would wish to manage the wood anyway.

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“Something has to happen in June, whether this is allowed to continue or not, and I am not sure who makes the decision.”

He then added: “We must ensure we drive the agenda, and do not get driven by it.”

Councillor Douglas said: “It would be good in June to actually know what is going to happen, just to be able to say that this is the way forward and what is needed to maintain the woods.”

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