A MANAGEMENT agreement for the Duchess Wood in Helensburgh, due to run out at the end of this week, could be extended as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Argyll and Bute Council is due to hand back responsibility for the management of the woodland – the only local nature reserve (LNR) in the whole of the Argyll and Bute area – this Friday, July 31.

Control will pass back to the Luss Estates Company, which owns the land, by default once the management agreement comes to an end.

But Luss Estates says that a formal request has been lodged with the council’s chief executive, seeking a temporary extension to the existing agreement.

Councillors in Helensburgh and Lomond formally voted in December 2018 to hand back responsibility for managing the popular woodland after 20 years, citing budget pressures.

READ MORE: Councillors vote to walk away from Helensburgh wood management role

The council’s ‘local nature reserve management committee’ for the Duchess Wood is due to meet via video link on Tuesday, August 4 – its first meeting in any form since lockdown restrictions took effect in March.

Sean McCay, land agent at Luss Estates, said this week: “As things stand when the current management agreement ends the woods revert to Luss Estates’ management and control.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made a structured transition from the council to the Estate difficult and the management committee, on which we sit, has formally approached Pippa Milne of Argyll and Bute Council to request a short extension to the current management agreement of several months to allow this to happen.

“When the management agreement expires, Luss Estates Company will be responsible for the management of the wood and will collaborate with other organisations with an interest in Duchess Wood, particularly the Friends of Duchess Wood.

“A new management committee will be formed with Luss Estates and other stakeholders to oversee the management of the wood.

“It is the intention that the wood will continue to be a Local Nature Reserve if possible.

READ MORE: Question mark hangs over future status of treasured Helensburgh woodland

“Argyll and Bute Council are responsible for ensuring that the wood meets the criteria so will have an element of oversight in that regard.

“Our approach will be kept under review in the months ahead.”

The wood was closed for almost eight months until February of this year after a tree survey commissioned by the council identified 97 trees that, in the opinion of experts, presented a safety hazard to members of the public.

Helensburgh Central councillor Lorna Douglas, the chair of the management committee, said: “Duchess Wood and its local nature reserve status are much valued by the local community and in this regard I hope the council can negotiate some way of retaining the LNR status of the woods.

“The committee has been unable to meet since February and it would be beneficial for stakeholders if an extension could be granted by the council.”

Helensburgh Community Council has already nominated one of its members, Roger Ferdinand, to represent them in any future discussions between Luss Estates, the Friends and the community over the wood’s management.

READ MORE: Duchess Wood is officially re-opened after safety closure lasting eight months

Local nature reserves, of which there are 75 in Scotland, are areas of natural heritage that are “at least locally important”, according to Scottish Natural Heritage.

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 defines a local nature reserve as “a protected area of land designated by a local authority because of its special natural interest and/or educational value”.

It can also include sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), though there are no such sites within the Duchess Wood.

Councils are responsible for managing any local nature reserves in their area.

Local authorities can also create bye-laws to regulate inappropriate behaviour within LNRs.

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