ARGYLL and Bute Council is obliged to work with the government body charged with protecting Scotland’s natural heritage over the future status of the Duchess Wood, a report has insisted.

The local nature reserve committee which has overseen the management of the popular woodland for more than 20 years is due to meet for the final time next week after councillors voted in 2018 to walk away from their management role.

The council’s legal interest in the management of the wood formally ends today (Friday, July 31) – and when it does, the wood’s ‘local nature reserve’ status will come to an end.

But a report prepared for the management committee’s meeting, due to be held via video link on Tuesday, August 4, says the council has an obligation to consult with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on the ‘de-declaration’ of the wood as a nature reserve.

READ MORE: Covid-19 crisis sparks plea to put Duchess Wood plans on ice

The council has formally been asked to extend the current management arrangements for a short period because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The report prepared for next week’s meeting says: “In 1995, Dumbarton District Council entered into a 15 year management and access agreement with Luss Estates Company in respect of two areas of woodland collectively referred to as Duchess Wood.

“The current Duchess Wood Local Nature Reserve Committee was established in 2002 and has been proactive in addressing the management issues affecting the woodland

“In 1998, the site was established as a local nature reserve (LNR) by the local authority.

“The LNR was established because of the high natural heritage interest of the site and its particular value for education and informal enjoyment of nature by the public.

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

“Under the Act, for the site to continue to have LNR status, a local authority is required to have a legal interest in the land in question through either ownership, lease, or an agreement with the owners and occupiers involved.

“The council, in accordance with the decision of the Helensburgh and Lomond area committee, will no longer have a legal interest in the land as of August 1, 2020.

“In terms of the LNR status, the council will now have an obligation to consult with Scottish Natural Heritage in relation to de-declaration of the wood as a local nature reserve.”

The current management committee, which has always been chaired by an elected Helensburgh member of Argyll and Bute Council, also has representation from the Friends of Duchess Wood, Luss Estates, Lomond School and the Argyll and Bute Third Sector Interface (TSI).

The decision not to renew the existing management agreement was made in December 2018, when the council’s Helensburgh and Lomond area committee decided that because of other financial pressures facing the authority, they could no longer justify the expense of a new agreement – an estimated £6,300 a year for 10 years – or the governance and legal obligations that came with it.

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