LOSING its status as one of only two local nature reserves (LNR) in Argyll and Bute “would not be catastrophic” to a Helensburgh woodland, according to the community group fighting to protect it.

However, the chair of the Friends of Duchess Wood (FoDW) has stated that volunteers will do everything they can to retain the designation.

Argyll and Bute Council decided against renewing a long-standing management agreement for the green space in December 2018 and the local authority’s control over the woods ended in July 2020.

Stewardship and responsibility have since reverted to the land owner, Luss Estates, but the woodland’s LNR status is now under threat in the absence of the council holding a legal interest in the area.

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In November the authority said it “has no such interest”, prompting concern among FoDW members at the potential implications for the woodland’s future.

Providing an update on the situation at a meeting of Helensburgh Community Council in December, FoDW chair David Lewin said the group is currently in discussion with NatureScot - formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage - to try to maintain the woodland’s local nature reserve status, in the hope of encouraging community support for, and civic pride in, the area.

He told the virtual meeting: “This does require the council to retain some sort of legal interest in the wood, something which they are not keen to do.

“But if we could get NatureScot to advise on a suitable form of words that would constitute an absolutely minimal legal interest in the wood, would that be sufficient to enable the wood’s designation as an LNR to transfer from the council to Luss Estates?

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“Why are we bothering with that? It does help us with money - some grant providers like to see something like an LNR status - but, actually, more importantly in my view, the community can coalesce around the fact that it’s a local nature reserve, something other than a wooded area, and something which encourages support and volunteering and civic pride in having an amenity such as Duchess Wood within the town.

“It is fair to say that it will not be catastrophic if we can’t retain our local nature reserve status but we’re going to give it a good try.”

Argyll and Bute has only one other local nature reserve - a section of land and foreshore at Broxwood, close to the Holy Loch near Dunoon, which was granted LNR status by the council in April 2014.

It, and the Duchess Wood, feature on a list of just 75 LNRs across the whole of Scotland.

According to NatureScot the LNR designation - which has stood since 1998 for the Helensburgh woodland - signifies its “local importance in terms of its natural heritage”.

The Friends’ AGM will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, January 26.

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