Our vision is for the River Garnock to form a connection through the landscape. Degraded and fragmented riparian, wetland and farmland habitats will be restored and enhanced, creating a wildlife-rich network along the river. In turn these healthier habitats will help us manage water and soils more sustainably, tackling problems of erosion and pollution. The rich history of the area around the River Garnock will be revealed through research, interpretation, and new access, showing the central role of the river in the area’s past.
People will be exploring the landscape in new ways. Gaps in the network of footpaths and cycle routes will be filled and connections promoted from rail routes and footpaths to our heritage projects. As a result people will be spending more time exploring the area, discovering its wildlife and how past lives, occupations, land-usage, and historic industrial and agricultural use of the river has shaped the landscape we see today.
Local communities will develop a connection with the area’s past; unlocking the stories that link past uses of the river with today’s landscape and helping to tell those stories. Contributing time and skills to heritage projects will strengthen connections between people and their landscape, building capacity to maintain it in the future. New biological and archaeological survey schemes and training events will engage people in researching the history of the landscape and in monitoring how it is changing. As a result, local communities will feel confident in their skills and have a key role in conserving the heritage of this fascinating region.
Garnock Connections will achieve this vision by delivering four objectives:
- Habitat and species networks will be enhanced
The River Garnock, its estuary, and the lochs and wetlands around it form a habitat network. The area between the river and the coast is of particular importance for invertebrates. However, in many places the network is degraded as a result of industrial use and agricultural intensification and lacks the species richness it once had. It has also lost its capacity to slow water flow, trap sediment and pollutants, and ameliorate the effects of flooding. By creating and enhancing habitats we can strengthen these networks of wetlands, hedgerows, wildflower meadows, and riparian woodland and allow species to move more freely and adapt to the effect of changing weather and climate. In turn, the more diverse landscape will help us manage water and soils more sustainably.
- Cultural heritage will be better understood and valued
The area around the River Garnock has a fascinating history, with the river playing a central role in many past land uses. The river catchment includes the remains of a wide range of historic settlements and sites, spread across time from prehistory to the present day. Agricultural improvement significantly altered the river system to create hay meadows. Later the river became a source of power and water for production of lace, steel and leather. Where the river meets the sea it forms a large sandy peninsula that was once the site of Nobel’s explosives factory. Alongside the existing river network people developed rail and canal networks to transport industrial products. Despite this wealth of history the area is notable for offering few opportunities to engage with its cultural heritage, either actively through organised groups or through interpretation and information displays. By addressing this shortfall, we can ensure the value of the area’s heritage is recognised and local communities, charities, and agencies are encouraged to work together to protect and promote it.
- People and places within the landscape will be better connected
Access to the landscape is good in many places with a train line and a National Cycle Route running through the area, there are also several path networks. However, there is a need to link more features of interest to the existing access network and to provide catalysts for people to explore the landscape. Encouragement to active involvement with the landscape might be achieved through integrated interpretation, such as themed trails and Apps, or by greater provision of guided walks, events, and training. In some places access infrastructure is also needed to complete missing links and make the landscape more easily accessible.
- People will have developed strong connections with their heritage
The landscape has a rich history and a wealth of wildlife but this is not always well known or easy to engage with. By providing opportunities to research and celebrate this heritage we can strengthen the connections between people and their heritage. In particular, we want to engage people in the conservation and enhancement of the landscape through volunteering, training and employment opportunities, research projects, wildlife recording, and practical conservation volunteering. As well as helping people to develop skills and interests, this will have knock on benefits for their health and wellbeing. In the long term this engagement will be fundamental to securing a legacy for the project by creating a network of people who feel connected to the landscape, care about its conservation and enhancement, and are committed to safeguarding it.
Garnock Connections is a Landscape Partnership Scheme led by RSPB in partnership with North Ayrshire Council, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).
Garnock Connections is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Landscape Partnerships grant programme; Ayrshire LEADER - The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas; Ayrshire Sustainability Group; and the members of the Landscape Partnership.