Our vision was of a landscape with the River Garnock at its heart, forming a connection from the Muirshiel Hills to Irvine Bay, around which the natural and historical wealth of the valley was enhanced, revealed, and made accessible for the benefit of communities now and in the future. The river connects stories of the past with a shared vision for the future.The industrial past and rich farmland created wealth but also left their mark on the river and its landscape. By restoring degraded wetlands, riverbanks, and meadows, we created wildlife-rich networks, strengthening the landscape's resilience to change. The potential to connect people to their heritage was realised through both increased familiarity with the access infrastructure and opportunities to learn, build skills, explore, and discover. By engaging local communities in events celebrating their rich cultural and natural heritage, we ensured the value of the area's heritage was recognised. Through their involvement we encouraged local communities, charities, and agencies to work together to protect and promote this natural and historical wealth.
Garnock Connections achieved this vision by delivering four objectives:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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, as well as 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.
Photo credit: RSPB images
4. People will develop 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.
Photo credit: RSPB images
Garnock Connections was a Landscape Partnership Scheme led by RSPB Scotland in partnership with North Ayrshire Council, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), NatureScot, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) acting as an advisory body. The partnership successfully delivered of a vast array of outputs between 2018 - 2023.