Highlands co-ownership scheme races towards crowdfunder target

Beldorney Estate
Beldorney Estate

AN ambitious crowdfunder offering mass co-ownership of part of the Highlands reached nearly a quarter of its target in just 24 hours.

The campaign is enlisting ­“citizen rewilders” in its goal to combat ­climate meltdown and biodiversity collapse.

The Highland Rewilding ­crowdfunder, which launched last week with a target of £500,000, ­invites supporters to invest for a ­minimum of £50.

It is part of a three-month ­fundraising campaign intended to raise at least £8m and follows on from £7.5 million raised from 50 ­investors, including Slumdog ­Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy.

The award-winning project ­stretches over 2000 acres across two Highland estates and is ­pursuing a business model to scale nature ­recovery.

The 22-strong Highlands ­Rewilding team is led by former Greenpeace ­scientific director Dr Jeremy ­Leggett (right), who bought the 1000-acre Bunloit ­Estate near Loch Ness in 2020, ­following the sale of his firm ­Solarcentury, which brought solar panels to the mass market.

The National: Dr Jeremy Leggett
The National: Dr Jeremy Leggett

Dr Jeremy Leggett

Last year, he added the 860-acre Beldorney Estate, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire, to his portfolio after raising the £7.5m from investors such as former CEO of SSE, Ian Marchant, and ­former CEO of Unilever, Paul ­Polman, who, along with Beaufoy, have indicated they will be investing in this second round.

By managing land for carbon and biodiversity uplift, Highlands Rewilding aims not only to provide shareholders with ethical returns of at least 5% annually over 10 years, but create a model capable of encouraging other landowners to pivot to net-zero carbon and nature positive practices.

With the funds raised from the new campaign, the company intends to ­acquire South Bunloit, ­Beldorney Castle and one other estate that ­provides biodiversity opportunities. If a significantly higher amount is raised, the team aims to acquire more or larger estates to widen nature ­recovery opportunities.

The company recently won the prestigious 2022 VIBES and Nature of Scotland awards for Adapting Scotland and Business for Nature, respectively.

Leggett said the new round of funding was an “exciting opportunity” to significantly scale the project by investing in more land, people, and further improve Scotland’s biodiversity to combat the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse.

He told the Sunday ­National he was “extremely encouraged” to see that 43% of the first investors in the crowdfunder live in Scotland. A total of £118,000 (23% of the £500,000 target) was raised in the first 24 hours after the launch on Thursday – rising to £134,000 after 48 hours.

The National: Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has already invested in the Highland rewilding project
The National: Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has already invested in the Highland rewilding project

Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has already invested in the Highland rewilding project

“We have also seen a great amount of local support from Scots who are passionate about combating climate meltdown and who have got behind our mission at Highlands ­Rewilding in full force,” said Leggett, who ­added that it was “truly humbling” to see global support for the campaign.

“We’re still well on our way to reach our ambitious goals and seeing the support from those both locally and at a global level, shows that we are on the right track to make a ­difference and that business can benefit nature through profit for purpose.

“We ideally want to have hundreds, if not thousands of shareholders from across the world, but especially Scotland where we will continue to work as closely as we can with local ­Highland communities, including via joint ventures with community ­organisations,” he said. “Our citizen rewilder option within the crowdfund allows for genuine co-ownership for a minimum amount of investment.”

It is expected that most of its 50 original investors will re-invest in the project and it is also hoped it will ­attract debt from banks in this round, which would be a first for a for-profit rewilding project.

“The Highlands Rewilding ­project is Jeremy’s very practical vision of how to achieve a better world for ­future generations,” said ­Beaufoy. “This is the next stage of an ­exceptional story. We need those more than ever.”

Writer Su Bristow, author of Sealskin, has also invested in the project.

She said: “My grandfather grew up on a croft not far from here, and it’s a privilege for me to be able to give something back, and to be part of this great work of Highland restoration.”

In its UK Nature Report published last year, the Green Finance ­Institute identified an investment gap to ­secure key nature-related outcomes in ­Scotland - such as biodiversity ­protection and restoration – of up to £27 billion over 10 years.

Dr Leggett pointed out that the ­solar energy revolution saw this level of investment.

“It’s possible for this to ­happen again in the emerging nature ­recovery industry but it takes time and ­money,” he said.

“In our initial fundraising round, we attracted 50 founding funders but only one financial institution, MFS Investment Management. We hope we can encourage interest from more financial institutions during this funding round.

“Only with investors will we be able to fulfil our ambitions in helping to tackle biodiversity collapse and the climate emergency. More than that, investing in our project is an opportunity to invest in the future and be part of a truly meaningful project that will benefit generations to come.”

As with any investment, those interested in the project are encouraged to make sure they fully understand the process, what their investment means and the potential risks.