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From Speyside to Cambodia to fight Scotland's invasive plants

By Tom Ramage

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A Speyside woodland manager has won a coveted Churchill Fellowship which will enable him to travel the world doing research into the invasive species threatening Scotland's flora.

Ross Watson (42) of Nethy Bridge is one of 141 new Churchill Fellows being assisted in a huge range of different research fields.

Ross Watson: ready to travel, ready to learn
Ross Watson: ready to travel, ready to learn

Mr Watson, a site manager with the Woodland Trust Scotland, Ross covers the trust's northernmost sites – Ledmore and Migdale, Uig on Skye, Dunollie at Oban, Glencharnoch and Den in Aberdeenshire – as well as three sites on Loch Ness at Urquart Bay, Balmacaan and Abriachan.

He told the Strathy: "I'm going to Cambodia for three weeks in November/December and then in May/June I'll be spending three weeks following a river through Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia where they have issues such as Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam – just like we do!"

The hope is that he will bring new perspectives and approaches back – and in particular to Urquart Bay on Loch Ness and to Ledmore and Migdale.

Mr Watson explained: "My Fellowship looks to understand different models for managing invasive plant removal, with an appropriate and flexible funding landscape, tackling the issue holistically at scale, and ensuring sustainability through the involvement of communities, young people and land managers.

"My interest in this comes from dealing with a range of invasive plants throughout the sites I manage and in seeking an approach focused on outcomes ensuring the land is purposefully managed beyond the initial control, particularly for the protection of designated sites and globally threatened habitat such as temperate rainforest.

"From the research undertaken, I aim to develop projects in two Special Areas of Conservation, effectively removing the assemblage of invasive non-native plants from the sites and the wider landscape.

"This will involve a range of stakeholders and communities, developing training and education opportunities for young people, and ensuring that there are local people with the interest and skills to make the work a success, while also valuing the social and economic benefits.!

A spokesperson for the Churchill Fellowship said that all those chosen demonstrated high levels of energy, knowledge and commitment to ideas and vision that have the potential to make a profound impact on society.

"Our new Fellows will learn from as far afield as Estonia and Madagascar, where they will draw on the experience and knowledge of experts, leaders and stakeholders working in their areas of interest, so they can immerse themselves in new and best practices, learn new approaches and create international connections to help drive transformative change in the UK.

"We look forward to supporting them in their pursuit of knowledge and innovation.

"Everyone can apply for a Churchill Fellowship, regardless of age, background or qualifications, so long as they are a UK citizen aged 18 or over. Applications for 2024 Fellowships open on September 12."

Conceived with Sir Winston's approval, the Fellowship was launched on his death in 1965 and funded by an outpouring of public donations from across the country. In keeping with Sir Winston’s own spirit, it encourages UK citizens with passion and potential to be curious about the world, to explore new ideas and insights overseas, and to use those experiences to create change in every part of society.

Since 1965, 5,800 Churchill Fellows have been appointed to travel the world in his name and provide his living memorial.

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