Taking part in It's Your Neighbourhood

A blog post by David Carruthers

David Carruthers

Posted 01/02/2021

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As we open registration for our Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood programmes for 2021, we asked one of our inspiring It’s Your Neighbourhood groups to share its story and explain why taking part means so much to the community.

Blog post by David Carruthers, Gairloch Sitooterie – Wildlife Observation Garden, Highland


I am just a humble shopkeeper (and yes, very proud of it!) in the most beautiful village of Gairloch in Wester Ross.

Well, it was beautiful until rampant, invasive gorse 8 to 10 feet high, overwhelmed the verges alongside the Pier Road area, even preventing wheelchair access down the roadside pavement. Pressure on the local council in 2014 resulted in the gorse being hacked down to a waist-high level. Wow! We had our magnificent panoramic views of the loch restored but HORROR - the mess left behind was devastating! Rubbish, litter, and other pollution were revealed left behind in the gorse.

As a shopkeeper, I am in the most privileged position to hear the community's ideas, hopes and aspirations. I am a good listener and have to be! Every local who came into the shop complained bitterly about the scene of devastation left behind. The crunch came when one local said "this is supposed to be the leisure end of the village and there is not one seat to be had the whole length of Pier Road!"

I decided to take action and started a wee collection box to raise sufficient money to clear a small area amidst the gorse for a bench. Three months later a digger moved in to create a 3-square metre area for a bench. Intense community interest immediately followed and two benches, a huge planted tub, and several smaller planters were immediately donated the same day, creating an instant pop-up garden!

Everyone said, "where is the next one going to be?" And so this simple development has since grown arms and legs over the years with the community totally embracing it. From its humble beginnings, the support for the Sitooterie has transformed a gorse strewn wasteland into a 206 metre long stunning garden.

It has been a long uphill battle to raise funds for the further development of the garden and, in the early days, there was a sense of isolation raising the question "are we doing the right thing?"


Then three years ago we discovered and became involved with the It's Your Neighbourhood scheme. We quickly realised that we were not alone in our struggle to transform a wasteland into a community asset. There were lots of other groups working so hard to improve their environment in so many ways!

But we didn't know quite what to expect from our first assessment in 2018. I confess to making the mistake of not involving other members of the group who were very busy people, but the visit was a great success. The Sitooterie was deemed "an impossible garden" on the grounds that it does not have a scrap of shelter and that the sea laps (and sometimes rages) at its very edge! But as the garden looked just great, we were encouraged to carry on exactly as we had been doing and we were awarded with a "Thriving" assessment.

What a difference that certificate made! It helped us focus on our achievements and made us realise we could do even better! It instilled further community pride in the garden and gave a real sense of achievement in that our efforts had been recognised.

We were much more organised for the assessment in 2019. About a dozen members of the group met the assessor and accompanied her on a tour of the garden. The group's enthusiasm and pride in the project shone through. A local woman on her daily dog walk stopped and told the assessor "This garden has transformed my life". We were again told that "this garden shouldn't be here" but it was declared "stunning" and an "Outstanding" award followed.

Planting in the 'Boatooterie'

Storm Brendan destroyed the area

So how did we fare in 2020? Well it started with disaster. In January Storm Brendan, with its huge tidal surge, savaged part of the garden. Benches, picnic tables and planters were swept away by the waves. All were fortunately rescued by a local man who donned his wetsuit, swam out with a rope and then pulled each item back to shore. In the next two days hundreds of pounds were donated to repair the damage, which happily was relatively superficial once all the mess was cleared away.

One idea for a planting day went spectacularly wrong. Instead of the usual group session, it was decided to organise an hourly shift rota. But at the end of each shift no-one wanted to stop! Happily the long drawn-out shape of the garden maintained social distancing.

2021 is going to be exciting! The recently constructed final extension of the garden will be planted up in the Spring. Plans are in hand to stabilise the vulnerable section of the garden against winter storms and which will also improve disabled access. Finally, we have at last managed to get water under the road which will provide five separate hose points along the length of the garden - bliss!

What has been so important to the Sitooterie has been Keep Scotland Beautiful's It's Your Neighbourhood scheme - it has inspired us and actively encouraged us to drive forward our community plans.

The Sitooterie has no committee, no office bearers and has never even had a meeting! But the dedication and efforts of all our volunteers and those who have planned the resulting "stunning" garden have been just amazing, in fact "Outstanding"!

If your group would like to receive free support, resources and recognition for its ‘greening’ work, visit our Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood pages to sign up now!

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