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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 11 September 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, European Union Exit Preparations, Social Enterprise World Forum 2018, Business Motion, Decision Time, The Ecology Centre (Kinghorn)


The Ecology Centre (Kinghorn)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10449, in the name of Claire Baker, on the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn’s 20th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at the Ecology Centre, which is in Kinghorn, Fife, on its 20th anniversary; understands that it was established by people from the area and residents of Craigencalt Farm for the purpose of developing and managing the Kinghorn Loch site for community use; notes that, with the help of the Scottish Land Fund, the charity purchased land at the east end of the loch and that the site has been continually being developed by staff and volunteers to maintain its rich biodiversity and to help it deliver its community growing projects, environmental education and outdoor volunteering opportunities; believes that the centre also provides employment training opportunities through Our Bright Future and Community Jobs Scotland; recognises what it sees as the significance of its environmental and outdoor education programme with the area’s schools with which emphasis is placed on the importance of how to care for the environment and to maintain the positive preservation of eco-systems for the benefit of wildlife and future generations; commends the hard work of the centre’s many valued volunteers and its staff, and extends its very best wishes for the anniversary celebrations and for the centre’s future.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I am delighted to be opening this evening’s debate on the 20th anniversary of the fantastic Ecology Centre at Kinghorn Loch. I welcome volunteers and staff from the Ecology Centre to the gallery. I know that they have been working hard as well as having fun celebrating this year’s landmark birthday, and I hope that they enjoy the debate, which recognises the importance of their contribution.

I would also like to thank MSPs from across the chamber for supporting my motion and today’s debate. I know that many of them will have visited the Ecology Centre and have a high regard for it, although some members are unable to take part in the debate this evening.

I welcome Mairi Gougeon to her new role as Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, and I wish her well in the challenges ahead. I know that her predecessor, Roseanna Cunningham, visited the Ecology Centre earlier this year, and I invite the new minister to visit. I am sure that after the debate she will be keen to visit and to see for herself all the work that the Ecology Centre does.

The Ecology Centre has always been rooted in the local community. More than 20 years ago, a group from the local community and Craigencalt farm got together with the intention of developing and managing Kinghorn Loch for the local community. Twenty years later, the Ecology Centre has been established and provides many benefits for the environment, our biodiversity and the local community.

In many ways, the Ecology Centre reflects the development over recent years of our growing interest in environmental learning, community engagement and land ownership and management. As a charitable organisation, the centre has developed and expanded, it continued to be responsive to developing needs and changing circumstances, and now it has lots of innovative and exciting projects that run alongside the delivery of the centre’s core mission. A key point for the Ecology Centre came with the successful award of funds from the Scottish land fund, which enabled the Ecology Centre’s recent move to the east side of Kinghorn Loch, where the new centre and grounds are situated.

I would like to thank Kinghorn Community Land Association for its briefing for the debate and to recognise its role in supporting the successful move and the complementary work that it does with the Ecology Centre.

The Ecology Centre’s new facilities are fabulous and include a modern kitchen and a bright and airy room that can be used for community lunches that use produce that is grown on site, classes and learning opportunities and even wedding receptions. The fact that the Ecology Centre is located on community-owned land has opened up so much potential. It has led the number of volunteers who work on the site to expand, as well as providing employment training opportunities through the our bright future partnership and community jobs Scotland.

The volunteers are important to the operation of the Ecology Centre through their conservation work, their contribution to growing food and their work in the kitchen and the tool shed. The centre has fantastic reuse and recycle projects, and it makes great use of its volunteers’ skills and expertise.

The tool shed is a fantastic initiative that is growing from strength to strength. It is part of the men’s shed initiative and offers opportunities to share interests, be social and contribute to the community. Three refurbishing workshops are held each week in which donated and discarded tools are refurbished and can then be hired by the local community, which cuts down on the often unnecessary purchase of tools that can sit unused in the shed for months on end. Full training and support is given to volunteers, as well as opportunities to enhance employability and life skills.

There is also a weekly dementia-friendly tool shed. It is increasingly recognised that people with early stage dementia need greater inclusion in our society through activities that recognise the abilities that they possess and the contribution that they can make.

The part of the tool shed that I love is the refurbishing of old Singer sewing machines. Many of us have inherited such machines, but they might not work or might no longer be needed. The tool shed will refurbish them and often sends them to Malawi to support start-up businesses, and that supports women’s empowerment and financial security, in particular. The link with international development demonstrates the breadth of projects that the Ecology Centre has been involved in.

The volunteers are vital to the running of the site and, although they often work hard, there is always the sense of a social gathering, with lunch, tea and coffee and plenty of biscuits to keep the energy levels up.

The Ecology Centre plays an important role in the development of environmental education and outdoor learning. There are growing partnerships with Fife schools—Burntisland primary school, Pathhead primary school, Pitcoudie primary school and Warout primary school have all visited recently—that focus on raising attainment through outdoor learning.

The site is fully accessible to the public and provides an attractive community landscape for walking, exploring and relaxing. It is a haven for wildlife and a well-managed area of biodiversity.

Alongside its regular activities, the centre runs a number of courses and activities throughout the year. Saturday was the Ecology Centre’s 20th summer festival, and it was a fantastic day for everyone who went along. The sun was shining, which was a bonus, and there was live music, games, stalls, cake and lots of positive conversations about how we can improve and enjoy our local environment.

In recognition of the significance of 2018 and the achievements of The Ecology Centre over that time, there has been a focus on how the centre will grow in the future and how it will translate its inspiring message for a new generation. Back in 1998, environmental issues were still a bit niche and knowledge about the effects of climate change was limited. We have seen a lot of progress since then, although there is still much to do if we are to show responsibility for future generations and for countries around the globe that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Scottish Government intends to bring forward a Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill and the next few months will generate debate about what more Scotland can do.

The issue is also about what we do as individuals and as communities to reduce our environmental footprints. The Ecology Centre has been running a follow our footsteps campaign to encourage behavioural change and encourage people to stop to think, “Do I need to drive, when I can walk or take public transport?”, “Do I need to buy, when I can hire or reuse?” or “Do I need to tumble dry when the wind is blowing?”

I wanted to hold this debate because the Ecology Centre is a great example of a community-driven project with environmental objectives right at the heart of its work, which communicates and engages with local people of all ages and involves them in making positive change in their community, in Fife and in the wider world. I wish them well in the years ahead and I am pleased to have held this evening’s debate so that we can all recognise their achievements.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Claire Baker for bringing the motion to Parliament and raising awareness of the invaluable contribution that the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn, Fife, makes to our local community. I welcome members of the centre to Parliament.

It is a great pleasure to pay tribute to the centre, which, over its 20 years, has become a pillar of the Kinghorn community in my constituency. I know the area well; long before the centre was there, I trained three times a week at the canoe club. At that time, Kinghorn Loch was in an extremely polluted state due to red mud, a waste product from the nearby Alcan site composed of iron oxide that seeped into the loch during heavy rain. The loch was effectively dead and not well used by the local community. All the fish and plant life had died and only algae—and canoeists such as myself—thrived.

I remember the humble beginnings of the centre, which operated for 15 years from buildings on the nearby Craigencalt farm. Its acquisition of five acres of land on the eastern shore of Kinghorn Loch and construction of a new purpose-built centre is testament to the conviction and passion of the group and was a remarkable achievement.

The Kinghorn Loch users group that formed in the 1990s was a collection of organisations including Kinghorn community council, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Fife Council and local clubs, which all worked together to ensure the recovery of the loch. If we fast forward to the present day, the loch is a thriving hub of activity that is used by the local and wider community, with an abundance of wildlife and plant life following tireless work.

The Ecology Centre played a vital part in that transformation and is a prime example of a centre that is founded by local people for the benefit of local people and their local environment. It has created local volunteering opportunities and jobs, which contribute to the local economy; it maintains, enhances and improves the local environment; and, perhaps most important, it brings the local community together. Cumulatively, those activities are nothing short of admirable.

During a recent visit, I was particularly impressed by the ingenious upcycling ideas; my personal favourite was the refurbishment of shipping containers into workshops. The centre has been invaluable in making environmental responsibility both understandable and accessible to all the local community, serving as a centre for schools to use for outdoor activity learning, hosting multitudes of family-friendly events to encourage families to make the most of the environment that surrounds them and providing space for volunteers to experience growing food on adopted patches of land to familiarise themselves with conservation work and its associated practices or even to cook lunch for the centre’s volunteers and staff.

A unique resource that the centre provides is the tool library, where tools that have been donated, refurbished or saved from landfill can be borrowed by members of the local community, much like a book from the local library. Furthermore, once a week the centre hosts a dementia-friendly tool shed, where people who suffer from dementia or memory loss can use the tools in a safe and calm environment—that is another example of how the centre promotes the preservation not only of the environment but of the local community and its members. The centre is a hub for many activities and workshops, including flower arranging, tiered planting and an eco-adventures holiday club for young people.

As I mentioned previously, the centre is just an amazing asset for the local environment; it is a community hub for local people that has been made and is maintained by local people. That is what makes the Ecology Centre on Kinghorn Loch so special. It is an integral part of a jigsaw that has ensured the sustainability of the area and the increased engagement of the wider community.

I have seen the Ecology Centre go from strength to strength during the past 20 years. Once again, I congratulate it on reaching this milestone and wish it all the very best for the future.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate, and I pay tribute to and congratulate Claire Baker on bringing the debate to the chamber. I also welcome the individuals in the gallery.

The Ecology Centre originally came into being through an advisory group that was set up by people from the local community. As we have heard, its 20th anniversary, on which it celebrated its success, has passed. The events that take place at the centre give individuals the opportunity to receive training and education, and people can also use the facilities to celebrate their success from time to time.

Situated in the hills overlooking Kinghorn Loch, the centre was formally established as a non-profit-making charity in August 1998. The purpose of the charity was originally to develop and manage Kinghorn Loch as a site for the community to use. In 2006, the decision was made to change the name of the charity to reflect its progress. The charity purchased the land at the east of Kinghorn Loch and it now houses the new centre and its grounds.

The grounds are being developed by staff and volunteers to be used for future growing projects, environmental education visits and outdoor volunteer days. Ultimately, the centre exists for biodiversity and to act as a haven for wildlife. All the things that happen at the facility engage with the community, and individuals and organisations have benefited from it.

As the charity grew, the staff ensured the development of the centre. Today, an army of volunteers attend regularly and help with many of the various tasks. Those volunteers are the life blood of the organisation. They give of their time and talent to support the centre and ensure that it goes from strength to strength. I am encouraged to hear that the centre employs 11 members of staff. They are given training and they accommodate school and work placements. Once again, they are working hand in hand with the community, giving youngsters and students the opportunity to engage with and experience the centre.

Demand for educational visits has grown and, each year, the centre helps hundreds of children to understand the importance of caring for our environment. That is an important part of our curriculum and individuals can gain from that.

An example of that is the mini growers club, which is a superb initiative that gives toddlers and pre-school children the chance to get involved in gardening, explore nature, and enjoy various natural craft skills, which are important to a child’s development before they even get to primary school.

The charity relies heavily on its wonderful volunteers and it holds many little events, but I want to talk about the tool shed workshop that is held every week. As many know, I am heavily involved with individuals who might have had a stroke or brain injury, and those who come to the centre who have memory loss or are starting dementia are targeted as people who can benefit from the sessions that it holds during the week.

I was most encouraged to read a testimony from one of the volunteers, who said that he wished he had the opportunity to go to the centre every day, because it gives him the chance to get up and do something that he enjoys. His wife said that she looks forward to it too, because it gives her the chance to get some much-needed support for herself. While her husband is at the centre, she knows that he is being looked after securely.

I am delighted that the organisation exists in the kingdom of Fife and I hope that people have similar ambitions across the area, because other locations have the chance to develop in a similar way. Success breeds success. I congratulate all who are involved. The centre can be rightly proud of its achievements.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I congratulate my colleague Claire Baker on securing this debate in recognition of the great work of the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn. I also congratulate the Ecology Centre as it celebrates its 20th anniversary; it is a great achievement, as there have been many challenges along the way, as, I am sure, those from the Ecology Centre would testify. However, those involved over the years have remained focused and vigilant about what they want to achieve. We only have to look at the centre’s website or Facebook page to see the wealth of activity that it is promoting and delivering at Kinghorn Loch.

Visiting the Ecology Centre is a great day out and one that I would recommend. I was delighted to see that it has launched a project called follow our footsteps, in celebration of its 20th year, as it embarks on a journey to do its part in the battle against climate change and to lower our carbon footprint.

The Ecology Centre points out that when it first started out, climate change was a bit of a niche topic. It says that it has come a long way since then—it certainly has. The centre reports that it has been inspired recently by the young people who it works with and their passion and determination to find solutions to the environmental challenges that we face as a country and across the globe. I think that we can all be inspired by the work of the Ecology Centre, particularly its work with young people but its work more generally as well.

I want to focus on the work that the centre does to raise awareness of the many environmental issues and challenges that we face, which are faced by every country across the world. Such work is ground breaking, as it reaches out into communities across Fife and further afield.

Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to future generations and I am delighted that, through its follow our footsteps project, the centre will cover new topics every month highlighting its impact on climate change. It will share that with the wider community on its Facebook page and website and explain how it is getting involved and what other local organisations are doing, and it will offer top tips. We need that kind of community action to build a mass movement against the causes of climate change. We need to not act ourselves but build the case in our country and across the globe for more Government action on climate change.

They say that from little acorns grow mighty oaks, and that is why organisations such as the Ecology Centre should be seen as key partners. We had a debate in Parliament earlier today on social enterprises and their role in Scotland. This is one social enterprise that has set out a clear path and agenda and deserves the support of Government at every level.

Whether it is supporting volunteering and volunteers, working with families, children and schools or supporting business opportunities and raising awareness of environmental issues, the centre is a massive success story that should be celebrated. I say, “Well done on 20 years and here’s to a good future.”


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Having recently been appointed as the Scottish Conservative spokesman on the natural environment, I am pleased to have this early opportunity in my role to speak in this debate. I thank Claire Baker for bringing the debate to the chamber.

As a former farmer, the natural environment is a subject that I have long felt passionate about, both in my time in politics and in my time growing up and working in what I consider to be Scotland’s most beautiful constituency—I am quite sure that the minister will have something to say about that.

Although I am a member who does not represent the area in question in tonight’s debate, I wish to echo the thoughts of others and praise all those associated with the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn for their tireless work over the past 20 years to truly serve the community.

While looking into the work of the Ecology Centre, I was struck by the following sentence on its website that wonderfully sums up its mission:

“We inspire positive change through directly connecting people and the natural environment for the benefit of both.”

The centre truly has community at the heart of its activities, giving people opportunities to work in and to learn about the natural environment. With our ever-more rapidly changing world, it is important that our future generations learn about the environment and where better to do that but in the countryside on their own doorstep?

The Ecology Centre brings communities together and helps to develop confidence and skills that I am sure would not have been so easily accessed locally if the Ecology Centre had not flourished over the past 20 years, and it is a real testament to the dedicated volunteers and supporters that that has been the case.

Members will be aware that, as the member for Galloway and West Dumfries, I have long campaigned for the region to be designated as Scotland’s next national park. It would be remiss of me not to mention the fine work on that matter that my predecessor, Sir Alex Fergusson, carried out. A national park would be a fitting legacy for our distinguished former Presiding Officer.

Of course, a designated national park would be on a totally different scale from that of the Ecology Centre, but lessons can definitely be learned from the success of the centre over the past two decades. If a national park is to become a reality in Galloway, it will need the support of the community right from the start, and the association that is behind the bid has been working across the region engaging with community groups, which is a vital step in pressing Government for action. From speaking to locals, I do not think that getting community backing will be an issue. The Ecology Centre has shown that, if an organisation involves a community while developing a project, people will get behind the project and encourage others to join in.

The Ecology Centre offers apprenticeships, which help young folk to gain invaluable practical knowledge through the course and from the wider working environment around them. Equally, Galloway’s environment has much to offer locals and visitors alike. I live in the heart of the constituency, and I regularly explore our wonderful natural environment and marvel at the rural environment that I live in.

I highlight the Ecology Centre’s work to positively encourage good conservation practice, which is another trait that would be in line with practices in a national park. Protected areas can help some of our most important and endangered species but, at the same time, and vitally, such areas can encourage sustainable economic growth. It is heartening to see the Ecology Centre encouraging and continuing to take forward good conservation practices; we should all think about those when it comes to protecting our wildlife.

On Saturday, the centre enjoyed a day of celebration to welcome its 20th anniversary, with fun events for all the family. As the centre has community at its heart, I am sure that there will be plenty more birthdays to come, and I hope that my region will soon join the centre in planning similar celebrations.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The connection to the motion was somewhat tenuous at times, Mr Carson.


The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

It is an absolute pleasure to respond to the debate, which is my first members’ business debate as a minister. I thank Claire Baker for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. It has been fantastic to hear about the impact of the Ecology Centre and its work, and I echo Finlay Carson’s sentiments in that respect.

I would absolutely love to take up Claire Baker’s invitation to visit the centre. When I was looking into the background and the centre’s work, it already sounded like a fantastic place that I really had to visit, so I am keen to make that happen. Claire Baker said the magic words when she mentioned

“tea and coffee and plenty of biscuits”.

As a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, I sat next to Claire, so I know that we both very much enjoy that, although some of us definitely more so than others—and I am not looking at anyone in particular when I say that.

It was fascinating to hear from David Torrance, who is the constituency member, about the background, what the area was like previously and the massive changes as a result of the Ecology Centre’s work. The word “local” came through a lot in his speech. He talked about the centre being for the local people and about the local environment, the local community, local jobs and all the opportunities that those offer. Of course, that work helps with the sustainability of the wider area. The Ecology Centre is a real community hub, and it is fantastic to hear about its work.

Throughout the debate, we have heard about the centre’s impressive work, and none of that would have happened if it had not been for the efforts of the local community and the residents of Craigencalt farm in creating the centre at Kinghorn in Fife. As we have heard, the Ecology Centre is an inclusive community-led charity that inspires

“positive change through directly connecting people and the natural environment”.

I am glad that the Scottish Government has had some role in supporting the centre. As Claire Baker mentioned, in January 2014, the Scottish land fund approved a grant of £54,901 to support further development work. With that help, the Ecology Centre was able to purchase the land at the east end of Kinghorn Loch, on which now sits the new centre and grounds. It really is fantastic that we can recognise and celebrate the Ecology Centre’s 20th anniversary here tonight in the Scottish Parliament, because it is a true success story.

The Kinghorn Loch site has been continuously improved and developed by staff and volunteers over the past 20 years; we heard a lot about that from David Torrance. It continues to develop, improving biodiversity and delivering community horticulture projects, environmental education and outdoor volunteering projects. I was interested to hear about the tool library and the tool shed mentioned by Claire Baker and by Alexander Stewart, and in the fact that that is based on the men’s shed model, that the tools can be hired by members of the local community and that there is also a dementia-friendly element to that initiative. Other projects include the music shed, a pond for the children to do pond dipping, a meeting space and activities for those dealing with mental health issues, nature therapy and classes in a whole range of skills, including aromatherapy, flower arranging and outdoor learning, on which the Ecology Centre works with around 30 schools across Fife.

Another project that I was interested in hearing about tonight is one that was mentioned by Alex Rowley and Claire Baker. The follow in our footsteps campaign is part of the climate change element of the centre’s work, looking at what we can do as individuals and at our own impact on the environment. That is something that I feel strongly about, because it is for Government to take a lead and ensure that we put the correct legislation in place, but we do not have to sit back and wait for that to happen. There are things that the community can do and that we can all do as individuals to help with that process, so it is important to highlight that.

Education is a strong element of the work. Environmental education has always been at the heart of the Ecology Centre. As we heard from Alexander Stewart, demand for educational visits has continued to grow, and the centre now works with hundreds of schoolchildren each year, helping them to understand the importance of—and how to care for—our environment.

The Ecology Centre was one of 16 projects that were approved recently for the outdoor learning in nature fund. Earlier this summer, I launched that fund, alongside Scottish Natural Heritage, at Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh. The outdoor learning in nature fund is a vital project, because it aims to connect our young people, of nursery age and of school age, with the environment, which is something that all children should be able to enjoy, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The Ecology Centre was awarded £27,809 for the muddy books project, which will see the centre work with three schools in Fife to embed a sustainable model of progressive outdoor learning. I hope to hear about that again when I am able to visit.

The Ecology Centre is one of the key organisations in Fife when it comes to connecting people and nature. It puts a strong emphasis on creating and encouraging access to the outdoors and on providing volunteering opportunities, particularly for our young people. The Ecology Centre employs 11 members of staff, providing employment training opportunities through project Scotland and community jobs Scotland, as well as accommodating school and college placements. As we have heard tonight, there is an army of volunteers who regularly attend the centre to help with the many and varied tasks around the site.

The Scottish Government supports both the environmental education work and biodiversity conservation work of the Ecology Centre at Kinghorn, because it inspires

“positive change through directly connecting people and the natural environment for the benefit of both.”

I thank those who have contributed to the debate tonight to celebrate 20 years of the centre, recognise its important work and wish it every success. I believe that people from the Ecology Centre are here in the gallery, and to them I say, “Thank you so much for all the work that you do. Congratulations on your 20 years of work and, please, keep up the good work. I look forward to meeting you soon.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It sounds like quite a place. That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 17:34.