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Scotland

Help restore the highlands eco-system

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Venture to the Scottish Highlands

So lock down is upon us and through these peaceful months we have been lucky enough to have been introduced to Paul Lister who is spearheading a hugely dynamic re-wilding project on his estate in the Scottish Highlands. After many a conversation we have managed to persuade Paul to let Leap volunteers venture north to live in the middle of this wilderness and have the opportunity to learn and contribute to his vision which in essence aims to rebuild and balance the natural ecosystem.

Welcome to Alladale
A Wilderness Reserve of 23,000 acres, just an hour’s drive north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, home to dramatic glens, colourful hills, glistening rivers, hill lochs and native wildlife. Simply stunning.

Although strikingly beautiful, the Highlands are not what they once were. These barren lands used to be home to lush pine forests and large predators. Few people know that just one per cent of what the Romans called ‘The Great Forest of Caledon’ remains today. As a result, much of the flora and fauna that once thrived here, have disappeared and the landscape has altered dramatically.

The Alladale team are working hard to re-wild this unique part of the Highlands to its former glory, reintroducing original plant and wildlife species and this is where your help is needed.

This is what we have planned…

During your time here you will get a full overview of the reserve's plans and objectives so you can see how the jobs we have lined up for you fit into the bigger picture.


Program Itinerary

We have crafted a 10-day program where you will live in the middle of the Scottish Highlands with your leap team, heading off with the rangers to explore, contribute and be challenged.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Alladale Wildeness Reserve Conservation and Challenge

Welcome to Alladale and the big picture
During your time here you will get a full overview of the reserve's plans and objectives so you can see how the jobs we have lined up for you fit into the bigger picture.

Paul is a huge visionary and understands he is only a custodian of this destroyed wilderness which took generations to break down and conversely will take generations to build back up.

To date his team are re-establishing the right fauna and flora and in the last 10 years have planted over 800,000 Scots pine, and other native Highland species are being reintroduced. Once this is in place can the wildlife be introduced to once again create the balanced and healthy eco-system required.

Alladale lives by the simple ethos "Leave the land in a better condition than you received it.”

Accommodation

You will all live together in Deanich Lodge, which is 16 miles from the village of Ardgay, in the middle of the reserve. The views and surrounding landscape are simply stunning, with the river Carron running close by …I promise you this is the perfect base for this amazing off-grid adventure.

Food

3 meals a day provided of home cooked food in the house.

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Land Development Forests + Bees + Fungi

Land development:
Replanting the forests of old is key and underlies all the rewilding projects. So, while you are here, we have arranged for everyone to plant 50 trees to keep this great swath of new growth, growing. In addition to this you will head into the older forests to add the right fungi which is required to spark the right woodland bio-balance. Ryan, one of the young rangers on the reserve, will explain the dynamics and importance of this while you are there.

They also want your help to plant up a wild meadow which will help their black bee project next year. This meadow will be planted a certain distance from the beehives to encourage them to fly further than their existing flight pattern, thus pollinating more flowers.

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Wildlife Conservation wild cats + eagles

Wildlife
Alladale is an active participant in the recovery of the threatened scottish wildcat. The species is now fully protected by law and confined to the central and northern highlands of Scotland.

Habitat destruction, human persecution and interbreeding with domestic cats has decimated the population and there are now thought to be fewer than 400 individuals left, making it one of the rarest feline species in the world.

The reserve homes a wild cat breeding program where they currently live in an enclosure. One day they will be set free to roam free but until they are robust enough, they remain under the watchful eye on the rangers.

While you are here you will have the chance to visit the enclosure and help with their species identification project, which aims to identify the numbers and health of what lives on the reserve. Depending on the part of the reserve you study you could be searching for deer, to red squirrels, to birds of prey to the little earthworm. All important and all needed for a healthy co-existence.

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Adventure + Challenge Munro + Mountain bike + gorge

Adventure:
To give you a true Leap experience we have, of course, included a phase of challenge and adventure to keep you on your toes. So interwoven into your 10 days will be a Munro summit, a gorge walk and cycle challenge planned for you.

The Munro challenge will be to trek to top of Munro Beinn Dearg and will take all day to complete. A few drinks and snacks will be ready for you at the bothy at the end.

The gorge walk will involve....

The cycle challenge will be to reach one of the lochs for a polar dip and picnic on your last day.

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Itinerary Day to day outline

Proposed Itinerary
The order of events will depend on the weather...

Day 1 - Pick up and welcome supper
Day 2 - Introduction talk and guided ecology walk of the reserve to get your bearings.
Day 3 - Reforestation project
Day 4 - Wild cat and species identification
Day 5 - Trek to top of Munro Beinn Dearg
Day 6 - Fungi and forest project
Day 7 - Gorge walk
Day 8 - Wild meadow project and guided hike over the hills, passing Croick Church and the waterfall to see where the salmon leap
Day 9 - Cycle challenge and loch picnic
Day 10 - Transfer home

Program Details & Costs

We have 2 departures to Scotland for this summer 2020, running back to back, max of 12 volunteers per departure.

Options and costs

Lockdown Summer 2020.

Whats included?

Budget:

Spending Money: Approx £80 for drinks. They run an honesty bar.


Off grid

Live off grid in the middle of the reserve amoungst nature.

Social Life

Guaranteed. You will be part of a tight team of like minded volunteers, who come from all over the world, creating happy campfire moments.

Community

Your chance to become part of the local community and to make a difference.

The Bigger Picture

Be part of this dynamic and leading conservation project which is paving the way for others to follow.

Working Hours

Each day the itinerary will be different but expect to be busy for the best part of each day

Vision from Paul Lister

I’ve been on both sides of the debate about land use in the Highlands. In the early 1980s my family invested in commercial forestry during which time I learned about deer management and grew to love these wild uplands. Over the following decade, however, I came to understand that the ecosystem of the Highlands was broken; the natural forests were gone, the soils depleted, and large predators were extinct.

When I acquired Alladale in 2003 the aim was to repair some of that damage by restoring the native flora and fauna and provide environmental education rather than focusing on the activities of a traditional sporting estate. More than 800,000 Scots pine have been planted in the past 10 years, and other native Highland species are being reintroduced.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the dedicated support of our staff, stakeholders and partner organisations. To all of you, I am very grateful. We live by a simple ethos here at Alladale: Leave the land in a better condition than you received it.”

– PAUL LISTER

Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our Leapers say from around the world...

Our Namibian Adventure has started... The May Namibian Team

First week feedback...

This first week has been incredible. We have had so much fun. Red and Andrea are the best, Roland is a legend and Professor Barry is an amazing guy with great knowledge and even greater quotes which we will remember for life such as...

“if you see something catch it”

“if it bites you, don’t let go of it”

“Amelia, I can’t understand a word you are saying with that accent”

“Stella, you speak like the Queen”

“Angus, I’m going to use your shirt to start to braii, it’s horrible”


Read full blog -

Tackling the rapids of the Orange River Will and Abby

Day 11 - Today was a very early morning. The whole camp woke up before the sunrise and headed over to one of the cow baits in hopes to catch sight of a leopard. Although we didn't see any leopards, we still had an exciting day of travelling to the South Africa-Namibia border to start out white water rafting adventure. We met our guides, Max and Heinrich, and began to prep for our expedition.

Day 12 - Setting off in pairs, we began rafting down the Orange River today. Our rafts were loaded down with all of our camping supplies for the next three days. Approaching our first rapid, Abby and Nina quickly became stuck on a rock, while Adolph and Will took the more adventurous route, completing the the rapid backwards. Our first campsite was on a beautiful shoreline of the river, and we enjoyed swimming in the river and sitting around the campfire.

Day 13 - Our second day of rafting begin with a risky, large rapid. After successfully completing the rapid, we carried our rafts on foot to our lunch location. In order to launch for our afternoon of paddling, we repelled the boats down a cliffside. Our camping site for the night was near a beautiful large waterfall that we got the chance to check out, and some even got in the splash zone! We spent the afternoon fishing, swimming, and lazing around.

Day 14 - Our last day of rafting was concluded with the largest rapid of the trip, Big Bunny. After a briefing and demonstration of the rapid, our teams set out. Adolph and Will once again completed the rapid backwards, while Abby and Nina had a textbook run. Red and Beth completed the rapid as well, but got caught up in the excitement and continued down the river without us! When we arrived to the pickup location we unloaded our rafts and began the hour drive back to the rafting camp. Arriving back at the rafting camp involved beers, chocolate, and large amounts of food.

Day 15 - We had a long drive back to camp in the morning and spent the rest of the day was a lot of lazing around.

Day 16 - To start the day off we collected some camera traps we'd previously set up which had some great zebra, Orix and Kudu pictures. In the afternoon we sketched out a water hole design then marked it out and began to dig.

Day 17- Once again we were back digging out the water point and making a few final adjustments which seemed a lot harder than it should've mainly because of a freakishly hot wind that just wouldn't seem to go away.

Cow heads and the 5 peak challenge Beth and Nina

Day 1 - After arriving at camp on the truck, "Kong," we settled into our tents the girls all bundling into one and the two lads taking one each. Dinner at the Octopus (the main tent) was closely followed by a number of beers and ice breakers for us all to get to know each other before heading to bed.

Day 2 - The morning bought a slower start as we went through how the camp operates, the safety briefing and the itinerary. Then we went for what Red defined as a "light" hike; this was not accurate at all! Half way up a vertical rock face, sweating and unable to breathe we realised our differences with his definition. However, we powered through making it to the top where the views were breathtaking and for sure worth the trek.

Day 3 - Today's task was to destroy some invasive tree species. We all loaded onto Kong and drove to where a few trees had already been cut down to stumps. We hacked the branches into smaller pieces for kindling with saws, axes, and machetes, then set the base of the stumps alight.

Day 4 + 5 - Today we did our first walking transect, which is when we cover a certain area of the conservancy and record data on animal sighting, dung, and tracks in an app called CyberTracking. We walked about 8 kilometres and collected lots of data on kudu, eland, oryx, zebra, and others.

Day 6 + 7 - Camera traps - we all piled into the truck to check some baited camera traps. Most of what we found was mischievous mongooses. Then we drove to three different water holes and set up new camera traps.

Day 8 - Today we started constructing a water hole for the animals. We dug a hole, shovel-mixed a batch of cement, and laid flat rocks in the bottom.

Day 9 - Today was an interesting day to say the least. We prepared fresh cow heads and hooves for leopard bait. Each of us took turns stabbing thought the hooves in order to thread a wire through and hang them from a tree. The first time was terrifying but by the third head we were a little more used to it. That evening we all enjoyed very thorough showers. Dinner was hamburgers, which we all found ironic and mildly disturbing, but delicious nonetheless.

Day 10 - Peak day. Our task for today was to climb five peaks and spend an hour on top of each recording all the wildlife we could see. We woke up at 6am and were at the top of our first mountain by 8:15. The first two peaks were the hardest and also unsuccessful in terms of finding game, but again the views were worth it. The last three peaks were more fruitful and we finished up and got back to camp, completely drained, by 6pm. Dinner never tasted so good and it was early to bed for all of us.

Snake hunting and volleyball matches Ellen Robshaw

The game count we did in the Wild West sector on Sunday was much more successful than the Gemsbok study at the start of last week as we saw Gemsbok, Springbok and Red hearted beast. When we got back to camp, everyone, except Katie and I, decided to have a volleyball game; Max, Minty, Jonty, Will Gray and Dre on one team, Hamish, Hayden, Welles, Beth and Red on the other. As the game was finishing, a Horologist, named Francois, from Nankuse arrived to teach us about the native snakes and lizards, with three of the students from the research project. After introductions, the sun had just set, so we all set out on a night walk around camp, looking for snakes and lizards. Will Gray found a Cape Coral shield cobra almost immediately, then one of the volunteers from Nankuse found a shovelled nosed snake and others found two geckos.

The next morning while it was still cold, we all set out to the planes behind camp to see if we could find any snakes or lizards. After a few near misses, we came back for lunch empty-handed. That afternoon, we headed up different mountains around camp, hopeful we would find snakes or lizards. Just as everyone was about to give up, Will Gray yelled that Hamish had found a snake, so we all went running to the other side of the mountain to get a look at it. By the time we got around the side of the mountain, Hamish had realized that it wasn’t a snake after all; only a lizard that Francois identified as a flat lizard.

The next morning, we went to check the traps then headed into the mountains, and up El Donio, looking for snakes and lizards. As we drove around, we saw a lot of game – Springbok, Eli, Rock Hyrax and Klipspringer – but spotted no snakes or lizards. After our climb up El Donio, and we ate lunch at the bottom of the mountains, we headed into the forest section, where we had found two horned adders before. We only found one snake on that hunt, but unfortunately lost it in some rocks, so we headed back to camp and started cooking the braai.

The next morning, we headed back to the Whale Back sector to continue taking down the old boundary fencing. It was a very hot day, so at one we stopped working and had a snack in the minimal shade the truck had, then carried on for an hour until it was too hot to carry on, so we headed back to camp. After we ate lunch, everyone sat in the octopus in a vegetated state due to the heat being almost unbearable. One by one, we headed for a cold shower, which turned out to be a very warm one as the sun had warmed the water in the tank to the point of it being a hot shower!

Welcome to the wilderness Sam Williams

Arriving at camp, a little later than planned, we were surprised at how nice the tents were and after a quick dinner and a tour of camp we went to sleep. Over the next couple of days we set up camera traps in different areas of the farm to try and catch some footage of some animals. We were lucky enough to spot an Black eagle’s nest so put up a camera trap close to the nest whilst on the look out for the parent eagles who were swooping above us. So hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will be able to send you some pictures of baby eagles!

Another highlight of the week was creating a vulture restaurant which involved dragging the carcass of a hartebeest out onto an open plain. We were all very excited for this. The weather has been a bit colder than expected and it has rained for the first time in three years, which Andrea and Ed have said is very lucky for the area and great for the wildlife.

We’ve had a jam packed week, including art activities with Andrea’s friend Tash from Cape Town as well as visiting the local primary school. The children were so cute and very excited to see us and we had a lovely afternoon playing sport, drawing and playing games. They were particularly interested in touching our hair, especially Monty’s hairy legs.

On Tuesday we visited the Fish River Canyon which is about 4 hours drive away and so set off at 5am with our hot water bottles and sleeping bags in the car. The views of the Canyon were incredible and on the drive there we saw zebra, ostrich and an aardwolf.

"The Leap is doing a great job"

The organisation and the briefing on the entire trip was great by "the leap". I felt very well prepared and ready to start my adventure. The people in the office are very friendly and always ready to answer your questions or problems. They take care all over the trip of you and they make everything to give you the perfect time in a beautiful new world.

- Johann Plato

"A great mixture of community volunteering and adventuring"

I really think the leap provides an amazing unique travel experience. We got to get so involved with the local people and learn about the country in a way I don't think I would have experienced without the leap. I did travel with other companies after in different countries and did not get the same sense of being immersed in the culture.

I travelled to Borneo with the company and the trip had a great mixture of community volunteering and adventuring. I made friends for life as I am still in close contact with the friends I made with the leap and would recommend this company to everyone. All the staff I spoke to on the phone planning it and then who looked after us in the country were so friendly.

- Alice Sharp

"Thank you so much for giving my son life long friends and experiences"

My son has just got back from an amazing trip to Madagascar. The Leap were great in keeping in contact with emails, blogs and can call and get a speedy reply if you need to contact them, thank you so much for giving my son life long friends and experiences.
Many thanks to Milly from The Leap who was amazing.

- Nikki Field

"Hand on my heart it's been the experience of a life time"

I've just been having THE best time here! It's gone so quickly, but I feel like I've been here forever at the same time.

We've done a lot of work already, so I feel like we've made a big difference. Through this work we've all learnt a lot, but it's mostly given us a good sense of liberation and generally put a lot of things in perspective. And of course, we now understand how difficult it is for these communities to get just essential amenities!

But the main thing is that I am very happy with the programme, and I can put my hand on my heart when I say it's been the experience of a life time, and I can't wait to continue for the 2nd half of it!

- Peter Blake

"Amazing hospitality and care"

These 4 weeks in the Namibian desert were definitely an unforgettable experience. We all learnt so much about not only wildlife conservation, but also the essential camping skills and how liberating life is without wifi!

The base-camp was very comfortable, clean, and homely with Red and Dre's amazing hospitality and care. I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone of any age. I have no doubt that the landscape and tranquility cannot be found anywhere else.

- Sascha

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