South Ayrshire farmer’s bid to preserve network free sanctuary

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A farm in South Ayrshire has launched a bid to protect one of the UK’s most popular “offline” spaces from the introduction of mobile phone network coverage.

The owners of Creeside Farm beside Galloway Forest Park, part of an officially designated UNESCO Biosphere, are lobbying authorities to prevent the introduction of 3G, 4G and 5G networks in the area.

In partnership with Shackleton Whisky, the proposal, if successful, will be the first time a space of this kind has received protection, preserving it as an “offline” sanctuary.

The unique bid comes as new research from Shackleton Whisky reveals over half of British mobile phone users (56%) find it impossible to switch off from technology. With the average user now spending a minimum of one hour and 26 minutes a day on their phone, over a third (34%) of Brits have undertaken a digital detox to help escape distractions.

As well as petitioning to ring-fence the offline status of parts of Galloway And Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, Shackleton Whisky has now developed the first “off-grid” map of the UK. The map pinpoints many of the best locations in the UK where people can switch off from emails and social media.

Featuring the popular off-grid Shepherd’s Hut at Creeside Farm, which could soon be situated within the UK’s first protected blackspot, the map’s recommendations include some of the remotest places in Scotland, to offline caves in the Lake District, or headland hikes in Cornwall.

Sarah Redman of Creeside Farm, said: “Improving connectivity around the country is vital to all of our daily lives, but as important steps are made towards improving this in rural areas, it’s interesting to consider the impact it might have on some of our much-loved off-grid spots. Everyone who stays at our Shepherd’s Hut actually want to get away from their phones. The fact we don’t have Wi-Fi or reliable signal at our Shepherd’s Hut B&B is a big selling point.

“South Ayrshire Council has just published a consultation document on planning policy for the area. We have responded asking that they consider introducing policy to create or protect a blackspot on the land owned by Creeside Farm.

“This high level of protection doesn’t currently exist anywhere in the UK so what we are proposing is unique. We’re not looking to hold up improvements in connectivity across the region especially in communities where signal is poor.

“But it’s important to consider what wider impact it might have on some of our much-loved off-grid spots. These places are often uninhabited, rural and wild and that’s why people come here, to seek that sanctuary. If they don’t get coverage on their phones, then they don’t have the compulsion to check and scroll, and they engage with nature more. And the benefits of that are obvious.

“What we are proposing would look to develop a level of protection around the landowned by the farm, which would therefore stop masts being allowed to be put up within a certain proximity. It’s about restricting networks on a small area, and wouldn’t impact the ability to make emergency calls, nor stop connectivity being improved from the surrounding area.”

Shackleton Whisky has worked with some of the nation’s best-known outdoor influencers to collaborate on the map** and are now encouraging others to share their own offline adventure suggestions to help it grow even further.

Kenny Nicholson, Head of Modern Spirits at Shackleton Whisky, said: “A good sign you are having an adventure is when you lose phone signal; whether that’s hiking up a mountain, or trekking through a forest, or heading to some of the more remote parts of the country.

“There’s something liberating about being offline and embracing what you’re doing instead. As the world becomes more hectic, it’s important to escape every now and then and to protect the places that make that possible.”

Ed Forrest, Co-ordinater of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, said: “UNESCO biospheres are all about connecting people with nature and we are fortunate in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire to have a ‘Wild Place’ where you can really get away from it all. So, whilst this is an unusual proposal and we would have questions around its practicality for some of our rural communities and businesses, we do recognise that there are huge benefits to switching off and being at one with nature.”

To view the map, head to: The Shackleton Whisky