environment

A request

I rarely if ever plug my monthly piece for Walk Highlands on my blog, partly because many more people see my words and pictures there than here, and partly because I assume those who follow my corner of the inter web are probably plumbed into theirs. Who has the time to read these things twice anyway? 

That said, I'm going to plug away now.

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I'd be really grateful if you'd take a look at a piece I wrote about a proposed new town in the Cairngorm National Park. Below are some images of what might well become a building site... and the link to the article is at the foot.

What would be even better is that, at the end, you're motivated to take some action on this. Social media is far from being just selfies and bragging. Go witness.

Read about AN CAMUS MOR

 

Talladh-a-Bheithe debate, Holyrood.

Today, I went along to the debate at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh about the proposed Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm. About 40 members of the public attended, following a call from the John Muir Trust to show support for the motion.

 John Muir Trust campaign co-odinator Mel Nicol showing her true colours.

John Muir Trust campaign co-odinator Mel Nicol showing her true colours.

First off, Murdo Fraser brought this motion to the house for debate:

''That the Parliament notes objections to the planned Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm on Rannoch Moor from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the John Muir Trust; considers that, if granted, the Talladh-a-Bheithe project will be visually detrimental to an area of outstanding natural beauty and one that is included in Scottish Natural Heritage’s wild land map; believes that the 24 turbines planned for two kilometres north of the Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon National Scenic Area will be visible from 30 Munros and Corbetts, including the popular Schiehallion mountain; understands that this case presents the Scottish Government with its first real test following the announcement of the Third National Planning Framework (NPF3), in which 19% of Scotland was identified as national parks and national scenic areas and therefore out of bounds to developers, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to reaffirm its commitment to preserving Scotland’s precious natural heritage.''

Murdo Fraser was keen to point out that this was a test case for new Scottish Government policy on Wild Land (NFP3), and had implications for all 42 Wild Land Areas, which he believed 'should not be sacrificed for a few extra megawatts'.  The proposed site is just 2km's from the Rannoch National Scenic Area,  a designation which the Government have pledged to protect under their new policy. He drew attention to over 1000 statements against the application for 24 huge turbines and 13km of hill tracks, as opposed to only 23 for. 75% of all local residents oppose the application. Claims that turbines reduce carbon emissions were debunked by both Fraser and Neil Findlay, pointing out that peatland and blanket bog sequester higher amounts of CO2 than can be offset by the development, and this habitat would be irreparably damaged by their construction.

Michael McMahon also spoke in favour of the motion, asking if the new guidelines cannot protect Rannoch, where else can they work? He stated 'we have no proper control over the siting of windfarms in Scotland'. Rob Gibson opposed, arguing 'should not local people not benefit from energy development?' and that any environmental impact would and should be properly mitigated. But Neil Findlay then took him to task, saying that most of the companies involved are multinational corporations, and the money does not stay in the local or national economy. He asked 'how can you design out the impact of this scale of development?' Findlay spoke for a few minutes on a personal connection to landscapes, both wild and local.

Planning minister Derek Mackay was clearly under pressure for the Scottish Government. He restated that he couldn't be drawn on the motion because it was a 'live application' which prevented comments which might prejudice the decision. He questioned whether motions like this should even be permitted when an application was in process. He reaffirmed the commitment of the Government to NFP3, which he said, should 'facilitate sustainable change and not cause irreversible damage'. There was the expected talk of 'each case on it's merit', but as he mentioned 'a contribution of landscape to society' the instrumentalism was disappointingly obvious.

 members of the public gather in the lobby before the debate

members of the public gather in the lobby before the debate

It was interesting that members of the public in the gallery outnumbered members of Scottish Parliament on the floor, and that many MSP's left after a vote and immediately before the debate, including some Green's. That's a real shame… but be aware of the personal agendas of those using wild land in party political arguments. The issue has supporters and detractors left, right and centre, it has clearly gained some ground in the Scottish Parliament since the last time I attended one of these things... and it's far too important to get hung up on old school labels. Luckily all the NGO's who oppose the industrialisation of Rannoch recognise this. But this evening, I just couldn't help wondering: where was the public MCofS presence, where were the Ramblers? We're they in the gallery too, or was it only JMT and Keep Rannoch Wild folk? I'll happily stand corrected if there was some official representation from either... (Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland has since let me know that she wasn't able to attend because of a prior engagement). Both MCofS and Ramblers Scotland have made public statements against the application, which is a great thing, but press releases are easy - I'm not currently a member of the Ramblers, but as an MCofS member, I'd like to see a mailshot from them asking me to take action, be it to help raise funds for lobbying, public inquiries, or show my face at a parliamentary debate.

The full record of the debate is here

The ties that bind

Here's something that's been on the simmer ring for a fair few months in one shape or another. For some it'll be too political, for others not political enough. It's been submitted to two different places and rejected both times... and now look - I'm inflicting it on you. Hardly seems fair, does it!


I’m an incomer to Scotland, and I’ve been here less than three years. Like millions of people around the world, my family has history here but history isn’t the same as roots. I’ve spent way too long figuring that one out. A place belonging to us is very different to us belonging to a place. Owning land is not the same as being owned. There’s no right answer here, just stories of people moving around for all sorts of reasons. My family’s reason was the Second World War. My granddad was a self-taught electrician, a useful skill in 1939. He moved to Biggin Hill airfield, south of London and became Douglas Bader’s radio engineer. His wife and 2-year-old daughter followed later.  Here they are on the left, with my mum in the pram.

'My mother was very homesick for Scotland. When I was a child she used to tell me stories of Bonnie Prince Charlie and sing The Skye Boat song. She talked to me about Fort William and the Western Isles and said the thing she missed most was the sound of running water. She said wherever you went in The Highlands you could hear water running. When we visited I knew exactly what she was talking about'.

This is my mother talking about her mother. Sound, and songs - memories are made of these. She continues

'Mum visited Netta in Scotland once. I remember her going and we weren’t living on the farm so I must have been about 8 years old. When she came back I asked her if she would go again and she said ‘no’. When I asked her why she wouldn’t go again she said “I am afraid that I might not come back”. Even though my dad tried to encourage her to go she never went back to Scotland after that one visit. Netta and mum corresponded by letter and the letters were full of instructions to mum about housekeeping, cooking and titbits of gossip about people they both knew. In between letters Netta sent parcels. They contained things like Black Bun, kippers and honey from Uncle Jimmy’s bees'.

Food - is there anything more important (apart from song, maybe)? The fruit of land and labour become a part of us. Where we are is who we are - unless it’s somewhere else. When I moved to Edinburgh, one of the first things I noticed was how many independent shops still exist on the high street. In London, that mostly went to the wall at the back end of the 80’s. Total dislocation. For a generation there's been almost no independent grocers, fishmongers, or bakers. By comparison, in the central belt at least, we’re spoilt for choice.

My Mum’s cousin lives in Perth, and has done most of his life. Now we’re up this way, we try to visit him when we can, which isn’t often enough. One day last autumn, he took us for a walk in the Sma’ Glen. His wife died a few years ago. This was one of her favourite walks. As we walked, the atmosphere shifted somehow. He talked of her and their time together in a way I’d never heard him talk before. There was a deep connection here for him, a connection between people and place. The processes of walking that same path allowed him, and in turn us, to re-witness that. Finally, we reached the spot where he and Helen would often turn around and walk back.

Seeing those memories triggered just from a simple stroll was humbling. But all over the Highlands there are places like this, intersections of geography and memory. You probably have your own examples. The maps here are saturated, layer upon layer, dripping with history, thoughts and feelings. So much is lost forever or shrouded in myth, some is still accessible, just under the surface, and some we’re still making afresh. The land is alive.

Before moving to Scotland I worked as a music tutor with refugee kids. I don’t think it was an accident. I’d moved around as a kid and didn’t feel like I was from anywhere. These kids, displaced for much more serious reasons from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, weren’t either. Instead, they carried their homes in their hearts, but they’d much rather not have had to. I guess if there’s any thread in this disparate collection of stories, it’s this. If everywhere is homogenized, flattened, and if we’re divested of our connection with the land - what will become of our memories? Do they grow richer by necessity, or just rawer, more monochrome, full of longing for connections lost.

Later, when I came north, I worked for a conservation organization that aims to connect people with nature. From people exiled, to land dispossessed. Clearly, in my own personal story at least, there was a drive to connect the two, to do some healing. Have I found what I’m looking for?

 
 

Invoking the spectre of belonging a month before the independence referendum is probably a risky business, but (you may be relieved to hear) I don’t have any really sweeping statements to make. As the son of a Scottish mother and an English father who grew up in Wales and then the badlands of South London, home for me is wherever I can pitch my shelter - which thankfully is most places north of the border. I’m not from Scotland, not really from anywhere - and as I've established, that's not as romantic as it sounds - but I’m extremely happy to have made a home here. It feels like it is its own place, and I really value that. There’s a few customs, quirks and idiosyncrasies that make the country unto itself, and in general, people seem to value where they stay.

Whatever your views – Yes, No or as yet Undecided, one of the things that is positive about the upcoming referendum is that it’s got us all engaging in debate about where we live - kids and grandparents alike. Whoever I meet right now, everyone is talking about it, from landlords to artists, postmen to shop assistants - not just politicians. And despite mainstream media telling me that the debate has been inflammatory, that's not been my first hand experience at all. I know both Aye's and Nae's but to a man, woman and child we have talked openly and honestly. I can't help but contrast this to the weariness, cynicism and apathy I've met elsewhere - 'What's the point? They're all the same!' Don't mistake this optimism for naivety - professional parliamentarians will always speak with forked tongue sooner or later, whether it's an east coast, west coast or home counties accent. What's important is that some of the non professionals are in on the debate right now, which might , in time, mean a better stab at accountability. To this newcomer at least, it looks and feels like a country connecting and investing in itself.  It might even be something approaching democracy.

Imagine that.

Wild Horizons

Here's my comment on the Talladh a Bheithe power station proposal. It's a bit of mess because I'm running on empty right now.

Last submission date is 5th August 2014 - please show your support and send them a note.

To:

representations@scotland.gsi.gov.uk, developmentmanagement@pkc.gov.ukscotland@triodos.co.uk, zakelijk@triodos.nl

Dear Ms Gallacher

I am writing with my objection to the proposal of Talladh a Bheithe Wind Farm Ltd to build 24 turbines in the Loch Rannoch area. The basis of my objection is, I imagine like many others, a) the potential for irrevocable damage to a key area of wild land and b) the impact this development would have on local businesses, residents and tourism in the area.

I write at 11pm on a Friday night with a baby crying next door, so please forgive me if I don't remind you at length about the most recent update to Scottish planning policy (published in June 2014) which pledges to safeguard key areas of wild land, and the associated wild land map revised at the same time, which recognises this place (14) as being such a key area. I also won't be dwelling on several independent polls and SNH consultations of the last 2 years which show overwhelming public support for the maintenance of these key areas as wild places to be treasured for the benefit of wildlife and people who both live in them, and visit.

Instead I'll tell you of a young, uneducated man from darkest South London who first visited Glen Coe with his family, barely a teenager, and had his mind utterly blown by the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. Just a boy really, who coming from the city had never experienced anything so spacious, had never witnessed such a huge horizon. We weren't the usual suspects: a middle class family of hikers jollying around the hills in some post colonial reverie - instead we went to the Glen Coe viewpoint and toured around in a car. We took my mum back to visit the hospital in Inverness where she was born, but we were tourists.

But the feeling of crossing a threshold into self willed place not entirely under the thumb of human agency was a pivotal experience in my stupid youth. I can't begin to explain what effect it had on me, but there it was - before and after, like a switch had been flipped. I now know it stuck with me, and was a key reason I sought out these self willed places in the years after. In the end I came back to Scotland and had a family here. We pay taxes, contribute to a modern and tolerant multicultural country, and enjoy being outdoors as much as possible.  I'm not a luddite - not everywhere has to be like Rannoch. But Rannoch does need to be left to be itself.

Scotland has a unique set of natural and cultural landscapes that once destroyed can never be repaired or replaced. You can't offset or mediate the scale of disruption that this proposal will bring on the ground, both in terms of carbon sequestration and local economies. I urge you to stay true to the planning advice given by the government in June this year, don't sell out local people with thriving SME's to a big business interest, and please continue to ensure that visitors can experience having their minds blown far into the future. Although some would have us believe otherwise, we all know for a human fact the world amounts to much more than euros, dollars, concrete and glass.

Yours sincerely

David Lintern and family

More info: Keep Rannoch Wild