A call for your views on Wild Land

There is no one left: none but all of us


Sam McClure

Until the 20th December, the organisation that looks after Natural Heritage in Scotland is asking for our views on protecting places of wild character. These are the remote and untamed places many of us visit, as gentle adventurers and extreme athletes, campers, photographers, nature lovers, poets, pirates, refugees and vagabonds of all castes, colours, professions and political persuasions.  Some of these are also places of work as well as play, for hundreds of thousands of small business owners, crofters and scientists.  And these places are also full of wild life and rare species that we depend upon, and that depend upon us...

I'd like to urge you to take some time over the next few days to submit your defence of the Wild Land Map, which is being suggested as a means to protect our collective and fast diminishing inheritance.  We've been asked our views before, and I think it's even more important we continue to give them now: as evidence builds in the case for protection, and inevitably some tire of an admittedly tiresome process.  In the spirit of disclosure, it's no secret that I work part time for an organisation that campaigns on behalf of Wild Land, and I have included my own response below.  This is a personal response, shared on a personal website, written in my own time -  not everyone will agree with its emphases.  If you choose to respond, yours should also be personal - please don't copy and paste, as generic responses are now discounted.  You can find the form required by SNH, and guidelines for filling it in so that your views are properly heard


.  I know things are busy for many in the run up to the holiday season, but please find 20 minutes to respond before the 20th December.  Sharing this information online is also helpful, but you can go one better - submit your own response and share that - even if you live outside Scotland.  The rest of the world is watching, we can lead by example.

My response:

''I believe Wild Land is vitally important as a source of ecosystem services (flood defence, clean water, carbon sequestration) and a source of mental and physical inspiration, solace and adventure.  It has recently been estimated as worth circa £23bn PA to Scotland alone, a significant part of which is tourism.  I am extremely concerned at the present rate of loss of Wild Land as documented by SNH, in particular due to unsustainable and heavily subsidised energy developments and hill tracks.  Two particular examples which come to mind personally are Allt Duine and Stronelairg, but many equally vulnerable areas are in the planning or development stages.

I strongly support the present and future protection of Wild Land and the principle and methods of Core Areas of Wild Land used by SNH, as it provides a readily understood and administratable means by which Wild Land can be safeguarded by policy makers and local authorities, for both people and nature into the future.  The map clearly shows where Core Wild Land is and what is left – the boundaries of these areas should NOT be repeatedly challenged by industrial development but be respected as our common inheritance.  I agree with the SNH statement in paragraph 2.2 that Wild Land

by definition

is not or has not always been devoid of human activities, but request that we manage Core Wild Land from this point onwards for the benefit of a flourishing habitat and wildlife - that is also of wider economic and cultural benefit to humans in Scotland, the UK and far beyond.  We have something entirely unique in terms of World Natural Heritage here, and should not squander it. 

I appreciate that a map may not be an absolute or definitive measure of all conditions on the ground forever, but it is by far the best means we have of measuring CAWL’s at present.  In the immediate future, we should respect the current boundaries of the map and concentrate on protecting what is left, before any more debate and delay causes further losses.  A map is a practical means of protection.  It allows immediate action and therefore I support it.

Our existing designations (National Parks and National Scenic Areas) are not sufficient to protect ALL of Scotland’s remaining Wild Land and I strongly believe all policy makers should recognise all areas identified as Core Wild Land at consulation, in their present and future planning decisions.  Core Wild Land is a more thorough measure of this valuable and finite resource than any other existing designation we have currently at our disposal.

I would like to question the current drawing of boundaries around Core Areas.  Simply because planning permission has been granted, does not mean a development will go ahead.  If we assume an area is no longer wild because permission is or was granted, we risk further ‘creep’ of industrialisation into Core Wild Land Areas.  I would like to see this stopped and a new approach considered.  Given that this is a consultation, I’d like to point out the Public Perception of Wildness in Scotland Survey 2012, for SNH and Scottish National Parks, as well as a You Gov poll for the John Muir Trust in 2013, both of which showed overwhelming public support for Wild Land Protection as well as the effect the current lack of protection may have on tourism.   The CAWL map may not be perfect and could be revisited in the future to include more areas of coast, island and peatbog that have been omitted this time.  In the meantime it offers a practical and structured means to address to an immediate and rapidly degenerating situation.  I believe we need to stem the loss of Wild Land now, and this is the tool to begin that process.''

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world


Paul Hawken 

The Priest's Glen

Papadil in old Norse, means the Priest's Dale.  A dale is another word for Glen, or Valley, but maybe shorter.  One of the more remote places on Rum, an Island without a road system in the Inner Hebrides.  Papadil is on the south-west coast, around 5 hours walk from the only village of Kinloch.  Around 40 people currently live on Rum.  None currently live at Papadil.

Papadil faces Iona, the notional seat of early Christianity as Scotland was painfully birthed from tribal factions.  According to Irish sources, St. Beccán of Rum, a hermit and academic, may have lived here around 680AD.  Crofting followed, history is vague about exactly how and when, but remains of a  shepherds house, kelp kilns and a church are believed to exist.

Later on, the Island was bought and sold a few times, cleared of all but 1 family by 1826, and finally restocked as a deer hunting estate after the wool market collapsed.  The island may have returned to its Medieval roots, 'good for hunting with few inhabitants'.  For 100 years in the 1800's Rum was known as the Forbidden Isle, whose successive owners were hostile to visitors not on the guest list.  Papadil became the site of a new hunting lodge, built by the Bulloughs.

Lady Monica Bullough took her honeymoon at Papadil, but apparently did not like the lodge.  She sold the island in 1957 for £23,000, £12,000 less than her father-in-law had paid for it in 1888.  Keen as the Good Lady was to see the Island in proper hands, the Nature Conservancy Council were the recipients.

In the first days of the new reservation, it took some time for the 'permit only' culture of the Forbidden Isle to relax.  The NCC suspected that the hunting lodge was used by deer poachers, and so tore off the roof.

Despite this intervention against unwanted visitors, The NCC left imported Victorian rhododendrons intact, to swallow whole the policy woodland the Bulloughs had planted.

Now, Papadil is being eaten by itself.  It's full of Deer ticks, and the lodge is a ruin.  The stove may say 'Invincible' for now, but the rhoddies will consume everything in a few more decades.

Roots of Change

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to spend a day photographing the launch of a new Phoenix Futures project.  Phoenix Futures work with those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.  They've been using The John Muir Award since 2005, but in the autumn they teamed up with the John Muir Trust's estate in the borders to extend their program further.  The idea is to slowly replant native woodland as part of their recovery, ridding the area of invasive species and helping regenerate the native habitat.  You can read more about it here.

I mostly shy away from talking about my part time day job here, but I wanted to share this on the blog because it is honestly, genuinely inspirational.  No shine required on this story, this is the real deal - a simple idea that changes lives.  Retention rates for this program are proving higher than other rehab programs that Phoenix have used.  More people stay sober doing this stuff - it just works.

But the people I met on the day told me more than just statistics.  They told me tree planting was good exercise, and being outside and working together on something showed them they had choices and could do something positive in their lives.  They told me that they felt safer in an outdoors environment.  They said that planting something for the future, making a tangible difference to the wider world, was making a difference to them too.  Roots were gently lowered into the ground, and earth carefully placed back.  Everyone helped each other.  It was simple, and obvious.

If you are in London over the next few months, you can see a few more of the photos, and read about the program in the Patagonia store in Covent Garden.  For now though, the photo above was my own favourite shot from the day.  The story is about reconnecting and regenerating, both people and place.

photo courtesy of Ben @Patagonia, London