IMAGE: Loch Garry 2010. Source: walkhighlands

I am particularly pleased to publish this article by Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell. In light of the ongoing problems with landslips on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful and further west in Glen Kinglas, Ron and Derek remind us that they were advocating substantial ecological restoration over 30 years ago. They pioneered, from first principles and scientific observations, an approach that would restore the ecology of much of Upland Scotland. But official Scotland and vested interests blocked their plans. 

Ron Greer is, by profession, a freshwater biologist with a 40 years specific interest in Arctic Charr, Ferox Trout and the management of the large glacial ribbon lakes/hydro-electric reservoirs that are their primary habitat. He is co-author of several seminal papers on Scottish Arctic Charr and author of the book ‘Ferox Trout and Arctic Charr’.  He is one of the Scottish representatives in the International Society of Arctic Charr and has been a participant in and co-organiser, of their international conferences over the last 25 years

As a corollary of the above, he has developed a parallel interest in strategic land use/tenure reform, riparian silvicultural management  and Boreal biogeography. He initiated the Loch Garry riparian woodland project in 1974 and was co-founder with Derek Pretswell, and others, of the Loch Garry Tree Group in 1986. He was a member of the Highland Forum team who helped organise the 1987 Land and Community conference at Drumossie and considers the outcomes from it as a work still in progress. He was co-founder and initial Convenor of Scottish Native Woods and worked with Derek in its formative years.

He is widely travelled in  North America, Fennoscandia and Northern Europe, both in relation to study trips pertinent to  freshwater  and land use issues and as a guest lecturer in these subject areas at various universities/colleges, NGO institutes and sporting organisations.

Derek Pretswell is a zoology graduate of Aberdeen and started working on forestry and landuse with Ron in 1982/3 while both of them were fishery biologists with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland.  A founder member of the Loch Garry Tree Group and Perth Bat Group, he served on the management committee of the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes and was a Trustee of Scottish Native Woods for 10 years. In addition, he was a member of the Cairngorm Community Circle and a member of the SNP environmental policy group which, along with Ron and under Roger Mullin’s leadership, formulated the SNP’s main policy document.  

Together with Ron, Derek founded Natural Resources Scotland in 1992 and developed the New Caledonia Project which is a holistic long term project that encapsulates the three tenets of sustainable development to bring about the ‘blossoming’ of our biological, social and economic landscape. Derek now teaches environmental education to schoolchildren from North Lanarkshire at an outdoor centre in Oban and during the summer takes to the lochs with Ron to research Arctic Charr populations.

ERODING THE MOUNTAINS OF INERTIA

Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell

Sitkasaurs and Contortasaurs still stalked the Earth.  There had been no substantive land tenure reform for 900 years.  A tribal confederation of the ‘Negataibh’, more especially the clans of McCannae, MacShouldnae and their even more dangerous comrades, the Clan MacWulnae, managed the landscape on behalf of the Moorland Myth Brigade, The Cellulose Factory Managers, The Starbirders and other sectional vested interest groups with a finger in the subsidy pie and a ticket for the gravy train.  Aye, such was the state of Highland Scotland in the early seventies of the last century.  A region variously described as a ‘wet desert’, a ‘wasteland ripe for development’ or ‘the last great unspoiled wilderness in Europe’.  Would anyone out there recognise this picture today?

Into this world of private and State sectional vested interests, replete with a compartmentalised bureaucratic administration (bunkered in intellectual fall-out shelters), a young freshwater biologist, blissfully unaware of the atavistic nature of most of the above, initiated a pioneering study of Arctic Charr and Brown Trout in Loch Garry, a long established hydro-electric reservoir, lying at 400 metres altitude and a cat’s spit away from Perthshire’s Drumochter Pass (of winter notoriety).  Details of this fisheries study have been published in the relevant peer-reviewed literature but even more important wider strategic issues and conclusions arose from it that not only challenged established shibboleths and perspectives in terms of freshwater ecology in Scotland, but also in a much broader, regional and national environmental sense.  Charr, previously considered a rare fish in Scotland, turned out to be very common here and indeed in many other lochs in the Highlands which begged the question – why?  Was there perhaps something wrong with the received wisdom on the perspective of Scotland’s bio-geographical realities?  A question which kept arising as the follow on from the fisheries study developed.

Image 1 – Loch Garry truncated morraine 1990

A core outcome of the study was that hydro-electric regulation causes profound and negative impacts (largely through destroying littoral zone aquatic plants) on the ecology of the lake concerned.  In similar Scandinavian lakes  classic ‘before and after’ studies revealed  that up to 70% of the aquatic invertebrate that supports higher animals can be lost (with important depressive effects on subsistence and commercial fisheries).  We are without the great detail of these studies, but recent work indicates that the barren stony shores of reservoirs like Ericht, Cluanie and Quaich are every bit the aquatic desert they appear to be.  Further background research however revealed that a massive potential (up to 90%) source of plant material to support the aquatic food-chain could be derived from riparian deciduous woodland.  The main fisheries management problem turned out to be what was happening on the land.  What was happening on the land was derived from its land tenure system and the aims and management of its owners, historically and extant. Why was that land treeless?  The then ‘orthodoxy’ was that it was because of the harsh climate and the poor soil; perhaps scrubby birch and willow?  Challenging that orthodoxy were the basic bioclimatic facts, ecological history and empirical experience in other montane ‘Arctic Charr countries.’  The challenge of re-establishing deciduous riparian woodland was taken up.  In so doing it opened up even bigger challenges in realising a wider strategic potential.

Image 2 – Loch Garry truncated morraine revegetating

The first inklings of the potential were stimulated by both a literature review related to the physical habitat requirements of Arctic Charr and site visits to Norway in 1971, 1973 and 1974. But the biggest single advances in this area, both in respect of the specifics of tree species/origin/provenance selection and the wider national strategic overview we were developing (in parallel to other initiatives we were involved in) were study visits to Iceland in 1981 and Vestlandet in Norway in 1984. In respect of the former we were lucky indeed, before his death not long after, to draw on the extensive knowledge of Hakon Bjarnasson, the father figure of Icelandic forestry who, apart from his silvicultural expertise in a country where the most favourable tree growing conditions were climatically closely akin to Drumochter Pass, had a profound interest and experience of soil conservation and environmental protection issues in challenging boreal and austral conditions.  Proud as he was of his country’s culture and living standards, Hakon was fully open about the shocking devastation that comprised much of the Icelandic environment, perhaps the most eroded country in Northern Europe and had spent much of his professional life trying to redress it.

George Monbiot has described the Scottish and British uplands as ‘sheep-wrecked’ (see for example this article in relation to the A83 Rest and Be Thankful slope failures).  In comparison, Iceland has had a thousand years of ovine-wrecking, (compared to our  mere 300 years), where a land once 40% covered in mixed broadleaved forest (of species also once common in Scotland), had been reduced to looking like a movie set from a desert world in Star Wars.  Though the cessation of headage payments may have helped us a little, nonetheless, Iceland gives a stark warning of what might occur if we don’t change our perception of what the uplands can biologically sustain. Indeed, Hakon, on seeing photographs of erosion gullies in the Grampians, opined that unless restorative, protective forestry took place, that we would, in two or three generations, perhaps 100 years at the most, have no vegetation left on the hills.  He would not be surprised to see the repeated landslips on the A83 (the Rest and Be Thankful) or the A85 at Glen Ogle, and neither very sadly, are we.

IMAGE: Slopes to north of A83, Glen Kinglas, the site of a recent landslip of 100 tonnes of soil. The red circles indicate existing slope failures on this overgrazed terrain. Click on picture for a larger image.

More prosaically, was the comment proffered without sarcastic irony, of another Icelandic forester on being presented with a fairly comprehensive bioclimatic profile of Loch Garry ‘oh you have a very good place to grow trees then’.  Which then begs the question of what else it and much of the Grampians as a whole, might be capable of more than we currently believe.  The advice on tree species and origin provided by the Icelandic foresters has been invaluable over the years as was their introduction to the potential of Nootka Lupin as a soil improvement and erosion control agent.  The future might be more blue, but not necessarily more sad.  Unless of course, we continue to go down (or rather up) the exponential Humpty Dumpty curve of deforested erodability, with the politicians shouting out ‘so far so good’ before we all pay for the splat, as the mountain comes down to the A83 and other roads like it.

Image 3 – Loch Garry truncated morraine. Trees well-established.

It is almost de rigueur these days for those promulgating land tenure and land use reform in Scotland to compare our situation with Norway.  As major promulgators of that comparison since 1984, after a ‘culture  shock’ study trip with Angus McHattie  of the Scottish Crofters Union, participants in several media documentaries on the subject and providing technical support to the later Reforesting Scotland Norway Study Tour, we can hardly decry that comparison.  However please nota bene, we do not consider simply copying Norway as the final destination, but rather that it helps point the way to a ‘better place’ than we are in now.  The geobotanical, phytogeographical and bioclimatic similarities to the Vestlandet of Norway and the vibrant cultural landscape obtained within it, give the lie to accusations of the ‘McCannaes’ that there is no other end point of tenure and use possible for upland Scotland, than the current indulgence of a landed minority in what for many of the rest of us is a quasi feudal, Victorian-Edwardian nightmare-world supported by public subsidy.

In over three decades of establishing and managing grass roots organisations, e.g. Scottish Native Woods, Highland Forum, Loch Garry Tree Group, or developing the New Caledonia project or cooperating with other established organisations and individuals that arose in the euphoria of the environmental movement in 1975-1995, we have seen, shared and experienced, shattered hopes, plagiarism and sheer outright betrayal on the attempted road to a resolution of environmental degradation and conflict.  For example we were in at the grass roots level with the Millennium Forest Project and were part of a small committee to look at locations.  We originally thought committees were platforms for compromise, but our experience makes us believe that they are cul de sacs up which good ideas are lured, then silently strangled.

The agendas of Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will always prevail when individuals are outnumbered by such organisations. Our argument was based on generating a momentum that would carry past 2000 and create a platform of reforestation that everyone could be part of, based on 5 major forest centres; Glen Affric (Trees for Life), Cairngorms, Central Belt and one each in the Southwest and Southeast Borders, with a target of joining them all up creating one contiguous forest linked by forest corridors, allowing communities, local forest groups and  FC plantations and their grannies to take part and have ownership of the process.  Had we gone down this road there would have been no better way to say that we all live in the environment and it is not something that ‘happens over there’ and that we all inclusively contributed towards it.

Image 4 – Loch Garry truncated morraine. Forest ecosystem restored.

We have always been centred round the idea of revitalising the soil/vegetation complex and using this landscape, when functioning as the best it can be biologically, as a platform for social and economic development.  Two things shocked us in the development of this philosophy; the complete underestimation of what is possible due to the lack of perception of where we are bio-climatically, coupled to the habitual mismanagement by generations of landowners and land managers; and the conservatism, generated by the vested interests of the resource holders and policy makers.  This includes NGOs, though there are as always exceptions at all levels.  The mismanagement is not obligate, it is facultative, and the managers choose their endpoint, having inherited their start point, for the bulk of our rural landscapes. We need rurality built into the urban environment and not urbanity into the rural one, as is happening.

Patrick Geddes talked of work people and place, sustainability models talk of environmental, social and economic factors, most of the ‘environmentalist movement’ and politicians use the word sustainable, but how many have read the Brundtland Commission Report or the earlier World Conservation Strategy that coined and defined the phrase and intend to implement the recommendations. In many cases it is a bit like the bank that likes to say yes but doesn’t understand the question. We are driven to solve problems, Loch Garry being a case in point, but our solution is to focus on the problem and this in turn exerts an enormous influence on our thinking.  What was initially perceived as an aquatic problem at Loch Garry was in fact a land problem and likewise the A83 events are not a road problem, but a land one.  Well for forestry’s sake there are too many problems for us!  If we go back to the basics of the soil vegetation complex then we need to make it the best it can be, so plant the trees that originally created the organic layers that are there and held it all in place.

Let’s work towards goals – you know, ideal situations that could make these problems disappear.  At one point in relation to the A83, there was talk of tunnels and a budget of £90 million, well for that money we can buy the land, reforest it, give it to the people to manage and still have money left over to build a better road!

We live in the world’s most beautiful ecological slum but we have the advantage that this slum is not on the northern edge of the Mediterranean it is on the southern edge of the Arctic and it has an amazing northern potential.  Our challenge is to bring about the realisation of that potential and so finally, a recommendation to politicians. If you want ideas that are outside of the box don’t go into the box to look for them!

142 Comments

  1. Clamhan-nan-cearc

    Excellent article. It is such a great pity that those in power and/or with influence did not have (and still don’t have) the foresight shown by Ron and Derek.

    • Your thoughts and sentiments are much appreciated and right now there are those in the NGO-Quangocracy-Political class-triumverate of directive protocol management delivery, thinking how disturbing this blog is and ‘how can we stop them this time’ . We have more pugios in the back than Julius Caesar had on his last visit to the forum and yet those ‘b—–ds are still there.

  2. Generally this is a good article – we could do much to prevent erosion soil and increase biodiversity by reducing grazing pressure (mainly from deer rather than sheep in upland Scotland). This would encourage re-growth of trees. It’s important that these are appropriate to the location and climate, not the blanket sitka of the 1970s planted on drained high-carbon soils. While it may well be possible to reforest many glens up to the natural treeline, expecting or encouraging tree growth in the flow country or on top of the Cairngorm plateau would be unhelpful.

    However, I would just like to take a potshot at the “lupins are the cure” argument which seems to be taking hold in places. Part of the argument being pushed in favour of lupins is that they increase soil nitrogen. They certainly do this, but nitrogen is not what Scotland’s upland soils need! Over most of Britain’s uplands the “critical load” for nitrogen is being exceeded because ammonia which has its source mainly in livestock farming in lower lying areas is “rained out” on the uplands.
    http://cldm.defra.gov.uk/PDFs/CLEX_acidity%20and%20Nitrogen_may2011.pdf
    The excess nitrogen either runs off into water bodies and causes eutrophication (excessive nutrient inputs which contribute to algal blooms etc) or enters the atmosphere as the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

    The Icelandic experience has also shown that lupins can become invasive and crowd out other vegetation leading to monocultures. http://news.mongabay.com/2006/0724-tina.html

    While the lupins may appear to promote tree growth this would appear to be mainly because the provide shelter for young trees and reduce grazing. Both of this things could be provided in other ways without introducing a potentially invasive non-native species to the Highlands or further overburdening the upland environment with nitrogen.

    • I checked the Defra site and I see that most of the Highlands are in the lowest categories of inorganic N deposition and presumably the ‘rain’ you are talking about is actually from the urine of non native sheep. Nutrient surplus in the Highlands is hardly an massive problem and why is nutrient poverty such a virtue?

      Lupins fix nitrogen biologically and make it available to other organisms in the system This is the main mechanism that benefits tree growth, though they do add biologically active organic material and improve the ground level microclimate. You will see that the lupins used at Loch Garry have not, in over 20 years spread out from the group as they are so palatable to the non native sheep and non native rabbits as well as the high numbers of deer in the area. The non native status of lupins is no more and no less than, sheep, rabbits, goats, potatoes, tomatoes or the main tree species used in the Government’s forestry policy.

      In Iceland (from whence I obtained the stock, before finding out that they’ve been in Scotland for over 100 years) this non native status also applies to those beautiful Icelandic ponies, cattle, sheep, goats, and all main agricultural crops. There were no native herbivores in Iceland, not even Arctic Hares, and the forests evolved for millenia, with neither herbivores or carnivores famiiar to the Celto-Norse settlers who arrived in the 8th and 9th Centuries and started the devastation that led, to the pre-lupin Icelandic moonscape. That moonscape is the product of non native species. Iceland, like Scotland is no longer a wilderness with ecological virginity. Neither that wilderness or ecological virginity can ever be restored, even by using only native species. The Icelanders seem to have accomodated better to that blindingly obvious fact than we have. In the meantime whilst they are contemplating the future for their soil vegetation complex, the lupins are not only fixing nitrogen, they are taking CO2 out of the air and storing it in the soil.

      • Ron,

        I’m afraid I don’t accept that excessive N inputs to the Highlands are not damaging ecosystems. This link http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/advisorynotes/155/155.htm shows that for central and southern Scotland and much of the south and east Highlands nitrogen disposition is at levels which have been shown to damage the development of coniferous woodland.

        I do however accept that almost all Scottish ecosystems are manufactured to some extent (maybe not Atlantic oakwoods and montaine habitats) and whatever we do we are generally acting as gardeners in some way.

        I agree that trees have potential to store carbon during their lifetimes, although carbon storage in soils is much greater (about three times globally, but more in Scotland given out high carbon soils and low biomass). I think the carbon storage potential of lupins themselves is very limited as the store and release carbon on an annual basis as they grow and die back (although they will add some carbon from roots etc to soil).

        I’m not disagreeing with most of what you’re saying – we do need more trees and a reduction in grazing intensity. I’m just not convinced that lupins are the solution!

        • Where are the excessive amounts of NPK coming from?

          • I never mentioned excessive amounts of K or P , just N which as I have already said comes from atmospheric deposition (mainly wet deposition “rain out” of (mainly) ammonia from transported from intensive livestock areas, supplemented to a small extent by inputs from urine of local grazing livestock.

          • Well, what has biological fixation of nitrogen in the Central Highlands got to do with fertiliser inputs and the agri-industrial scale intensive systems hundreds of miles away?

    • Janet Moxley: I think you underestimate the past and present impact of sheep, though this has lessened since the nightmare era of headage payments and the several millions of sheep in receipt of them. You can still see that impact on the A9 Pitlochry-Inverness section and more especially on the nearby railway embankment where the provision of a fence only proof against sheep has allowed miles of regenerating woodland. We should also not forget that the sheep regime does not only exert grazing pressure, but the associated muirburn also kills regenerating trees and in the past those fires have extended into the sub-alpine zone and its juniper coverage.

      • Yes, I also agree that sheep (and deer) and the current stocking levels are a problem they cause erosion by grazing and trampling and add to N inputs through urine. Which is another reason I’m a bit surprised that you seem to be advocating them to prevent lupins spreading. Would it not be better to remove the excess sheep/deer and therefore reduce the need for lupins? Removing perverse incentives to maintain high stocking (through CAP payments or otherwise) would certainly be sensible from an ecological point of view, although the social impacts in terms of hill farmers income in some areas (especially in Wales) might be too high for it to be implemented. Less of an issue in Scotland I think where land is managed primarily for grouse with the sheep tacked on. Similarly it would be worth assessing the remit and effect the Red Deer Commission.

        Muirburn is carried out primarily to conserve habitat for grouse (who need the young heather shoots) than for sheep, although there are often sheep on grousemoors, and I fully agree that greater consideration of its impacts is necessary, both for its effect on biodiversity and above and below ground carbon stocks (which is not currently well understood).

        Of course the large sporting estates whether offering deer or grouse shooting have a range of other social consequences which Andy has covered widely elsewhere in his blog.

        • Where did I say that I was advocating sheep to prevent lupins spreading? I just said that the non native sheep had that effect and I grudge neither sheep nor deer a good meal in a sustainable cultural landscape of the future.

          • “the lupins used at Loch Garry have not, in over 20 years spread out from the group as they are so palatable to the non native sheep”

          • Janet: Yes, that’s just what happened. It is not an advocacy of sheep.

        • Janet,
          I once more recommend, if you have not seen it already, the BBC Horizon programme ‘A Farm for the Future’. It’s attitude to the use of ‘synthetic’ oil based NPK fertilisers is something we could fully agree on as well as some of the alternatives.

        • Hi Janet, unfortunately we didn’t put the photograph of the comparison of the soil profile within the Lupin enclosure and outside. This would clearly have shown you the successional advantage of a nitrogen fixer, in fact Roger Croft former CEO of SNH brought two Icelandic soil experts up to Loch Garry and we dug out sods for them to look at. There appeared to be no doubt in any of them that something special was happening.
          The advantage of lupins is that they are shade intolerant and all but disappear once the canopy closes and they emerge late and die back early. Eutrophication is a problem in freshwaters but how much of this is anthropogenic ?

          • Here is the photo of the soil profile.

          • I’d be interested to see how the soil profile with lupins compares with the soil profile will trees but deer excluded and the soil profile with some other non-legume sapling protection vegetation. I suspect that the main difference from lupins in an increased depth of the O horizon which would happen with any plant putting in litter inputs. However as lupins have quite long tap roots it’s possible that in places there many be some effect at depth including breaking up of shallow podzol iron pan formations, but really I’d need to see the photo or lupin soil against no action and there other interventions mentioned above.

          • Yes, the lupins do have a long tap root and in one of the articles I wrote in the early 90s, I semi facetiously called them ‘a great podzol killer’. The decomposition rate of the litter is fast because of the high N:C ratio, thus increasing the rate of other nutrient circulation as well as yielding biologically available nitrogen, which is the basic building block of all protein. The change in the soil profile is very rapid, as is the noticeable increase in earthworms.

          • Yes, it was interesting that Roger Crofts brought the Icelandic soil scientists to Loch Garry to make the soil profile comparison. We obviously didn’t waste all those resources that came from our personal finances in establishing the plots and making those study trips to Iceland and Fennoscandia possible.
            Perhaps the NGO/Quango Janet works for could fund a new comparative study of the impacts of the lupin on the soil profile and solve the mystery of why the trees growing in intimate association with the lupins, did not suffer from the extra biologically fixed nitrogen and indeed grew rapidly and healthily?

          • Thanks for posting the photos Andy! Certainly the soil in the reforested area has a deeper organic horizon that the unreforested area, and looks more like a typical forest soil. Which is my point – I think that the change in soil profile is more the effect of reforesting than of lupins.

          • It came from the lupin plot, dug up by the Icelandic soil scientists who had come to see the impacts of lupin. The trees had not formed yet formed a canopy, which is why the lupins were still dominant in the field layer in the first place. The trees BTW were mainly Alnus incana from seed sourced in Granvin in Norway. Today there are no lupins present as the trees have closed canopy. Just try to accept that the lupins are the primary cause of the change indicated.

          • please note the lupin leaf at the bottom right and observe the dead lupin shaws at the surface

    • Janet: I never actually said that lupins were THE answer and they are certainly not that. Anyone saying so is mistaken. They can offer a pathway in the solution to specific problems, such as erosion, especially on nitrogen deficient mineral soils. They only way a tree or other plant can grow quickly is by accruing carbon and lupins assist rapid growth in trees. The Icelanders found that lupins were as effective as dung in raising needle nitrogen levels in spruce. All the nitrogen fixing species, including ‘dry site alders’ ( Red, Green and Grey) grew faster than other tree species, thus absorbing C02 faster. No inorganic N was used and of course the other nutrients eg; P and K absorbed by the lupin are released in the biodegradable leaf litter they produce( much to the benefit of the soil flora and fauna). In the case of Iceland and less so at Loch Garry they are storing carbon in mineral soils that were previously storing much less. The trees they help establish will be doing so for decades, even centuries.

  3. I’ve been advocating re-establishing native woodland along the Rest-and-be-thankful as the solution to erosion problems for many years. Politicians of ALL parties seem to be blinded by the interests of the landowners adjacent to the road. All they can think of is hard engineering solutions. None has had the guts to use soft-engineering. None has had the ecological understanding required to provide the solution. It’s a sad commentary on our politics.

    • Aye Andy, I can appreciate that. Among other organisations Derek and I shared membership of was the Resource Use Institute in Pitlochry. It’s founder and patriarch, Robert H.S.Robertson, related the tale of his days in a London club, frequented by senior Treasury officials, wherein one of such said to him ‘Oh, but Robert, it is not the bad ideas that worry us, it’s the good ones’. There are probably politicos reading this blog, who would agree with that Treasury viewpoint!

    • Derek Pretswell

      Andy trust me it is not because they have not been told from within the party. All politicians are more interested in the messenger than the message. We need ‘experts’ from institutions and academic bodies to say things that our elected members will listen to. This is then copied by NGO’s and quangos it is all about power for our institutions and validation for our politicians it is not about structural argument and empiric evidence.

    • and that politics includes the incestuous relationship intra-inter the NGO -Quangocracy and the political class. Any suggestions Andy?

    • Eadha Enterprises submitted a proposal to Transport Scotland in 2012 to develop some eco-engineering trials at the Rest and Be Thankful using Native Aspen. http://www.eadha.co.uk/assets/0000/3147/Rest_and_Be_Thankful_Aspen_Stabilisation_Report_Feb_2012.pdf

      This was seen as a logical extension to our aspen project which has involved developing a national clone collection (including many from Argyll) and investigating niche uses of this pioneer keystone species.

      We had some productive discussions with Strone Estate at the time who had plans to increase native woodland cover with a view to incorporate aspen planting for stabilisation. Although there was a luke warm interest from TS, this project was never pursued on the basis of funding.

      • Yes, I agree and we have advocated the use of Aspen and other suckering species such as Alnus incana. I see that Transport Scotland also advocated Sea Buckthorn for the upper zones. This is a bio engineering project to protect a trunk road and will be taking place in glens where there is no effective native forest ecology and probably not for a long time prior too, plus long established use of non native conifers and grazing by non -native sheep. The Great Wood of Caledon Phantasm is not an issue, the ecological virginity has long gone and cannot be restored. Now the prospect, potential and need is for a multi species low intensity permanent sylvicultural system that as well as offering the primary erosion protection function also offers other direct and indirect uses.

  4. This is an excellent article with which I agree with wholeheartedly. Interesting to see the comparisons made with Iceland. A couple of points:

    1) Iceland has its fair share of sitkasaurs too (sometimes referred to as the “pine generation”). Well intentioned tree planting schemes have seen many woodlands created that contribute nothing ecologically or economically. As in Scotland, Iceland’s forestry organisations now seek to champion these woodlands as recreational areas. Meanwhile, Iceland’s native birchwoods, far more ecologically diverse, far more suitable than pines for soil conservation and valued by many for their non-timber products (game, fruit and mushrooms), are generally neglected.

    2) There is some evidence from Iceland that lupins give way once birchwood establishes a canopy. Elsewhere, sheep are being used to control what are seen by many as an eyesore and a threat to native flora. Some bemoan the disappearance of the black sands of the Skeidara south of Vatnajokull under a sea of lupin. This is a naturally dynamic river system subject to jokullhlaups; lupin serve no practical purpose here ecologically or economically. The introduction of an alien species in order to stabilise valuable soil was sound science (to a point) and it has worked. However, in Scotland, if nitrogen fixing is necessary, I would prefer to see a native species used in order to avoid any future management problems i.e. loss of species diversity and negative visual impacts; especially if ecological restoration is the aim.

    • Scott: yes ‘Sitkaphrenia’ and ‘Contorta-itis’ knows no national boundaries within the sub polar maritime CFB climatic zone! The debate was already going in in Iceland during the study trip of 1981. This trip could justify another article on its own, but in terms of trying to establish trees to provide palatable leaf litter for aquatic invertebrates, in the challenging riparian environment of Loch Garry, with its bioclimatic similarities to south west Iceland and a like experience of non-native sheep induced devastation, the advice obtained from Hakon Bjarnasson on broadleaved species, especially poplars and alders proved most valuable. They had also tried various Larch species, every bit as non native as the Larch that covers so much of Highland Perthshire. With them it was the Dahurian Larch rather than Japanese, European and the hybrid Dunkeld Larch we use, but likewise under its light canopy native Vaccinium grew and also an edible Larch Boletus mushroom that was ‘imported’ from Siberia as an accidental, but useful corollary.
      Hakon Bjarnasson was a kind of grandfather figure to me as he was to many young Icelanders and he gave me some gems of advice, such as ‘ Ron, when you have lost something( native forest), it’s a helluva job to get it back and you never get it back the way it was’ and ‘ nobody knows what enough is until they have tried too much'( in a letter when I was floored by pneumonia). He also advised me to ‘get the trees in at the same time as you plant the lupins’.
      At’ lupin peak’ in the mid successional stage shown in the photo, some purists went into standard conservationist coffee table eco-panic mode and were sceptical about the eventual and actually quite rapid suppression of the lupin by more shade casting and shade tolerant plants that had benefitted from the lupin induced soil upgrade. This takes longer in Icelandic native woods as they have don’t have Wych Elm( which grows very well when introduced) or other big broadleaved species.

  5. Ron,
    Without getting into any details of nitrogen balance or other argumentation at the micro level, I think the point of your proof is the fact that the Loch Garry forest ecosystem actually has been restored. That wouldn´t have happened if it were unnatural to the Scottish Highlands. The more forests Scotland can get the closer you will come to a more pristine ecosystem of your Highlands. Let´s hope for a more natural green coverage of your beautiful country. The one thing I cannot condone, though, is that you didn´t give the full name of your Society on Charr, but you being a Scot I can live with the fact that you spell charr with two “r”, whereas the rest of the world should allow for one “r” only. The correct name of your Society, as you well know but tried to conceal, is the International Society of Arctic Char Fanatics. It takes one to be one…

    • Lennart: I stand suitably and justifiably chastised; I proudly and openly admit that I am an Arctic Char Fanatic!

  6. I had no idea that fish could be so useful. Favourite bit is the phrase “a quasi feudal, Victorian-Edwardian nightmare-world supported by public subsidy.” The poor sods whose lives can be seriously disrupted by the road closing landslides ought to be prime target for this information. A lasting natural solution rather than tons of concrete ought to appeal. It would make a good documentary. How could that come about?

    • Stewart: Glad that you brought the discussion back to the fish in the hydro-electric reservoir. The Loch Garry project was ‘simply’ about the provisision of leaf litter as food for the detritivore aquatic invertebrates. It was never about the replication/re-creation of some recently vanished mythical Great Wood of Caledon of whatever geo-chronological and bioclimatic profile. It was about the selection of tree species that could tolerate the edaphic and climatic conditions pertaining at present, and for the forseeable future, whilst providing a matrix of palatable leaf litter of varying decomposition rates, as food for aquatic invertebrates.

      This was also the main driving force behind the introduction of the Nootka Lupin. Among its many remarkable properties is a tolerance of periodic aquatic inundation during its winter dormant period. I noticed that it grew in the upper margins of natural lakes in the Hallormstadur area of Iceland and wondered if it might grow in the man made desert of the fluctuation zone of hydro-electric reservoirs here in Scotland, which tend to have low summer levels and high winter water levels. At Loch Garry it was not possible to test this out fully as the non-native sheep and non-native rabbits and the large population of deer quickly learned to go down into the dry draw-down zone and gobble the lupin seedlings up. However at other reservoirs where grazing pressure was much less the lupins established successfully and have tolerated months of inundation up to 4 metres deep.

      The loss of natural aquatic vegetation in the regulation zone of hydro-electric reservoirs can cause a massive reduction in invertebrate production and thus impact on fish populations. The annual prospect of several tonnes per hectare of highly biogradable, palatable lupin leaf litter offers a replacement for lost production in area now largely devoid of plant production and has no natural ecological history or equivalent whatsoever. Visual amenity? Lupin flowers with at least 3 species of Bumblebee using them( as well as other insects) or miles of a barren ‘tideline zone’ bereft of plant life?

      • excellent article, the vision is there, the correct people are there, all we need now is the political process to shift the ownership away from the few and over to the many.

        • Overdue thanks here SS, however the last thing the political class want is vision, verve, dynamism and imagination. They want inside-the-box answers to manage the directives legislation as a smooth path to SEPs( salaries, expenses and pensions)

  7. William McCulloch

    A good read, thank you, and I’ve enjoyed the comments too. A point, based on my purely amateur observations: whins (gorse) seem to provide a useful nurse to other trees, particularly birch. They fix nitrogen and give shelter from deer (roe in my area – Midlothian), as well as providing nectar and invertebrate habitat. They look and smell great too.

    Yet ‘conservation’ bodies and the FC advocate, and provide workshops on, mechanical destruction of whin. (http://www.scottishlandandestates.co.uk/index.php?option=com_attachments&task=download&id=1382.) Why? Do you or other commenters have views?

    • I was going to ask someone whether whins fix nitrogen. I can say from experience that they make a good ‘nurse’ species for forest trees, protecting them from browsing until the trees are big enough to protect themselves. Janet, do you have as much objection to whom as to lupin?

      • Probably less concern from an invasiveness point of view, but still question whether the addition N s necessary (and it’s a bugger to run through when orienteering – see recent Facebook exchange with Pete Clinch!)

        • Ah, the ‘invasiveness’ word. Sounds a bit as Derek, would say ‘stasis conservationist’, maybe even a bit SNH.( are you employed by them) What do you mean by invasive What pristine undisturbed ecosystem do you think it is being invaded? It could be said that birch, broom and gorse etc are ‘invasive’, indeed even indeed pine and alder. Makes you wonder why broom gorse and alders evolved an association with Frankia in their roots. Where do you think Mother Nature went wrong here and how much damage has she done with broom, gorse and alder in Scotland since the Younger Dryas? Are you really saying that the barren truncated moraine and others like are ‘suffering’ from a surfeit of nitrogen?

          I would remind you that the biggest single source of ‘invasive’ exotic plants is the UK and Westminster governments forestry policy and that part of that strategy is the use of man-made NPK fertilisers.

          • Invasive doesn’t mean new or non-native – it means something which is likely to take over and cause become a monoculture. Lupins potentially fall into this category. Monocultures are unstable systems which lack resilence to environmental pressures such as climate change and disease, and don’t help to ensure the health succession which is needed to adapt to a changing environment. I’m certainly not a “stasis conservationist”. Nor do I work for SNH, although I don’t see how it would change the value of my argument if I did!

          • Could you please look again at the photo sequence again and does the last one look like a lupin monoculture to you?

      • Simon,
        I did use broom, as you can see from one of the photos, It shaded out the lupin later in the succession. I was asked by the landowner, not to plant gorse. Both species can be dry-site nitrogen fixers and be part of the successional stages leading to forest establishment. Foresters have long noted the protective function of broom and its preferential selection as browse by the TGBs. I also tried dry-site alders like Alnus rubra, Alnus incana and Alnus sinuata after being told by stasis conservationists that native Alnus glutinosa wouldn’t do well this high up( I would now laugh at that suggestion). They all did very well on the mineral soil, especially Alnus rubra, but it is incana that would be the best general purpose choice, especially now, as it is more resistant to the alder pathogens affecting native trees down south.

        Once again to get back to the original purpose, of the Loch Garry trial ( which was not the recreation of the Great Wood of Caledon Phantasm). The lupin produced more bio-degradable leaf litter faster than any other plant and certainly earlier in the succession and unlike broom and gorse, is not a fire risk. Later on the alders produced more litter, especially as the lupins were shaded out

  8. I see you share the experience we here in the South West had with the Millennium Forest. It’s my opinion that the Millennium Forest set community engagement in forestry in Scotland back by a generation – which may have been the covert intention.

    Regarding sheep, deer goats and rabbits, we simply cannot afford to have breeding populations of herbivores in our hills without an/adequate population of climax predators to control their numbers. We all know that if you put up an effective exclosure more or less anywhere in Scotland, volunteer saplings will colonise it within a decade. Keep the grazing pressure off, and the trees will return, their roots will bind the topsoil and their leaf-fall will (very gradually) replenish it; water won’t rush off the hills so fast, the rivers downstream won’t flood so often, the land won’t slip and the open screes won’t grow. And the biodiversity and biomass will increase radically, to the point where in two or three generations the hills will be able to economically support a (slightly) larger human population.

    But you cannot exclose the whole of upland Scotland. There are only two ways to deal with the herbivore: the way of the wolf and the lynx, or the way of the machine gun. I know which I prefer.

    • Simon,
      I do have a certain sympathy for your viewpoint, but not with the use of automatic weapons! I have argued the case for real national parks and more especially for a new National Widlife Refugium. We will need a National Wildlife Service to replace SNH, Deer Commission etc, but it would appear that neither the SNP or the Labour Party can see the incongruity of having privately owned national parks!

  9. Question for Ron Greer.Your findings alwayse made sense and once you start looking you will see pockets of trees everywhere even on Lewis in fenced of areas so proving they can and will grow almost anywhere and so providing the benfits for land and loch.When you ask a stalker where are the biggest stags he will say in the woods.So there must be a point of tree population where sheep and deer if correctly balanced and managed can be more productive in a spread out type of forest.In other words your estates and hill farms might make more money if the trees were allowed to grow before putting stock in.Do you know of any such situation of deliberate tree planting for deer/sheep?

    • Torquil: I recognise the origin of that name from my Nordic journeys, perhaps like me you are a descendant of Somlerled!?

      Yes, apart from the evidence you have pointed out, and what is growing already in areas of Lewis protected from the sheep farming regime and the annual pyromania associated with it, we can draw from the inferences and analogies of tree growth in SW Iceland, coastal Norway, including coastal Arctic islands, and even from the Gulf Stream influenced Murmansk coastal area of northern Russia, to argue that a large area of Lewis, especially the eastern side, is capable of much more woodland cover. I don’t think that the Norse fleets of Godred Crovan and the Nyvaig fleets of Somerled were all made from wood imported from Norway!

      In our New Caledonia project, Derek and I had incorporated the need to integrate herbivore management of both domestic and wild species with an aggrading woodland soil- vegetation system accruing biological capital and then further integrating that with a new human socio-economic system living off the biological interest. That view was in part developed from the more limited project at Loch Garry and our various study trips abroad, of which that of 1984 with Angus McHattie was especially valuable in pointing out the potential of a new sheep farming- forestry system here in Scotland, not directly copying the one used in the coastal-montane Vestlandet area of Norway, but drawing on its key principles. Are you ready to have Lewis look more like the landscape in http://www.westcoastpeaks/Peaks/burkelandsfjellet.html ?!

  10. The govt forestry targets could be met by strategic planting on existing farms if the landlords were removed from the equation.
    If every farm found 5 percent of land for trees, everyone would benefit, not just blanket tree planting tax avoiders.

    • yes Hector, what we have currently is landowners removing tenants and planting good ground with trees. They will grow well and then blow over, ground too good. They are doing this with shooting in mind, so will woodcock benefit? raptors or any predator will be killed in an attempt to steralise the environment. As for forestry and hill ground, cattle can play a major role with periodic grazing. Sheep i agree need to be fenced out. Tree planting grants must be targeted properly, currently they are subsidising the removal of tenant farmers and lining the pockets of milionare tax dodgers from other countries.

  11. I wasn’t advocating the use of automatic weapons, I was advocating the use of climax predators. But if we’re not going to introduce climax predators, there are an aweful lot of deer, sheep and goats that need to be killed every single year, and a few rich stalkers with rifles just don’t cut it.

    I went to a very inspiring talk several years ago by a forester who’d made a very large exclosure somewhere up in the highlands, and he talked of machine-gunning deer and helicoptering out piles of carcasses – if I recall correctly he showed a photograph of a huge net full of dead deer dangling below a helicopter. It’s not pretty and no-one wants to do it – but unless you get browsing pressure off the volunteer saplings just will not survive.

    Yes, I do appreciate wolves are also problematic: we can’t tell them where we want them to live and what we want them to prey on. But there aren’t any easy answers here – every year that passes, more topsoil is scoured off Scotland’s bare hills than a forest can lay down in thirty years, and there are many places where the loss of topsoil is getting critical.

    It doesn’t really matter how they go, but the vast majority of the deer and sheep must go, or upland Scotland’s potentially fertile biosphere will be lost for a millennium.

    • ‘The deer live in fear of the bear, but the mountain lives in fear of the deer’—a saying from Abruzzi in Italy

    • Derek Pretswell

      Simon
      I sense the enormous frustration and passion you obviously feel for this subject and Ron and I share this. You say there aren’t any easy answers here, well both Ron and I think there are, it’s just that they are not easy to enact.
      In all of the blogs sites I contribute to I always feel that I am late to the party or that I’ve started reading the book half way through and we are already discussing issues which themselves carry an enormous number of assumptions and I feel we should go back to basics. To solve centuries if not millennia of misuse then we should not be looking for quick solutions. I agree a good starting point will be to deliver independence for it is only through this that we have any hope of bringing about lasting social reform to build a fairer society, reduce the immoral disparity between rich and poor and give people the opportunity to control their own lives. So, biologically, we have to regenerate the soil vegetation base …. plant trees… they really do make a difference to soil, micro-climate water table etc. To do these we do not need to get rid of sheep we just have to change the way we manage them….the way we used to do it but with modern facilities. we do not need to get rid of the deer we just need to mange them, forests developed with grazing animals – just not with the same number. Look at deer densities in Germany and compare them to ours. The forest will develop if we use the appropriate animals, densities and strategies. The Biological system does not need much of a push, it readily tells you what it is capable off only to see it destroyed by stasis conservationists who appear to have never heard of succession or evolution but have heard of the national vegetation classification, a corset that keeps mother nature in good shape. Our problem lies with the social systems; land ownership, non accountable land ownership and management, surveys that often act as the bench marks for stasis, politicians of all hues who won’t listen, who refuse to see the trees because of the wood; the control of our land from centres far removed from the land – it started with the industrial revolution when we developed urban industries which, through the land owners, removed the power from the local communities which farmed to meet their needs they now had to farm to meet the needs of an industry far removed from the site.
      Local resources under local control, a landscape meeting its northern biological potential and a relationship where the quality of life of the local community is dependent upon the existence of the diverse biological landscape—– sustainability- economic, social factors in balance with the primary biological factor, a system based on optimisation not maximisation and a system that operates over millennia and not parliamentary timetables or forest crop rotation cycles.
      Sorry Simon got carried away there, now you know why I don’t blog often it is dead easy to press my buttons.

  12. Until the Independence Question is settled there isn’t much likelihood of Government looking at anything. There is a need to engage with the public and get them on side. How can that happen? When it comes to “land” issues the public really only get advertorials from the landed gentry. I think most of the public don’t relate to things rugged and remote. Can some of this be tabloidised?

    • Stewart and Simon: I frequently have referred to ‘Bambi’ as a disaster movie and Watership Down wasn’t exactly useful either.

    • Stewart: I raised the issues with Roseanna Cunningham, both as an opposition environment spokesperson and then as a Government Minister. She body swerved with all the agility of an Ibex. That was in 2003, so the SNP have had 10 years to engage with it, but have declined to do so. Things have moved forward a bit with the A83 situation, but I remain deeply cynical.

      • I was an SNP member for thirty years, but no longer. Fair enough, the party’s first priority is independence, and they’re concentrating on getting there; I wish them well and shall vote ‘yes’ next year. But for me the issues of land reform, rural communities and upland management are more immediate and urgent; and climate change is most urgent of all.

        But we do not and should not have dominion over this Earth; rather, we are its stewards, and if we do not steward it well there is a pretty bleak future for rural Scotland, independent or no.

        • likewise myself Stewart. I joined in 1981, just after the study trip to Iceland. Our CV’s above give some inkling of our involvement with the SNP environment policy development. After the Loch Garry project won the Radio4-Times Environment Award, and indeed several other awards, I was invited to join the Scottish Land Commission set up by Alex Salmond and was proud to see it accepted by acclamation at National Council only to see hopes for it dashed by the SNP reneging on its implementation. I resigned a few years ago and joined the SDA. Derek, fights diplomatically on, but I don’t think they deserve his mutliple abilities.
          I still of course support independence and will be voting YES, because we will not get radical strategic land reform out of Westminster.

  13. I don’t think we disagree much, it’s just a question of emphasis. I don’t want to hunt deer to extinction – once forest has got canopy up, it can tolerate a population of deer. But as I noticed checking my young trees just today, deer will preferentially browse the growing tips of saplings even when there’s plenty of other grazing around. One roe deer can do a great deal of damage to an acre of saplings in a night, so while you’re getting canopy up in an area, you really have to keep deer numbers right down.

    A natural balance can be established. In the aftermath of the last ice age, forest reestablished right across Scotland despite the presence of deer and of elk. But their numbers were controlled – naturally – by climax predators, and that’s the part of the puzzle we’re now missing. Some of the deforestation of the uplands is down to felling; some is down to sheep. But a great deal is down to the extermination of the wolves, and the consequent explosion of the deer population.

  14. Yes I would have to agree that the SNP are a disappointment on matters “Land”. I’m neither a member nor supporter but hopefully we get a yes vote and some sort of realignment that will change things.
    I saw Bambi aged abut 4 in the early Fifties, I am still traumatised.

    • Stewat: my apologies, I interposed your name for Simon’s. Aye, the ‘Bambi effect’ is still deeply embedded.

      • Best place for Bambi is on the barbie.

        • Aye ‘Bambi burgers’ could be part of a number of value added products from a wildlife harvest with, as we put it years ago in our New Caledonia project, a basis in high value-low volume management in terms of herbivores to soil -vegetation complex.

  15. Simon,
    I think you, Derek and I could have a long and fruitful discussion over a dram. I like your term ‘volunteer saplings’ because it points out that if we got the current herbivore numbers down from their current OTT level we could get a large woodland area back for nothing. Right now of course we are subsidising woodland establishment at the same time as we are paying people to graze and burn land to a frazzle. Area payments are certainly better than headage payments, but we can still ask the trick question relative to the final photo in the Loch Garry sequence: what side of the fence is the ‘wrong’ side? The answer of course is both. It is obvious that the surrounding landscape is at least as capable of obtaining something like the soil vegetation complex as shown in http://www.westcoastpeaks.com/Peaks/orratuva.html with all the implications that would have for habitat for extant and extinct large mammalian herbivore and carnivore species. Please notice also the human settlement pattern that exists amongst this habitat and compare it to the ‘Drumochter disaster zone’
    The original forest complex developed not despite large mammalian herbivores, as Derek has already pointed out, but with them. Further even to that it. certainly in terms of keystone species such as Beaver, Wild Boar and Auroch, developed as such BECAUSE of them. The soil-site disturbance caused by these 3 species has major implications for stand structure and breaking up the ground vegetation matt to allow seed to reach mineral soils.

    A reduction of density and an increase in diversity of mammalian herbivore species is not only good for the forest, but it creates a forest with a ‘smorgersbord’ of food and shelter that is good for them. The descendants of 14 stone Scottish Red Deer introduced from Invermark to New Zealand reached about double that weight when they had access to their prime woodland habitat, In this instance very good for them and very bad for a forest ecosystem that had not evolved with large placental herbivores, but it proves the point. Of course if a new productive diverse boreo-nemoral forest of the Highlands developed, deer would improve in size, antler form and growth, but they would mature earlier and increase in fecundity and we would go back to ‘overgrazing square one’ unless that increase in fecundity was absorbed either by predators on an increase of wildlife harvesting by the local/national community ( politicos please note that this will mean jobs–Real Earth Jobs or ‘Rejjies as we might refer to them)

    • Your point about the aurochs is well made. Our cattle (like our deer) evolved as a woodland species, and – once you have canopy up – cattle, at a modest stocking density, are a perfectly viable component of forest management, either from an ecological or an economic viewpoint. There’s no reason why our reafforested hills should not support economic activity, after all.

      The related point is that for best biodiversity ‘forest’ need not and should not mean 100% closed canopy. Real forest contains glades and meadows. Somewhere in the 60-80% closed canopy range is probably ideal.

      • exactly Simon, spot on. Beaver maintain mixed open riparian area important to a host of other species and Wild Boar scarify the soil and encourage periodic tree regeneration. All offer economic harvest potential.

  16. Anyone noticed how there are no comments from members of SLAE?

    • I expect they’re simply too busy. It takes a lot of work to develop “vibrant rural communities”.

      • Aye right Noel, they are indeed perhaps using their community vibratory devices. I’m more of a stirrer-up myself.

      • Don’t be too harsh on them. We’re discussing upland land management. They can’t possibly be expected to know anything about that.

  17. Very interesting article. On my way home last night I stopped to move a deid Bambi to the side of the road, very recently knocked down and too wee to be worth taking home to eat. Last week all the residents on the estate here received a letter from the factor alerting us to “unusually high numbers’ of deer crossing the the road. I was wondering if the deer’s habits have changed and they enjoy spending a bit more time down by the river, enjoying the scenery and watching the world go by? Or if there is a significant increase in deer numbers? Another theory is that the deer are browsing in a carrot field (providing a nice easy target for the keepers), carrots being a bit yummier than baby trees. Does anyone know if deer numbers are on the increase around Royal Deeside? And would it be worth asking the local estates to make an effort to reduce numbers and give the surplus venison to the recently established Food Bank in Banchory?

    • Actually Pops, there was a recent news report featuring a Deeside keeper complaining that Mar Lodge estate had been shooting too many deer in their attempts to encourage woodland regeneration!

      • No comments from SLAE. But they will be absorbing all of this, processing the bits they like, then timeously regurgitating it, in an attempt at securing the status quo.
        We know the problem…. the continued strangling of creativity and opportunity. We are all being exposed to the negativity, kept going by the landed elite and their henchmen. I like hard talk when it comes to land reform, but when it comes to the finer details on the solutions, keep your powder dry!

        • The finer point is very simple, we have to slay the culture of that quasi-feudal, Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world from which SLAE has been spawned. We are in a real Lord of The Rings epic. The solution starts with a YES vote and then the journey away from Mt Doom and Glen Dreich can start.

  18. Janet Moxley: What is the virtue in sterility?

    • Ron, I think you are misinterpreting what I have said. At no point have I said I favour a sterile landscape. What I have said is that I do not favour excessively high nitrogen inputs which damage the very trees which you say you want to grow and also destroy aquatic ecosystems. Scotland’s uplands are not sterile they are overgrazed. Lupins don’t solve that. As I and several other commentors have already said reducing stocking levels and fencing out grazing animals does.

      • I honestly don’t think fencing addresses the scale of the problem. Fencing works if you are trying to reestablish small pockets of forest. But we have at least many hundreds of square kilometers, and for that the only solution is to drastically reduce browser populations and hold them down for at least a decade.

  19. There are massive areas totally devoid of sheep already, its the deer that are the problem and sif there are sheep, they can be fenced out a lot cheaper.

    • Hector, Janet and Simon: The problem is truly a massive one. I consider every fence built at Loch Garry and many others in the Highlands as monuments to failure and an indictment of the way we have failed in the management of the soil-vegetation complex for our wildlife, domestic stock and the human economy. Fencing to keep domestic stock IN as a management device is one thing, but when we have to fence wildlife and domestic stock OUT in order to have forest then that’s a whole different intellectual and ecological position.

      Yes Hector the 9 million sheep of the old headage payment era of the 1990s etc may have gone now, but in terms of the soil-vegetation complex we have an aftermath in terms of stasis and edapho-climatic parameters which is probably without parallel since the Younger Dryas. We still have the deer population problem and of course the muirburn protocols of the so-called ‘traditional Highland Estate'( an ecological flash in the pan of very recent origin in the geo-chronology). In short ‘the beautiful ecological slum’ that Derek and I suggested in the article. Getting out of that slum and creating something richer and more diverse is not going to be achieved by the old stasis conservationist approach of ‘management by doing nothing’. We are going to have to engage in direct management and on quite a large strategic scale.

      Simon is correct in that fencing off small areas offers some potential and Derek and I have argued that same case in terms of establishing seed sources, that would come into their own once as Simon has indicated we get the total grazing pressure reduced and the nature of that grazing/browising diversified. Further to that soil site disturbance, preferably by biological rather than mechanical means ( especially not deep ploughing) will be necessary.

      We are dealing with, since at least ‘the coming of the great white sheep’, so disastrous to native Gaelic culture and indeed long prior to this , a long period of what some have described as ‘extractive pastoralism’. Whatever the term, the sheepless, burned- to -a -frazzle, grazed- to- death, aftermath( including parts of the sub- alpine zone) with its ‘scabby dwarf deer’ and its greatly reduced avian and mammalian biodiversity, has indeed a fertility problem.

      The capacity of this environment to produce and sustain wildlife and domestic stock/harvesting is and will be dependent on the total amount of nutrients in circulation within the ecosystem and the rate at which these nutrients are circulated. In respect of the latter the balance of biologically available Nitrogen to Carbon ratio is a vital. Thus nitrogen fixing trees, herbs and shrubs will have a role to play, but we will need even more direct interaction and whilst vehemently eschewing wide spread use of oil-based NPK, the large scale use of ground rock dust to remineralise soils in which our activities have accelarated oligotrophy should be considers. Aye, grinding the ‘quasi -feudal , Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world’ quite literally to dust as it were.

  20. Yes Ron, perhaps some of the obscene mansions built off the robbery of highland tenants could be ground up to provide that rock dust?
    Everything returned from whence it came?

    • Total empathy with your sentiments of course Hector, but I’d rather see them turned to office and residency space for communities, the staff of the National Wildlife Service running the Monadhliath National Wildlife Refugium, outreach centres for the UHI, or simply being the primary homes of permanently resident people.

  21. I`ve been aware and long admired the efforts to restore the habitat around Loch Garry. It`s a while since I `ve been down by the loch but I remember admiring the garden of the little railway cottage at Dalnaspidal. Lupins of varied colours grew well there and I thought the fine vegetable garden was at least part due to the flourishing legumes. Mind you, I thought the lupins at the side of the A9 had escaped from that garden!

    Whilst totally in agreement with the arguments for a total change in the way the land is owned I wondered about expert opinions on certain current situations.

    Has the long term policy of Ardverikie Estate with a mix of trees native and non native species been a success? Is Loch Laggan, despite its varying levels, in better biological shape on account of the surrounding woodland?

    The regeneration of the woodlands of Creag Meagaidh has seemed very slow. Would fencing have been better than the policy, much criticised at the outset, of severe deer culling?

    I was impressed by the widespread reforestation of Gleann na Muice above Kinlochewe. Is exclusion of deer from large areas, as in this case, a good way forward?

    There has been a running dispute between those naturalists who see the increased extent of the Abernethy Forest as necessarily an organic process which should spread with man`s only intervention being the control of deer. The RSPB favours planting. There is a negative effect when ecological experts are so at odds.

    A respected local historian giving a talk about the shieling system in upper Badenoch in the late 18th century evidences a very large animal population even on the upper slopes. Could it be that the mix of livestock was then less harmful. His talk called “The Hills are Alive” attracted over 50 souls to Dalwhinnie primary school. Whilst there were present shepherds, small landowners, keepers and others there was little or no representation from the natural science community.

    Is there not a place for Sitka? It can make a very fine soundboard.

    • Spruce is used for instruments because it’s light, strong and stiff – thus you can thin it down more than other woods to make a more lively, responsive soundboard. I think a slow rate of growth might be important for the best grain structure and very old trees – 200+ years – seem to be the best because they can provide large pieces of knot-free wood. I’ve read that about 150 of these old growth trees are enough to supply the entire US guitar-making market.

      Therefore, if I’ve got all that right, growing Sitka Spruce for instrument-making would very much be a long-term project using the best, carefully-selected Scottish micro-climates and with only a small demand for logs at the end of it (although I couldn’t say what other uses there might be for instrument-grade spruce). Still, even on a small scale, it would be a high-value product which could contribute something.

      • Sitka or Norway spruce grown to maturity makes a very fine tree. There used in the past to be a market for ‘aircraft quality’ spruce, which is to say straight grained and relatively knot free, and it would not surprise me if you could find a premium market for such timber now – it’s a very fine engineering material.

        Whether spruce of that quality can be grown in Scotland, though, I don’t know. We don’t normally let it grow big enough – being shallow rooted it’s vulnerable to wind.

        • Once again in agreement Simon. There is a place for the some of the Pacific Northwest conifers and North European ones too. To get the best out of them for the purposes you mention, we’d however need to grow them in a forest and not a ‘cellulose factory’

  22. I am surprised that in the all of comments above, there is nothing about the increased incidence of wildfire once the herbivores have been removed/reduced in the Highlands. The major wildfires in recent years in Torridon, Assynt and Glenelg were all in areas where there has been a drastic reduction of grazing pressure as well as an increase in public access. Where the fuel load increases wildfires are bound to become more of an issue, as they were in the more distant past. Is this what you wish to see?
    Going back to the core of the article, which was good, the message I took was that riparian woodlands and woodlands established on over-grazed land was good for preventing erosion as well as improving the environment but I don’t immediately see what this has got to do with land reform. I am well aware that many landowners are already establishing large tracts of native woodlands successfully and that we the public have every opportunity to provide input in to the design and location of the woodlands during the scoping/public consultation stage of the application.
    We have got to look forward rather than back in the exercise if the environment is to be managed sustainably given that we are living in fast changing world.

    • Why is wild fire necessarily a bad thing? Yes, it will happen occasionally in semi-natural woodland. It does everywhere there are forests and it always has. The forest survives.

      From a human point of view, so long as your house isn’t actually in the wood (as, full disclosure, mine is, but that’s a risk I’ve chosen to take) it means at worst a few days nuisance.

    • Almost a SLAE flavour in this comment from Rural Rascal. Yes, the basic biological truths and realities remain the same irrespective of the land tenure system. It’s what is done with those truths and realities and who does it, is where the land tenure reform comes in. OK the existing private operators of the atavistic quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world have done very well out of all that campaigning by individuals and NGOs to have parity of funding with native woodland and commercial forestry at public expense, but that’s not moving forward very far in my estimation.

      The fire ecology of boreo-nemoral forests is well known and we’ll be facing nothing new, even though we might need more of a skill base to handle it. Besides you are talking about the old style, build the fence and go away type forestry. We are talking about moving forward to a new type of cultural wooded landscape ( for Scotland at least) with a varying private and state tenure system and a suttle, but rigorous, day to day management strategy combined with a multi-decadal forward vision.

    • Derek Pretswell

      Hi Rural Rascal
      We are not wishing wildfires, quite the contrary, the recent fires you discuss originated on moorland. What Ron and I have always been about is looking forward we have always looked at reforesting in its effect on the wider environment both for people and wildlife, and always looked at mechanisms to increase the number of resource holders and not to resource the relatively small number of land holders. The land is the production platform to build a quality of life for our communities, communities who can thrive within our rural environment providing we can both enhance the environment to its true potential and provide the infrastructure for people.

    • Yes, there may be more wildfires, but on the whole these just clear the brush and understorey and do not inflict significant damage on mature trees in most cases. I think climate change to warmer drier summers is likely to be more of a driver for increased wildfires than change in stocking density.

      • The repeated slope failures on the A83 have not been caused by warmer drier summers, but by heavy orographic/frontal rainfall as were the summer events on the A9 and in Glen Ogle.

  23. Dick,
    Sadly, we are without the classical studies of the ‘before and after’ of hydro -regulated lakes that the Scandinavians carried out way back in the 50-70s. We could only postulate analogies from the similar development of the classic eroded draw-down zone that derives post regulation and the profoundly negative effects that arise on the native ecosystem. However last year, I assisted in a study for a doctoral thesis, that suggested, very strongly, a decline in fish biomass and littoral invertebrate numbers through no regulation, a regulation level likely to be marginal for freshwater shrimps etc and a very large regulation level.

    I have no doubt that Loch Laggan will have some amelioration from the accruing woodlands developing since the Creag Meagaidh project actually enhanced the tree regeneration more than it did inside it and the relatively progressive, enlightened Ardverikie forest policy, but again no before and after, though we now have something of a baseline as from 2012.

    Well, it’s indeed interesting that there is so much regeneration of a wide variety of tree species outside of the fence along the Craig Meagaidh compared to inside, but some of that is due to the soil-site disturbance caused by the upgrade to the Laggan-Spean Bridge road. There is perhaps a lesson there for SNH, but they will not be listening to me.

    Your comments on the old shieling system are very interesting. The Norwegians had a similar seter system and the modern manifestation of it plays a big part in why the landscapes in the similar geobotanical -climatic regimes as per http://www.westcoastpeaks.com/Peaks/orratuva.html and others are so different to what pertains in our hills. In the days of the transhumance sheiling system at Loch Garry stock were only grazed here from June-September, then taken down to lower ground. The main difference when the Great White sheep came was that the sheep were out on the hills most of the year and the non selective grazing of cattle and goats was replaced by a selective grazing monoculture and its associated annual pyromania.

    The multi-coloured lupins you saw at old Norman’s cottage were Russell’s Hybrids, but he did plant seed from my Nootka stock. The lupins on the A9 embankments were planted by me in a totally man-made habitat of rock embankments, some of which had not seen the light of day for 300 million years and had no ecological history whatsoever. They have almost died out now, have sown the seeds of their own defeat by upgrading the soil and allowing competing vegetation to oust them. Apparently various enthusiasts stopped at the layby and dug them up for their own projects!

  24. Let your motto be “nil carborundum illegitemi”.
    My biology knowledge is just about adequate to follow this article and comments and the long term consequences of implementation would be wonderful but could articles be written in less technical terms that might get wider circulation and inspire those not currently interested in “Land” topics?

    • That’s a well made point Stewart. We who have been in the ‘goldfish bowl’ for a long time tend to forget how daunting some of the terminology and phraseology is to non specialists. It is a challenge to write something which gets across technical competency and is ‘digestable’ at the same time. We can only hope we managed to get that balance not too much out of kilter. Some of the stuff on the hydro-electric regulation impacts might appear a bit esoteric or arcane and if there is anything you need a less technical description of, we will be glad to help.

  25. I can pretty much follow it though I have had to look up some terms. I’m thinking more of a very general public and in broader concepts. They simply don’t need the technical detail in any form. They need what’s wrong, why it’s wrong and what the consequences can be, like the road problems. Perhaps a good artist illustration of a particular spot as it is now and how it might be well into the future. A simple bullet list of the benefits. Something they can understand and sign up to. A tame features jurno who can understand the stuff might be the best to write under tutelage.

    • Derek Pretswell

      Country Living magazine and the Scotsman newspaper did some very good illustrations of what the before and after Greer and Pretswell would look like but this was back in the early 90’s.

      {Note from Ed. – happy to include the illustration I think you were talking about – from the Scotsman 11 November 1992]

  26. So Janet, what is the bigger problem;: headlice sucking ones blood, or a Grizzly Bear chewing ones leg off; Ron Greer planting a few hundred metres squared of Nootka Lupin or an agri-industrial system, backed by governent subsidy to use oil bases nitrogen fertiliser.? Oh anbd BTW what NGO/Quango do you work for?

    • Ron, I don’t think who I work for is relevant as I am commenting on this in a personal capacity, although doubtless the fact that I have some professional qualifications and experience in soil and environmental science will give you more fuel to flame me as a know-nothing “expert”. It’s a pity that instead of engaging with people who already work in this area and who might be able to help you build your ideas (e.g carrying out field trials) you resort to rather shrill and aggressive disparaging of anything they say. I think if I said the sky blue you would say it was red!

      Yes, the intensive agri-industrial system does bring problems, although the most intensive agriculture is not based in the areas which you are proposing to lupinise (although they do suffer its impacts from long range transport of its surplus nitrogen). There is a big push to encourage the agricultural industry to reduce mineral N inputs (which aren’t really oil-based, although energy is needed to power the Haber process etc to fix atmospheric N as ammonia). Yes, there is more scope for using other N sources such as legumes and animal manures and for timing fertilisers and manure application to correspond with plant requirements. In an agricultural system I can see that lupins could be positive for soil carbon storage – as you say these systems already non-biodiverse and feature a wide range of non-native species. I think they have far more of a potential role there than in the uplands.

      • Janet, if you wish to place yourself in the ‘know nothing expert’ category, that ‘s up to you. Which branch of the ‘Negataibh’ confederation would you see yourself being most like? We tried to engage with others, but we got patronised, condescended to and plagiarised.( and betrayed). What exactly do you think I am trying to ‘lupinise’ and what burns you up about lupins that tens of thousands of acres of non native conifers and millions of non native sheep do not?

  27. Thanks Ron and Noel and Simon for your information.
    I liked the lupins –I couldn`t imagine them getting a malevolent grip on the land like the widespread ponticums or the Himalayan Balsam on eg the Clyde. There are lupins around the entrance to the Wildlife Park at Kincraig. Leymus arenarius is doing ok by the roadside near there as is thrift. I don`t think they`ll take over the wilderness.

    I understand that research has shown that the use of sheilings by Drumochter around 1800 was more complex than might have been previously thought with animals being moved throughout the summer utilising more than one shieling site.

    I am of the opinion that at least in some areas, planting and fencing of areas large and small is beneficial.

    I reckon the South side of L Laggan, Ardverikie, is pretty benign ,at least by the loch. It is the vast area of the estate that`s devoted to red deer that is the problem. Similarly, Balavil Estate,by Kingussie, has an attractive mix of woodlands, native and otherwise, and of open grazing for cattle and sheep on the land “reclaimed” centuries back but most of the acreage of this small estate is set aside for game.
    Always the huntin`and shootin`. How can landowners be persuaded to pursue a less narrow system of land usage?

  28. Dick: Yes the riparian habitat at Laggan on both shores is pretty good and has improved greatly on the north shore due to the expansion of woodland after Craig Meagaidh became a reserve.

    Don’t think the lupins at Kincraig are nootkatensis, but they have been on the shingle of the Tay, Dee and Beauly since at least early last century and probably into the 19th. Interestingly Leymus can rapidly out compete the Nootka Lupin.

    The shieling system was obviously quite a sophisticated one and what a difference the coming of the Blackface/Cheviot extensive system must have made to the vegetation structure when cattle were largely taken out of the equation and the sheep stayed all year. Roy’s map indicates vestigial woodland on Meall na Leitrach in 1755, but the north side of Loch Garry looks as if it was bare even then and probably for a very long time before that.

  29. Both the original article and subsequent discussion are most enlightening.

    The unsustainably high deer population is undoubtedly a problem for existing and proposed native woodland, but what to do about it seems to cause a lot of division in the highlands. A recent article in Sporting Rifle by a professional stalker was against reducing populations to protect unfenced woodland.

    I think the re-introduction of predators is the best long term solution, but mention of the W word triggers huge amounts of concern and anxiety. It’s interesting that these anxieties are virtually absent in countries that actually have wolves.

    I’m reminded of Leopold’s observation that hunting a species to extinction is like taking apart a clock and throwing away some of the cogwheels because you don’t know what they’re for. Then, when you re-assemble the clock, it somehow doesn’t work like it used to. The highlands strike me as a particularly damaged timepiece.

    I’m actually a bit surprised at the enthusiasm some sporting estates have for the current high deer levels. Obviously the income from stag stalking is important to them, but this must be offset by the increased costs of the hind cull which is mostly done by paid professionals rather than paying guests. If there was more established woodland, the deer would likely be considerably bigger as they are on the continent, boosting trophy fees. And as Monbiot observed in his excellent book Feral, the best way to maintain the wolf’s fear of humans is to cull them occasionally, and this might well bring in more income.

    I found the mention of large areas of woodland, connected by corridors hugely inspiring. A Scottish wilderness reserve, where access is neither hindered nor particularly facilitated, could be a huge draw to tourists. It would be even better if it were publicly owned, but that’s another story.

    • Peter: You are correct about the specific internal attitude to large predators within Scotland. In the recent past, whilst sampling Lake Unden in southern Sweden, my host asked one of his local colleagues to take me to a spot where there was a good chance of seeing Moose. The reply was an apology in a very matter of fact, laconic way ‘Sorry, not possible now as the wolves have eaten them down’. This was in a stretch of cultural landscape, which, had it had more drystane dykes, would have been very like that stretch of country along the Highland edge between Dunkeld and Blairgowrie. I should have known anyway from the large amount of regenerating Rowan trees in the woodlands around the farmsteads and strawberry fields.
      The attitude of the stalker you met is probably that of a man fearful of losing his job within that quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world run by, and for, sectional vested landed interests, which we mentioned in the main article. A world wherein estate values are intimately tied up with the number, rather than the size and quality of stags shot.

      What Derek and I were about was a different cultural landscape, more diverse and wooded, where that stalkers skills would have been used to keep a more diverse range of currently extinct native herbivores in a dynamic balance with the upgraded soil-vegetation complex.
      That cultural landscape could have, should be and still may be varied from sylvo-pastoral -agrarian land use on land owned extensively by thousands of private landowners, blending almost imperceptably into the neo-wildscape of state owned Wildlife Refugia/ National Parks where in one, the hand and footprint of man would be extremely light and on the other where tourism could be accommodated with elements of ‘wildness’. The fact that a so-called socialist party( Labour) and a so-called nationalist party( SNP) cannot even engage with the concept of a national park being owned by the nation is a measure of how far we have to go.

  30. Ron,

    The reason they cannot even engage with the concept of a national park owned by the nation is that they have some idea of how much it would cost, a cost currently met by private finance.

    • There are no challenges in this that are not faced by all our main European neighbours and our North American cousins. The private landowners in the so-called ‘national park’ are already getting public subsidies every year in any case and of course accruing societally created annual Land Rental Value in addition. From Killarney to Karelia national parks are owned by the nation state and managed by a national parks service to meet the criteria of a national state agenda—it is this that makes them by definition a national park. Here we give state grants to private interests to put up signs saying ‘ Beinn Oxymoron this way’. I am not a fan of national parks, especially the format of farce we have in our ersazt ones, but if we are going to have them, then they may as well be real ones. How many thousands of acres of Yosemite, Denali, Storasjofjellet or Dovrefjell are owned by private non nationals?

    • RR,

      It’s not that much a leap of imagination to see people actually earning a living from employment within regeneration techniques, after all….we seem to be managing the opposite at the moment.

  31. I see the US National Parks cost the US $1bn per annum to run and cost recreational users $25 per week to enjoy. UK citizens currently enjoy the UK landscape for free. One recent small wildfire cost $600k for electricity repairs alone.

    • Well, as I said, I am not a fan of national parks per se and especially not when ours result in a benefit of £500 million or so in subsidies and land value uplifts to private tenure interests within the parks. Then of course we have the inheritance tax derogations.

      When the politocos were still arguing over the boundary definitions I thought the path to Beinn Oxymoron was via Strathsheecanery and Glen Gearraidhmander. Perhaps I was not wrong.

      I also thought that we could have called the Cairngorm ersatz facade ‘Grantland’ as there would be a grant for this, a grant for that and quite a lot of that would go to Johnny Grant.

    • Can I just say how much I admire your choice of moniker? I cannot think of a better one to represent the outlook of the sectional vested interests of land monoply capitalism in Scotland and the plural term ‘Rural Rascals’ would be ever so apt to represent their corporate reality.

  32. Good write up, interesting all round.

    I’d agree with a full systems restoration Project, including hydrological earthworks, surely now that there’s enough demonstrable work that’s been carried out in this area the benefits are irrefutable. Even if the economic brain cannot appreciate the resilience and regenerative factors, it can at least equate the financial consequences of continued degradation. Of course, trophic cascade needs to be considered very seriously within restoration and with given climatic flux….. we’re going to be needing as much diversity as possible in order to induce integrity back within the land.

    The likes of, Holzer, Lawton, et al are being consulted at government level, we need to catch up, I guess at least we can leapfrog.

    • Yes, that’s a good point, the dissipation of the biological capital was and is not cost free. That cost is of course a tripartite one; environmental, social and economic. It is the first that gets the least attention from the political class, but that’s the production unit underpinning the others. Derek and I have been pointing out for almost 30 years, that we first have to rebuild the biological capital then base our social and economic structures on living off the biological interest. Sadly the politcos still seem quite happy to burn the furniture to heat the house, because it gives a quick heat in support of their sinecures.

      • Without doubt it is clear that the ‘externalities’ are now being fully internalised to the point of stripping the wallpaper and floorboards. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for the wholesale degradation that’s being perpetuated, so it is time to re-cognise that ecological restoration is the only sustainable metric base load for afore we have complete systems collapse, indeed…..it is only the constant mechanical intervention that gives the illusion that this process isn’t already fully underway and if we take a look at the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) work from Mr Charles Hall, whom, funnily enough, took his observations from the migratory behaviours of Salmon (it’s all getting a bit fishy this) we can see that once the overall EROEI is extrapolated to all critical infrastructure and the availability of initial base load, then we can see that not only is it economic folly, but also a physical impossibility for continuation at some point.
        Thus, better we use the existing ratios of energy to implement large scale sustainable (that is to say… replenish more in capture than they use and lose by entropy) systems by means of creating mass employment via something akin to ‘regenerative woodland croft guardians’ or some such like. Besides….do we not have an obligation to a ‘duty of care’ given the foreseeable element within that law?

        It could be argued, Rascal, that UK citizens pay dearly indeed, a price almost incomprehensible to most, never mind the paradoxical irony that they also inadvertently subsides the robbery from our collective ecological bank account. Have you checked out the price of usurping the laws of physics, or how much an Off the peg planet costs these days?

        • Peaceful Life: The cabal of tenure that I suspect that RR is immersed in, is little concerned with the strategic philosophies we see as opening a way to a more humane, caring economic, social and environmental outcome. This cabal is both the source and result of that quasi-fuedal, Victorian Edwardian nightmare world that defines the rural environment in so much of Scotland, mentioned above. It’s norms are about power, financial aquisition, social dominance and about demonstrating that power, securing more monetary resources and maintaining that social dominance. It’s keystone is in in continuing to monopolise societally created Land Rental Value.

          • Hi, Ron, I see the apparent indifference left by a pathological legacy of dominion and comfortable, if not blinkered, for that legacy to assume that a hubristic notion of control can continue, when clearly…it cannot. Whilst on our journey of human trajectory, our blind spot of entropic rip is almost forgivable if we consider there was an attempt for social equity, even the perceived lowliest of our number (in the west) live like energy kings in comparative terms to most today and beyond all at any other time before us. Little wonder then that there is a last gasp, by a minority, to march on into the anthropocene in Prometheus fashion, however….things being what they are, nature has decreed by means of limitations, to douse these notions with a torrential downpour of reality and extinguish the flames that dance the shadows on the cave wall.
            I’m lucidly aware that this news will be defied, but the fact remains, we have reached the limits and they cannot be defied, we either curtail this defunct path and pursue one of restoration and biomimicry or we’ll have no path at all, certain parties may well not be interested in such a predicament, but…it’s interested in them, even a parasite needs a host.

  33. …….with 3,400 personnel involved in the firefighting operation. Good rural employment I suppose!

    • perhaps you think all those other countries which have real national parks are all out of step except us Jokes?

  34. I’m not sure I buy into the argument that Burkina Faso, Chad and Burundi can afford to have state owned national parks, but Scotland can’t.

    Of course, there are costs involved in running national parks (and I use the term in it’s internationally accepted definition, meaning ours don’t qualify). But if an area is reforested and re-wilded, and returned to a self-willed state, the costs of management will necessarily be low, because you aren’t doing much management.

    It’s true the US Park Service manage visitor pressure with a permit system. Essentially we do the same thing with honeypot attractions such as Edinburgh Castle – you have to buy a ticket to get in. Now I certainly don’t feel comfortable with charging for access to the countryside, but there’s another way of reducing pressure. John Rowlands described Cache Lake as being ‘protected by distance’ – i.e., the long walk in.

    I think the FC did some research showing the vast majority of visitors stay within half a mile of their car. Most people won’t go somewhere if it requires too much physical effort. I guess that’s also the reason why a few estates feel the need to desecrate our wild land with hill tracks.

    • Derek Pretswell

      Gentlemen I feel we are always arguing on seperate branches of the trees, being superficially close but when we trace our thinking back there are many underlying divergences seperating us.
      Ron and I have been ignorant for most of our life, we have never been enlightened by institutional dogma nor privileged by power we built a vision on what we saw was possible and what we achieved and through this an understanding on how it could support others. If you do not think a system is capable of being changed then you will never change it. The environment is the easy part. We need to take our arguments back to the point of first divergence, so back to first principles. We want to rebuild our landscape and biological resource base, and we want to create a life for our communities. GIVE PEOPLE CONTROL OVER THEIR LIVES and make more resource holders. We have to look at what we can do and do it, not just for us but trully for the generations to come.

  35. The current circulation of the Scotsman wouldn’t get to many folks and Country Living isn’t exactly a common sight in most homes. Shared online would be good. You could do an update using modern technology for the web.

    • Stewart: As Derek has indicated above, this was in the early 90s of last century, when both publications, especially the Scotsman had a much bigger circulation and political impact than they do now. We also took part in 4 TV documentaries and here we are facing the same intellectual sterility, the same political procrastination and prevarication 30 years later.

  36. The main problem to change if I was a hill farmer/estate (accepting spead out broadleaf woods increase money/acre by improving stock size etc) is how would you do it?You would need to leave 1000acre blocks unused,fenced off with trees and keep stock out for at least 5 years.This would need some kind of help or it will not happen.You could divert the help they already get which wil be a lot but just going on other schemes and area payments etc.
    I am pretty sure your message of the benefits of soil improvements are not known by most,so some way of getting this across is needed to further your cause.

  37. Torquil: Thanks for your further observations. That schematic above that Andy retrieved from the Scotsman is still applicable after all these years and once again I ”d ask you to click on to http://westcoastpeaks.com/Peaks/ iseggene.html etc and click on to the various thumbnail photos at the bottom, especially the landscape format ones, and then track right or left and peruse the strategic impacts of a different management system on a very similar set of climatic, geological and botanical conditions as we have. The lack of fencing and dyking is quite remarkable—why?
    That free demonstration Norwegian sheep inhousing unit refused by the landowner at Loch Garry because he didn’t want his tenants owning it, was a bigger loss than first imagined.

  38. Once the rascal landlord bloodsuckers are removed, many things will be possible to make scotland a better place for everyone.

  39. Well it looks like it is time for such publications to be repeated. I would have thought that with the net and social media you could get much more coverage.
    The politicos will not move unless there is a head of steam behind it. It needs more supporters and therefore more publicity.
    Has anyone any suggestions?

  40. That was kinda what I had in mind. What next? A proposal and crowdfunding? Any useful contacts?

    • Aye, I ‘d like to do one about us winning a Euro rollover, and a ensemble piece about politocos starring as the Wickermen.

  41. Here’s a relevant crowdsourcing platform.
    http://www.wethetrees.com/

    • Thanks peaceful, looks an interesting site, guess the ball’s in our court now. So lights camera action …………..

  42. Looks OK. Get going with your proposal.

    • OK, I ‘ll buy an extra Euromillions ticket on Tuesday. It’s only 70 million:1, but that’s a better set of odds than the politicos listening to us.

    • Stewart, New Caledonia, our original proposal is probably more pertinent now than ever and just needs dusting.

  43. I only buy one if it goes over the hundred.

  44. Great, I’ll send you a duster.

  45. Janet,
    Your telepathic powers are remarkable to make such certain comments on the role of the lupins in the test plot, without ever having made a site visit to the plot visited by the Icelandic soil scientists.