Dewilding Scotland

Too many trees – you can’t torch the heather anywhere for trees!

Mountaineering Scotland are looking for a safe route down from the ledge onto which they have jumped. Finding themselves cuddling up to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association on an exposed overhang with a big drop below them, they are looking to clamber to safety.

The bit of a row is about Mountaineering Scotland choosing (because I doubt they were marched there at shotgun point) to ally themselves with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association over whether there is a need for trees in Scotland’s mountain landscapes.

Mountaineering Scotland’s chief executive, David Gibson, is quoted as saying ‘Mountaineering Scotland welcomes the passion shown by our members and others but regrets that our position has been substantially misunderstood and has caused concern to members. The feedback has strengthened our resolve to take a stronger stance on conservation issues, including hill tracks and land management practices.  Our collaboration with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association was on a single issue and does not indicate agreement with them on any other policy or issue.‘.

It’s a strange dance where you cling to and embrace one other dancer and then distance yourself from them as much as possible – it’s not how I would do a strip-the-willow (which must be an appropriate dance under the circumstances).

Chris Townsend (whom I have never met, as far as I can recall, but for whom I have a lot of time from what I’ve seen of his views) said: ‘Having read the clarification, I have to say as a member and an ex-president of the MCofS I think it’s pathetic, disappointing and naive.’.

Mountaineering Scotland can have whatever views they like (although it appears they are seriously out of touch with at least some of their members on this issue).  And they can team up with whichever other organisations they like who hold similar views – that makes a lot of sense. But they must realise that embarking on contentious issue with a contentious partner is bound to be noticed by their core supporters and core partners.

Looking at the views of Mountaineering Scotland, they seem pretty much in line with my own for the mostpart. I particularly liked ‘In some places, insensitive development related to industrial-scale energy generation, lucrative field sports and unsustainable tourism is threatening the very wildness, panoramas and beauty that we all cherish.’.


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13 Replies to “Dewilding Scotland”

  1. Probably time that somebody asked the MCOS what their members think about intensive muirburn, electric deer fences and hill tracks... almost just as devastating as comercial forestry.

  2. I have a really passion for the Scottish hills and mountains but the MCoS doesn't speak for me with this ill thought policy and the further statement smacks of Trumpism. Like the Russia's the SGA are loving every minute of it.

  3. I've been saying for years that the wild vistas of Scotland could be doing with more broad leafed trees. There is nothing more beautiful than a natural wood and the diversity of wildlife this proposal would bring is what we should be encouraging. I was very surprised at Mountaineering Scotland sharing a platform with Gamekeepers. Yet another instance of opposition for no reason to a beneficial scheme being proposed by the Scottish Government!

  4. Good blog, important to help them off the ledge. Interesting to read the full clarification (there seem to be two: which points to their proposed consultation this summer on a new conservation policy. That's something for members and others to look out for.

  5. They are finding that the shooting lobby's PR is so toxic that, even on a single issue, getting in bed with them can smash your brand hard. Of course this is part of the reason the shooting lobby are so keen to cosy up to anyone, to try and leach a little good PR from them before the issue implodes. I mean imagine if they had just come out and said, on their own without a co-signer of that letter, that they hated trees and wanted to burn the mountains to their bones. They would have struggled to get even their own pet publications to publish it, it certainly would not have reached the mass market. The mountaineering guys were just useful idiots to help them.

    Anyway the lesson here is that, despite what people think, there is no such thing as just standing with someone on a single specific issue. You always have to take onboard all the other baggage your collaborator brings with them to that issue. Even if you think your message is the same, it is always better to send separate letters and stand on separate platforms. That way, like the mountaineering guys, you can at least be wrong on your own terms.

  6. As you are well aware Mark, if you release a press release and then have to issue a clarification then you have totally failed. You only get one shot at it (sorry about that!). Many MCofS members, including me, will be seriously rethinking whether we should rejoin next year.

  7. Highland Scotland is in desperate need of restoration of considerable tree cover by native woodland to help achieve its full biodiversity and beauty potential. As for joining with the SGA that I'm afraid is beyond the pale. There are lots of folk who say similar things about The Lakes, yet this is a landscape impoverished by sheep,as of course are some parts of the Pennines and much of upland Wales. They both need a serious look at restoring large areas of natural vegetation much of which would be tree cover.

  8. Why would a respected organisation want to be associated with an organisation that is linked to serial crime?

  9. What perhaps this does illustrate is the yawning gulf between different interests in the uplands - there are completely different attitudes and priorities between the landscape/access lobby and the nature conservation lobby. The landscape lobby has, in my experience, been rather grander and urban-aesthetic/ arty as opposed to the more (sometimes too) scientific conservation lobby. But the gap between them is enormous, and nowhere is it more glaring than in the National Parks where awareness of the failings goes a long way back - at least to Derek Langslow's mid 90s report showing that SSSIs fared no better in the NPs than in the surrounding, unprotected countryside. Whilst there are failings on both sides, usually the lack of mutual awareness, the loser is the landscape at every level - from the wide open views to individual species like Hen Harrier. My suspicion is that the promoters of this press release on the mountaineering side simply had no idea of the strength of feeling over raptor persecution - one suspects the gamekeepers did ! - and have been shocked by the reaction they've suffered.


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