Giving back a mountain to nature.

As a young nature loving child I was lucky to grow up in a countryside surprisingly wild in nature. I could secretly camp in hidden places in the New Forest, unknown to the keepers, and earlier, before I was ten and knew better, I collected birds’ eggs, tamed young jackdaws and kept newts in my aquarium. Very few people went bird-watching, wild camping or long distance hiking – we naturalists had no real impact on nature, but others killed wildlife, sometimes in large numbers, like raptors, or hunted otters. The pesticide era set off a massive chemical impact on wildlife in the 1950s and 60s. The way my mum used DDT on house flies I’m surprised I survived. Then came ever increasing mechanisation of farming with dramatic changes that finally led to the loss of once common things of my childhood – grey partridges and yellowhammers, poppies and corn marigolds. Glorious hedgerows, farm ponds and gnarled old trees, we climbed, disappeared. Our food got cheaper but our enjoyment grew less.

Each new generation of my nature loving friends accept lower experiences and expectations. It’s called baseline creep so that what we have now does not seem so bad if we compare it to the 1990s or the 21st century rather to the 1960s.  But there is one other change that has been massive in the second half of my life and that’s called leisure and recreation.

I’m fortunate to live in Moray, a beautiful county much of which is still very rural and unchanged, but if I drive south over the Dava Moor I’m in the CairngormsNational Park.  Is nature better looked after there, sadly not because of burgeoning recreational activities and increasing numbers of people. How does society look after wildlife when increasing numbers of people use the same land.  The Scottish Access laws gave everyone the right to roam (responsibly) but how does that work. The slogan ‘respect wildlife’ is only meaningful if people not only know what that means but how to behave.

May be it would be better to agree that activities like taking dogs into nature reserves or carrying out disturbing recreation everywhere  is not in the best interests of nature. On the coast in winter most of the wader and wildfowl roosts, even the remote ones, I knew when younger are now regularly disturbed by dog walkers. I think it’s time our Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage completed the thinking on nature conservation in the access legislation. Surely the 10% or so of the countryside specially designated for nature should get a better deal from us. They should be places where nature comes first, and we tread with a very light foot. Giving nature real respect.

The interesting thing is that countryside users often blame developers, farmers, foresters, landowners and the like for damaging wildlife and the countryside, and often rightly so, but rarely think that their activities do any damage.  In essence, it’s not restrictions that will solve the problem but a genuine change in our attitudes, where we truly respect nature and give it room to live and evolve.  A conscious decision that we don’t need to go everywhere.

Last month, on a beautiful evening I looked across the Swiss countryside to the Matterhorn, and my friends told me that Zermatt was celebrating, that very day, the 150th anniversary of Edward Whymper making the first ascent of the mountain.. They also said that as a respect for the mountain it would be unclimbed on the actual date 14th July.  Other countries have sacred places for a variety of reasons. Famous mountains, like Kailash in Himalayas, are held in high esteem and where spiritual reasons preclude human access. It’s OK to look at it and revere it from a distance but not to climb and despoil it.

I think it would be a wonderful gift to nature if Scotland had one mountain which no one would ever climb again. I’m not spiritual but what a way to show our love of nature. I wonder which one it should be?  Any ideas!