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Campaigning on conservation

Wednesday 5th June 2019, 12:15pm

We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it. We may also be the last that can act to reverse this trend.

World Wildlife Fund ‘The Living Planet Report 2018


In 2017 Mountaineering Scotland asked its members to share their views on conservation, landscape and access issues affecting Scotland’s mountains. As we look forward to launching our conservation strategy on the 8th of June CEO Stuart Younie reflects on the journey the organisation has been on over the last couple of years and also what the future might hold.

 I’ll be completely honest with you: as I said back in April last year, I had a lot to learn in this job, particularly around our conservation agenda. I’d class myself as a fairly average member in this respect. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the big issues, partly from my educational experiences, following media coverage, a bit of reading up here and there and, of course, from my issue of Scottish Mountaineer when it dropped through the letterbox.

However, over the last 12 months I have had the privilege to meet and work with people who are passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about their specialist areas and there is no doubt it has changed my perspective when I am out walking, climbing or skiing. As well as a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo in some areas, I’ve been encouraged by the progress being made in others and there is no doubt that having a deeper understanding of some issues has made going out on the hill an altogether richer experience.    

So why do we need another strategy you may well be asking yourselves? Surely Mountaineering Scotland already has a strong record of campaigning on issues that matter to its members and it’s at the core of what our organisation is about? Well that is right, however we recognised early on that in taking the interests of our members forward we also need to be mindful that we are a mountaineering organisation and need to strike the right balance on which conservation issues we get involved in and also what action we take.

We also need to be honest and understand when it is more effective for us to support other dedicated conservation organisations with much more detailed technical and scientific knowledge than we have. What is absolutely clear however is that we need to play the long game, take a strategic approach and engage with other organisations to help influence change in policy and legislation. Never an easy task!

Our strategy is a statement of intent that prioritises our actions into three clear workstreams and identifies the actions that we will take forward both ourselves and in working with others. I’m not aware of any other sport or recreational organisation that has made a commitment like this,   recognising that our landscape provides us the environment in which to enjoy our recreational activities and that, as such, we need to do our part to help preserve and enhance it.

So to the strategy: fine words, nice pictures, but so what you might ask? Here’s a flavour of some of the activity which has been going on behind the schemes to bring the strategy to life.

Last year Access and Conservation Officer Davie Black and I attended the first meeting of the group that has since gone on to become the Scottish Rewilding Alliance and of which I am proud to say Mountaineering Scotland is one of the founding members. The alliance is a coalition of organisations that are all committed to the concept of re-wilding and a re framing of the idea of what it is all about.

As illustrated in Pete Cairns excellent book Scotland: A Rewilding Journey, this is less about reintroducing apex predators, and more about allowing the natural systems and processes to regenerate the landscape, improving the habitat for everything that lives there - including people! Our key agenda here is to push for the natural regeneration of native woodland and the establishment of natural tree lines in the mountains where it will enhance the wild qualities of the landscape.

Mountaineering Scotland has also joined with 37 environmental NGOs to call for a Scottish Environment Act to protect wildlife now and for the future. 80% of Scottish environmental protections come through EU legislation.  In the face of a global crisis of rapid climate change and wildlife declines it’s vital that we keep hold of these environmental protections, which are in danger of unravelling through the uncertainties of Brexit. https://www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot/

In the face of climate change it is a given that we are supportive of a move to a low carbon economy and the development of renewable energy production. We have always said that in accepting the requirement for development of renewables it need not be at the expense of our wild land and national scenic areas. It will continue to be a difficult balancing act to preserve the landscape we all love whilst accepting the need for some changes.

In terms of action we continue to monitor applications for new and extended windfarms and have concerns about the future repowering of existing sites with much higher turbines with bigger blades. We also have the legacy of hydro schemes which came to a head earlier this year over the proposals in Glen Etive. Mountaineering Scotland was at the forefront of the campaign against three out of the seven proposed developments that encroached into wild land.

Vehicle roads in the uplands continue to be an issue that dominates the national debate on landscape, whether they are put in as part of the infrastructure supporting renewable energy projects or by estates to improve access for field sports and agriculture. Mountaineering Scotland has been supporting the ongoing work by Scottish Environment Link on their Hilltracks campaign which is calling for improved legislation and regulation of hill tracks. Andy Wightman MSP has also launched a Scottish Green party campaign recently with a call to action to support amendments to the planning Bill due to be debated at Holyrood. I would encourage members who are concerned about this issue to lend their support to the campaign. https://greens.scot/hunting-tracks

In April this year Mountaineering Scotland also joined 60 other organisations at the launch of the Scotland’s Landscape Alliance, an initiative led by the National Trust for Scotland and the Landscape Institute for Scotland. The Alliance aims to cooperate on landscape issues at a national and international level in line with the standards set by the European Landscape Convention of the Council of Europe. Three working groups have been established to help gain greater public and political support for an improved approach to taking care of our landscape and place and we want to be part of that conversation. https://scotland.landscapeinstitute.org/news/sla/

Finally we have to look to ourselves individually and collectively and try to do what we can to mitigate the impact of our own activities in the mountains. Litter is an ongoing problem and encouraging everyone to leave the landscape a little tidier is something we aim to do through our “Tak it Hame” campaign which will be promoted at member events coming up over the summer. You may also be aware that work is starting on the restoration of two hill paths in Scotland on Ben Vane and Beinn a’ Ghlo through funding generated by the “Mend our Mountains” campaign and its been great to see the engagement of our community on this issue.

So whilst there is much to do, we have the opportunity to build on the work we have been undertaking over many years and with our new strategy to send a clear message to government, other NGOs and organisations about our contribution to the national conversation on conservation issues. I for one am looking forward to helping to do what we can to  influence positive change on behalf of our members but also for society as a whole. 

Stuart Younie, Chief Executive Officer, Mountaineering Scotland

Since our foundation as the Mountaineering Council of Scotland over 40 years ago, Mountaineering Scotland has been representing the views and needs of hill walkers, mountaineers, climbers and snowsports tourers. We work closely with our members, the media, partner organisations, the government and landowners to make a real difference on the matters that affect us all.

By becoming a member of Mountaineering Scotland, you are supporting this work and adding your voice to that of 14,000 other members by getting involved in our campaigns to protect access rights and encourage sustainable mountain environments.