The Victorians liked to knock about in the mountains and glens of Scotland. However, to be made welcome you really had to be looking after huge numbers of sheep or shooting some of the wildlife. Early climbers, for example, were often banned from what are now popular routes unless they were from the right part of society; and that right part of society wasn’t the part that worked in mills or even on a farm below the rock faces.

By the early part of 20th century access was still restricted, and not just by landowners, many early pioneers in the Arrochar Alps cycled from the shipyards of Glasgow to get to the high hills.

After the Second World War the advantages of outdoor education were becoming more of a “thing” and places such as Glenmore Lodge were established – in 1947 the Scottish Section of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the Scottish Tourist Board used the Aviemore Hotel as a base for a course involving snow and ice climbing, hillwalking and skiing.

Field sports were still the king but wildlife and the appreciation of being active in the landscape was appreciated more

Now we are in a much better place in terms of looking after and having access to the environment but maybe not so good in our urbanised life at understanding nature (there’s a difference in appreciating it).

But still arguments rage about how we treat the outdoors – a lot is viewed as black and white but even then things become muddled. Take grouse shooting and the heather moors where it takes place. If, as many call for, natural tree cover was increased on the moors the numbers of grouse would fall. Then, some of the people who wanted rid of grouse shooting would lament the decline of the birds. Those with an interest in such things could be forgiven for thinking that is an absurd way of looking at an issue but if we want to change the way we in Scotland, all of us, look at nature, it has to include everyone, not just the experts.

My children are going through the Scottish education system and have been given talks about farming – by someone from Tesco, not a farmer. They’ve also learned about climate change and the need to act, but it is taught on a global level, on a local level they learn about turning lights off or walking to school but not about land use. Imagine if primary school children in the leafy Glasgow suburb of Hyndland were being taught about a need to cull rabbits – there would be outrage. But it is that balance in how the countryside is treated which will see improvements, rather than a blinkered view that things are right or wrong. I am not particularly keen on deer stalking as a “sport” but if other people are doing it and keeping numbers down then that will have a benefit, as long as other land uses are taken into consideration.  

It is that balance in the countryside between nature, farming, and a whole host of other activity from rock climbing to deer stalking which also keeps local communities going. If one sector went too far – a gamekeeper allowing deer numbers to get too high, or someone bulldozing sub-arctic tundra to build a railway we, as a society, would be better informed to keep them in check, rather than the current attitude which seems to be “ we don’t like that, so ban it completely”. Over to you education secretary – time for a re-think in the way we are educated.

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