So Brexit happened; now it remains to see how it all unravels, and hopefully with the environment no less of a priority. In all the turmoil that surrounded the vote, there was solidarity from the north. Scotland stood united in its vote, a country clear in its view, voiced by a calm, collected leader with a plan. Despite my personal concern for the future of the UK I see hope, in fact I see more than hope, I see the opportunity to dream that ecological dream, to forge a country where nature and ecology are central to both economic success and national well-being. I now dream of an independent Scotland leading the rest of the world forward in an ecologically and environmentally progressive manner.
Scotland is blessed with a wealth of natural resources from limitless green energy to large expanses of land and beautiful scenery, and an abundance and diversity of species. It has good infrastructure, yet is not over-populated, and boasts comparatively good levels of land and species protection. This allows for some radical thinking. Rather than deciding how we give nature a home, how about turning the tables and deciding how nature will give us a home?
There is the potential to build on European legislation and go further, much further. Scotland could draw from examples around the world; Costa Rica and its eco- tourism and renewables success, Croatia, for its protected areas, Denmark for its organic food commitments and green energy policies, or how about drawing inspiration from Bhutan and its complete overhaul of land protection.
Bhutan is an exemplar of environmental forward-thinking. It’s not just carbon- neutral, it’s carbon negative, exporting some of its carbon negativity to other countries. Bhutan has also committed to preserving 60% of its country under forest cover (currently 72% is under forest cover), whilst 51% of all land is fully protected (the highest percentage in Asia). Not only that but they measure the national GNH, NOT GDP, that’s Gross National Happiness to you and me! Imagine a country measuring its ‘wealth’ in happiness!
With complete reform we could look at land zoning; allocating areas for complete protection, rewilding, agriculture and housing. Taking a country-wide view on this now paves the way for clarity in future when allocating space for development, and also allows sensible infrastructure decisions to be made alongside environmental protection measures. I believe that Scotland has the potential to take a lead from Bhutan and go even further.
Scotland already has many forward thinking people and organisations in the
environmental field, from the amazing rewilding work at Alladale estate to the likes of the SNH, RSPB, The Scottish Wildlife Trusts, the National Parks, right down to individuals, who are all working to protect the environment and engage people. Ecotourism is flourishing. An SNH commissioned report estimated that nature tourism alone generated £127 million per year with tourism and the wider visitor economy accounting for £11 billion per year! Social media and greater awareness of Scotland has
encouraged new initiatives such as the North Coast 500, Scotland’s answer to Route 66. The accessibility of charismatic wildlife such as Eagles, Pine Marten, Ptarmigan, Orca, Beaver, Basking Shark, and hopefully soon Lynx, continues to draw ever greater numbers of people into the country in search of its natural heritage, and SNH have drawn on this highlighting Scotlands Big Five (Golden Eagle, Harbour Seal, Otter, Red Deer and Red Squirrel).
Exciting ferry journeys, inter-island flights (some in tiny aircraft that land on beaches), a Harry Potter train journey, and of course numerous roads (though not to many to break up the landscape), all connect the country in a varied and enjoyable manner.
Scotland has no shortage of renewable energy; wind, sea, hydro and sun (yes really!), there is more than enough to power the entire country, with spare left over. The prospect of an entirely self sufficient and green Scotland is entirely feasible. The recent surge in renewables (until 2015 when subsidies were slashed) saw a significant upgrade in the grid connection which should allow for further development when the opportunity arrives again. Additionally, there is much to look forward to in the emergence of environmentally-aware organisations such as The 2050 Climate Group, a cohort of dynamic youngsters set on reducing our carbon emissions over future decades. Scotland: The Big Picture, and Rewilding Scotland, both focused on rewilding Scotland’s amazing landscapes.
It may seem obvious but having the space to undertake any kind of change is essential. And not just remote wilderness but space that’s accessible. In order to ensure the protection of landscape and nature, people need to be able to engage with it and value it, and for that to occur it needs to be close. There is also an increasing amount of evidence supporting the existence of Nature Deficit Disorder, the lack of connectivity between an individual (especially a child) and nature, and there are numerous studies that highlight the importance and overall positivity that being outdoors and being connected with nature has on our wellbeing. Within 35 minutes someone living in Glasgow, the UKs third largest city, can be out on the hills, or climbing a munro, exploring the Trossachs National Park, kayaking Loch Lomond, having a BBQ on the beach, or at one of the many nature reserves.
As well as this vital connectivity with the human population, space allows us the opportunity to rectify our past exploitation of the land. For example it gives opportunity to connect the remnants of what was once the great Caledonian forest; swathes of beautiful open Scots Pine forest interspersed with birch, willow, oak, and rowan, meandering ribbons of loch, river and marsh. This rewilding could not only create a more aesthetic landscape but habitat for long-lost charismatic species such as Lynx, Wolf and Brown Bear. Having space eases the pressure of sharing resources between humans and nature, and promoting the landscape for use by people increases the value that individuals place on it. There should be more than enough space in Scotland for world-class mountain bike trails, endless walking routes, akin to those in the States or New Zealand that take in munros, sea lochs, village pubs, and mountain bothies; AND for nature. Scotland IS New Zealand, only better, it has history, a far older and more diverse culture, whisky, wildlife AND fewer sheep!
The long game
This dream is a long game dream. I won’t be around to see rolling Scot’s Pine forests once more reclothing barren glen-sides, but I’d like to think that I can at least help promote a better, brighter, greener and more sustainable future. For a country to prosper it needs many elements (economy, health care, education, and social cohesion to name but a few) but harnessing the phenomenal natural resources and rich biodiversity that we have here, in a sustainable manner, and with the youth and enthusiasm that are coming through, is an exciting prospect. By celebrating the nation’s natural capital Scotland can prosper, set a new global standard, and help us all.