The forest with no trees.

Four hours ago I was stood barely upright on Stac Pollaidh, one of Scotland’s most characterful mountains. Such was the ferocity of the wind at my back, I almost needed to crawl into the lee of the hill to gain some respite and a chance to drink in the spectacular views over Inverpolly Forest. Of course ‘forest’ is an ironic and misleading term as there is barely a tree to be seen for miles and miles…and miles.

Shooting for SCOTLAND: The Big Picture really is a double-edged sword, as framing a case for landscape-scale rewilding inevitably means photographing locations that have been stripped of their natural vegetation and have become what Frank Fraser Darling referred to as ‘wet deserts’, bereft of the biodiversity that once thrived here.

Advocates of rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – are often accused of wanting to turn the clock back. Alan Watson Featherstone of Scottish charity Trees for Life suggests that in fact, rewilding is nothing more than setting the ecological clock back in motion. For me, there is a more fundamental case for restoring forests, bogs, wetlands and oceans.

I’ve just finished a book by American author Mark Bekoff titled Rewilding Our Hearts. If truth be told it’s a bit gushy in places, but an interesting and insightful read nevertheless and one that I would recommend. One particular paragraph caught my attention as it provides a very simple analysis of what Mark thinks needs to be done to really kickstart the rewilding process. I agree with him.

“ It is rarely a lack of knowledge and concrete data that results in the harm we do to animals and ecosystems. Rather, losses to biodiversity are typically due to the inability of humans to come to terms with the notion of biodiversity or to understand their place in the ecology of Earth. Inadequate protection of the animals in our care is typically the result of human indifference and arrogance, to the belief that humans are superior and that other animals don’t understand or deserve better treatment. Therefore, it is critical to address the important psychological, social and cultural issues that support our poor stewardship of animals and their habitats and to take down the psychological barriers that prevent people from facing and addressing these complex, frustrating and urgent human-induced problems. It is going to take a wide-ranging social movement to get us out of the incredible messes for which we are responsible.”

Rewilding then, isn’t only about justifying the repair of ecosystems on an ecological level – important as that is – it’s about doing what’s right. I might not ever see a true forest in Inverpolly but I believe that there needs to be one. Others believe that too as on neighbouring land young trees are poking their heads above ground for the first time in a century or more.

I have to believe that my own species is capable of looking after its home better than it has done to date. As I descend the mountain a buzzard mews overhead and the distant kek-kekking of a kestrel drifts on the blustery air. One day these hills might listen to the howling of wolves and just as importantly, the laughter of children playing in the forest.


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1 thought on “The forest with no trees.

  1. ‘Apathy is the greatest threat to Scotland’s biodiversity’.
    So said Allan Wilson, Deputy Environment Minister, a bit more pithily and a bit less poetically than the paragraph above, at the launch of Scotland’s 25 year biodiversity strategy (‘It’s In Your Hands’) back in 2004.
    Still a way to go…
    (Vision: It’s 2030: Scotland is recognised as a world leader in biodiversity conservation. Everyone is involved; everyone benefits. The nation is enriched.)

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