At The Sharp End Of Con­ser­va­tion

The John Muir Trust con­tin­ues to make a real im­pact

The Scots Magazine - - Protecting Our Wild Land - By NICK DRAINEY

CEL­E­BRAT­ING its 21st an­niver­sary, the John Muir Award is still growing and be­com­ing “more rel­e­vant” than ever in a world threat­ened by en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Bachell.

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of the

John Muir Trust be­lieves the award has an im­por­tant role in the con­ser­va­tion of wild places, both lo­cally and na­tion­ally.

The John Muir Trust owns land across Scot­land and cares for it, as well as cam­paign­ing for pro­tec­tion for other ar­eas at risk of over-de­vel­op­ment. But con­ser­va­tion can also hap­pen on a smaller level through the award, ac­cord­ing to An­drew.

“We are about wild land and wild places and the com­mu­ni­ties around them. There are plenty of places along the Wa­ter of Leith, at Cra­mond or Arthur’s Seat, where na­ture is still dic­tat­ing the terms to a large ex­tent. They are not wild in the re­mote sense but they are wild as in they are not tame.

“We are not go­ing to di­rectly in­volve our­selves in the con­ser­va­tion of in­di­vid­ual pock­ets of land but we can en­gage hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in the award which gets them to think about the in­di­vid­ual pock­ets of land and the wild places around them. For us, this is part ed­u­ca­tion and part con­ser­va­tion in prac­tice.”

There are three lev­els of the award, and within each one par­tic­i­pants have to com­plete four cat­e­gories – Dis­cover, Ex­plore, Con­serve and Share. It is dif­fer­ent to other awards, says An­drew, be­cause “it is open to any­body, it is free to the per­son, it is en­cour­ag­ing them to en­gage with the world around them – with na­ture – but it is not pre­scrip­tive. There is not a set syl­labus for it and that al­lows peo­ple to set their own agenda.”

The award is growing 5-10% per an­num with around 35,000 com­pleted each year, a lit­tle over half of which are in Scot­land.

The ben­e­fits are not just felt by par­tic­i­pants, An­drew says. “At one end peo­ple just en­joy na­ture; go­ing out and en­joy­ing the out­doors is enor­mously re­ward­ing at a recre­ational level but also in terms of health and well­be­ing – feel­ings of self-worth, re­cov­ery from ill­ness – it is good in so many dif­fer­ent ways.

“At the other end, if we don’t un­der­stand that we de­pend on na­ture for our air, soils, wa­ter, food and all the rest, how we can we pos­si­bly – as a so­ci­ety – make sen­si­ble de­ci­sions about the fu­ture?

“I think that disen­gage­ment is a real prob­lem for the whole world. Giv­ing peo­ple that ex­pe­ri­ence, lit­tle by lit­tle, so they can think about it is enor­mously im­por­tant.”

The John Muir Trust was founded in 1983 and has cam­paigned tire­lessly to pro­tect wild land in Scot­land, in­spired by the great con­ser­va­tion­ist known as the Fa­ther of Na­tional Parks.

Hill tracks, forestry and wind­farms have all been in the trust’s fir­ing line. For good rea­son, ac­cord­ing to An­drew; land­scape is al­ways chang­ing, he says, but we can in­flu­ence the im­pact of that change. “If the John Muir Trust was not cam­paign­ing we would have seen much more sig­nif­i­cant in­tru­sion into places peo­ple trea­sure.”

“Disen­gage­ment is a real prob­lem for the whole world

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