At The Sharp End Of Conservation
The John Muir Trust continues to make a real impact
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