Recently, I had the misfortune of coming across a poorly informed, shockingly ignorant and frankly irresponsible piece of writing. More disappointingly, it was penned by a Scottish ecologist and published in a national newspaper. I felt that I should write something to address some of the points and claims made by its author.

The article focussed on the Scottish government’s policy on increasing tree cover -condemning it as a waste of money and damaging to our “Scottishness.” Firstly, if we’re speaking in monetary terms (as so often is necessary these days) forests are exceeding valuable to us for mitigating flood damage, reducing soil erosion, providing employment, increasing ecotourism and purifying our air. And surely fighting the war on climate change is a price we should be more than willing to pay?  Additionally, I have far more pride in my country striding forth with its environmental values than I do for its “bleak, windswept moors.”

As an experienced ecologist, the author is almost certainly aware of Scotland’s rich ecological history. Therefore, claims that we are simply trying to “copy” our more heavily forested european cousins seem wildly absurd. Until relatively recently our uplands were swathed in thick caledonian forest, supporting a vast array of species. The degraded hillsides we see today support but a mere fraction of the life they once did; and are quite frankly little more than green deserts. Planting trees is not only good economic value; it is a moral obligation to restore the landscapes we have so carelessly deteriorated. There’s a good reason why our neighbours aren’t striving to replicate our ways.

However, what has annoyed me most about this article is the thoughtless way it threatens our progress. As conservationists, much of our work is spent inspiring the public to develop a love and respect for their environment. This is no easy task and is made all the harder by articles such as this. We devote our time and passion in engaging with others, all to safeguard the future of our environment. So be wise and careful with your words, for they will surely reach further than you think (particularly when published in the Scotsman…)

I can think of no sound reason why an ecologist would oppose increased levels of biodiversity, but I suspect there are hidden agendas at play. If you would like to read the article and express to the Scotsman that you would like it removed, please follow this link.

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3 thoughts on “Irresponsible Journalism

  1. Indeed, really disappointing to read this from such an authority. His definition of “Scottishness” is from a relatively recent era of a long history, but if he chose to look back further woodland coverage was over 50% on the Scottish Landscape. Moving from the current 17% to 25% of native woodland (not commercial forestry, another mistake he makes) could be argued as far too little to bring back even greater “Scottishness”, including biodiversity, to this land.

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  2. Google ‘Woodland Advisory Expansion Group’ to see Scottish Government consultation and conclusions. I shall email you my contribution separately.

    Yes I am am surprised at the apparent attitude of the writer but perhaps it is also the journalist as they are seldom very aware of the subject at hand. Perhaps they are both irresponsible?

    James, you are right to point out the woodland history of our landscape. I see naked hills needing their trees back.

    That said the Scottish Government is thinking of the economics rather than the attractive and ecological aspects (remember they desire to be economically independent so every penny/groat counts). I was at one of the meetings and it was clear ‘commercial forestry’ was what they wanted. Larges expanses of monoculture Sitka Spruce is NOT the kind of re-treeing I would want to see as it is grim on our stunning landscape and poor ecologically. This may actually be what the ecologist is worried about.

    However, in the real world, there will need to be a commercial aspect or nothing will get done. Those of us interested beyond commerce must keep the pressure up to keep decent native tree planting expanding.

    At Lochside, on my tiny bit of Scotland, I plant for wildlife, landscape AND for economic reasons. I included carefully designed blocks of Larch and Douglas fir as potential timber trees as they do not need chemical treatment to use as fence posts etc. I am benefiting from similar planted by my forebears so am doing the same for my descendants. I also take thinnings and have areas allocated as coppice coups to provide woodfuel for our biomass boilers.

    I think it is sad that the world seems obsessed with Climate Change (I am not a believer in impending atmospheric catastrophe, nor a ‘denier’), imagine how we could expand native woodland if funds were better distributed towards habitat restoration as well as alternative energy technologies.

    Remember that ‘Climate Change’ is more about power and money than real conservation and care of our world. It has become a bloated money making ‘scam’ frightening people into handing over cash to ‘save the planet’. It has been a very clever political and personal weapon. After all who does not want to ‘Save the planet’ and its wildlife?

    I would like to see progress towards reducing real pollution, expanding habitat restoration in BALANCE with human need for food production etc. Where agricultural productivity can be increased per acre through better methods or, dare I say it, SAFE GM crops, This is a clear opportunity for decent native planting.

    The deal: ‘Ok use GM, but it has to go hand in hand with ecological benefit through permanently setting aside some of your land for wildlife.’

    We live in interesting times.

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    1. Hi Edward,

      I do not disagree with you regarding Sitka spruce plantations – of course replacing native woodland should be the main objective. I did not attend any meetings regarding this so I did not know this wasn’t the government’s main plan (poor research on my part). In short you are quite correct in saying that we need to be selective about the trees we plant, as some are certainly more beneficial than others.

      However the main point of this blog post was about people in certain positions using their power irresponsibly. At no point does this article clearly mention native woodland versus commercial. A short investigation into the scientific portfolio of the author reveals that he is against ANY form of tree planting. In fact his whole career seems directed at proving trees are not required and that moor land is the natural landscape where “nature is in control.” We know this is in fact very far from the truth. I worry about this article being published by a national newspaper read by the general public. Not that I mean to say the general public are unintelligent – but somebody with no background or prior knowledge in this area may well receive the message as “all tree planting is bad: we should leave our barren hills the way they are, because that’s what Scotland is all about.”

      As you know I do some tree planting up here in the cairngorms; we remove invasive species and only plant native trees. Areas are also simply fenced off to allow natural regeneration rather than being “designed”. I’ve seen for myself the desolate wasteland that is a grouse moor; equally I have seen the life that returns with woodland regeneration. I believe the claims of this writer are simply wrong and can’t help thinking (although dangerous to assume) he has some interest in grousing estates.

      As for climate change, whilst we may not feel the harsh sting of it so much here; there are certainly other populations for whom climate change is a very real and frightening issue (am thinking low lying coastal communities and drought stricken countries). In the same way that you plant some commercial timber to help your future descendants, I would feel very uncomfortable leaving mine to deal with climate change alone whilst we turn a blind eye. There is no doubt that our destruction of natural habitats and excessive emission of pollutants has rapidly increased this natural process. You may not know that I work as an environmental chemist and deal with the hard facts and numbers regarding environmental pollutants and rather unpleasant carcinogenic chemicals. Anyway I digress – my point is that whilst there may well be some looking to cash in on global warming, it would be very unwise to be ignorant of it altogether. We shouldn’t have to choose between spending money on climate change and increasing biodiversity; they are both equally important issues.

      Best Wishes
      Apithanny

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