I write this at the kitchen table looking across the glen to Craig Varr and Beinn A’ Chaullaich sitting below an atmospheric sky that promises rain and maybe even thunder.
The prospect troubles my mind as I consider a fortnight of gatherings and milk clipping and silage making too.
The swallows sweeping in and around the eves of the house have little concern for my woes, it has been a warm, wet fortnight and insect life has bloomed – especially midges!
I count myself hugely lucky to be following in the footsteps of generations of my family who have kept sheep and cattle and stalked deer in Rannoch, and I’m looking forward to getting the hirsels in and seeing how the ewes are faring and how sappy the lambs are. I also greatly enjoy the socialising that accompanies this work; hoots and hilarity are essential companions to any handling.
I read a good deal of the appetite of some to make Scotland the world first “rewilded nation” which some suggest would be to the detriment of hill farming and sporting interests.
What a shame. To my mind there is a place for us all in this landscape and we should be canny to ensure that true environmental credentials are not turned into a virtue signalling motifs used by big business to make us feel better about our buying habits and next day delivery expectations. The stark reality is that everything we do and buy has some kind of environmental impact.
Our nation has a pastoral credential that supports a wonderful stratified system, from our high tops to our fertile coasts and all in between. This landscape is one of the most regulated in any developed country; we have the highest welfare standards for our animals and a seriously robust traceability system.
However the jewel in our crown is the folk involved. Whether directly employed in agriculture or in one of the many service industries that support it; marts, haulage, fencers, vets, supply, the list is extensive.
Do we trade all this away along with the years of work to create it for an agenda that is as shallow as it is ill thought out? Cheap beef from the Americas, lamb from Australia or NZ?
I won’t berate these products as I know some of the guys who produce them and they are on point on a great deal, but it’s nonsense to cart this stuff across the globe to fill our needs when we can grow it here in an environmentally-sound manner and it goes past hungry bellies elsewhere that would be the better of it.
Surely a more dynamic and brave policy would be where bairns at the school are fed home grown beef and lamb, their clothes made of wool and they are better informed as to where this wonderful stuff comes from.
Government should champion the integrated agricultural system we have and encourage more collaborative work between hill and arable units. To any nation, large or small, a sound and resilient food chain is essential, and if you couple it with environmental and biodiversity positives then we have credentials that actually mean something.
Land use is a polarising issue and one that is often white hot with passion. From my part I am submerged in a mosaic landscape that roars at me it is not broken. Could it be improved? Of course. Is there a way that incorporates hill farming and sporting enterprises into a moderate rewilded vision? Most definitely. However unconscious bias and perspective will always form our outlook.
When I was 10 years old my grandpa took me fishing to the Dalchosnie burn some 100 yards from where he was born. The burn was in a glorious peaty spate and I fastened the worm to the line and cast my bubble into the maelstrom. In no time at all a bite – but battle as i might to land this catch I just couldn’t win through.
Watching with an unspoken wisdom, my grandpa took off his breeks and louped into the burn to unsnag my line from submerged tree roots.
“Finlay you had a lovely plump trout on, but the brownies in this burn are wise. He knew he was well caught so swam around the tree roots so you couldn’t land him and gave him time to free himself; his ancestors did the same to me at your age,” he said.
Proud as punch I came away sound in the knowledge that if yon fish could outsmart auld Pete there was no shame in my performance, and for years after, until I knew better, I would think on that happy memory to lessen my inadequacy at catching a trout.
Perspective is indeed something that forms all our outlooks but it isn’t always as it should be.