One of The Courier’s most longstanding and best loved columnists is returning after a two-year break. Jack McKeown catches up with nature writer Jim Crumley.
It’s been a little over two years since Jim Crumley stopped writing the Courier column that had run every week since 1997.
Having penned more than 1,000 opinion pieces over nearly 21 years he felt enough was enough. It turns out enough wasn’t enough, however, and Jim has many more opinions he wants to share with Courier readers.
“For the first few months after the column stopped I was fine with it,” he says, speaking from his home in Stirling. “Then things started happening in the world and I thought to myself, I wish I still had my column so I could write about that.”
The 72-year old nature writer was born in Dundee and started his journalism career at DC Thomson, going on to become the youngest editor in the Stirling Observer’s 150-year history and working for the Daily Express and Edinburgh Evening News before giving up his staff job at the age of 40 to become a freelance writer.
He’s excited to be coming back to the paper he grew up with and says there will be no shortage of topics to write about.
“I’ve got something in mind for my first column but I don’t tend to think much further ahead. As Harold Macmillan said about plans they tend to be ruined by ‘events, dear boy, events’
“It’s interesting how much the natural environment has come up the political agenda in just the last couple of years. Climate change, Covid-19, Brexit, they’ve all played a role.
“If you look at Covid-19 there have been lots of benefits for the environment – cleaner air, more people getting outside and so on. However, when people were restricted to five miles from their home the hills were emptied of walkers and I wouldn’t be surprised if a suspicious number of hen harriers and eagles disappeared from estates during that time. I think when the numbers are counted this year we’ll have lost far more than usual.
“Another thing that made me want my column back was the bonkers decision to exempt grouse shooting from new restrictions. It’s been quite heart-warming to see the public reaction against that.”
Jim is pleased that a brighter spotlight than ever is being shone on the natural world. “Though I’ve really started to turn against the term ‘natural world,’” he continues. “It suggests there’s another kind of world we can inhabit. There isn’t – the natural world is all we’ve got. Everything we are and everything we do depends on nature.”
Despite the extra attention the environment is getting, Jim is not optimistic about the future. “I’ve been watching David Attenborough’s new programme about global warming. It had a scientist who said it’s not too late but things can only be revered by the actions of everyone. That is too late. We’re never going to get everyone to take action – there’s too much complacency.
“You still get people in The Courier’s letters pages denying climate change is real or manmade. There is tons and tons and tons of evidence that it is both of those things. And it’s global. It’s not just the Arctic or Antarctic’s problem. Or Africa’s or South America’s or California’s. It’s global, right down to Courier Country and its beavers and mountain hares.”
Another of Jim’s passions is his home city. “I love a lot of what’s happening,” he says. “Dundee has always been a city that’s great at reinventing itself and right now it’s doing that wonderfully. Dundee does need to think about something wider than just the waterfront but there’s no doubt it’s a great catalyst for showing off the city.
“I do wonder how much of that will percolate through to areas such as Lochee, where I grew up, though. The burgeoning waterfront and all the cultural growth is terrific – cultural growth is a wonderful thing – but there’s a danger of Dundee becoming two cities, the waterfront/city centre and the poorer areas.
“I was always sad the Rialto in Lochee was never restored. It could have been a fantastic community cinema, much like the Birks in Aberfeldy, but it’s too late now.
“I do still hope we will one day see the Michael Marra Theatre though.”
Earlier this year, Jim’s 40th book hit the shelves. The Nature of Summer completed his series of four books inspired by the seasons, which started with The Nature of Autumn. As that season of change arrives Jim says it feels like the right time to be returning to The Courier.
“Autumn has always been my favourite season,” he says. “It’s a very special time in Scotland. Last weekend saw the arrival of 5,000 geese in Montrose Basin. Every year when that happens it feels like a starting gun.
I’m excited to be coming back to The Courier. The biggest reward I got out of my column was keeping me connected with the kind of people I grew up with. I’ve always cherished my involvement with the paper and its readers.”
Jim Crumley’s column will appear in The Courier and on www.thecourier.co.uk every Tuesday.