Did you know that there are as many trees as people in London? Or that we’ve had wildcats in the wilderness since the last Ice Age? Or that your right to roam and camp almost anywhere in Scotland is under threat? It’s time to talk about British conservation
Help for Scottish wild cats
Scottish wild cats aren’t just domestic moggies that have decided to take to the hills, but a distinct species that moved into Britain following the last Ice Age. And they’re struggling. According to recent studies, there may be as few as 100-130 left.
Loss of habitat and deliberate eradication attempts in the past have taken their toll, and today disease and accidental persecution are still a problem. But what’s thought to be one of the biggest threats comes from interbreeding with domestic cats.
A scottish wildcat on the prowl | Photo: Peter Cairns Photography
Now in it’s fourth year, The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan aims to halt that decline. Key wild cat strongholds have been identified, conservation measures and even a captive breeding scheme are underway and, in order to limit that worrying displacement by hybrids, trained teams are working through those strongholds, catching feral domestic cats and taking them for a significant visit to the vet.
London? A National Park? Did you know that, while just over 8.6 million of us live in the capital, there are said to be 8.3 million tall leafy beauties providing shade, colour and oxygen. According to the Greater London National Park City Initiative, there are also 3,000 parks, 30,000 allotments, 300 farms, 1,000km of signed footpaths. There are even 50 canoe and kayak clubs, to go with more than 850km of streams, rivers and canals.
Looking at those figures, the idea creating the world’s first National Park City doesn’t seem so bizarre after all. In their own words, and amongst other aims, the GLNPCI believe that turning our capital into a National Park City will help to:
Ensure 100% of Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space
Connect 100% of London’s children to nature
Make the majority of London physically green
Improve London’s air and water quality, year on year, and
Improve the richness, connectivity and biodiversity of London’s habitats
While those Scottish wild cats are doing their best to hang on, the Great Bustard lost its battle in Britain long ago, finally giving in to pressure from farming and hunting in 1832.
But the news today is much better. For out on the uplands of Wessex, the combined efforts of a charity and some dedicated landowners is really bearing fruit, or at least a few large fluffy chicks.
A truly beautiful bird | Photo: www.greatbustard.org
The Great Bustard Group is confident there’s plenty of suitable habitat amidst our rolling Wiltshire downland, those impressive birds just need a hand, quite a big one.
And the result? It’s been slow progress, with various setbacks, but by sourcing birds first from Russia, then Spain, the aim of a self-sustaining population is at last starting to look realistic. Six nests were found last year, and possibly as many as 20 were built this spring. Fingers crossed, the world’s heaviest flying bird appears to be back.
For many British outdoor enthusiasts, the introduction of the Scottish Land Reform Act (2003) in 2005, marked possibly the most important moment in a generation, possibly many generations. And yes, it is that good.
Overnight, and with only minor and perfectly reasonable exceptions, the Scottish hills, rivers, lakes and coastline were opened up for use by any sensible visitor. You can even wild camp almost anywhere. Except not everyone seems able to act sensibly.
Set not far from easy road access the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has long seen problems from irresponsible campers. Yet instead of concentrating on the offenders, the Park took a different route. After public consultation, and considerable opposition from individuals and outdoor groups concerned by any dilution of this wondrous legislation, the Park decided to limit camping access along the shores of Loch Lomond. Many observers are deeply concerned, fearing the reasons given to justify this action will be used by other Scottish landowners to claim immunity from the Act. In short, the thin end of the wedge.
A beautiful night on the shores of Loch Lomond | Photo: David Lintern
In order to test the situation a few otherwise law-abiding citizens are even prepared to break the new rules to see what happens. David Lintern (who has written for OAG) is one of those selfless campers, and in March he pitched his tent, outside the areas stipulated in the new byelaw. When approached by a Park Rangers, he politely gave his details, and now awaits the result.
The by-law is due for review in 2020, and to inform their response, Ramblers Scotland ask to be informed of any encounter with the new system – email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s going on in the Snowdonia valleys?
With our love of the outdoors, many OAG readers will feel a natural sympathy for hydroelectric power. At a time when the problems caused by burning fossil fuels become ever more apparent, harnessing running water to produce clean power seems very sensible. A 100kw hydro scheme could provide electricity for up to 150 homes for example. But then it’s all about location, and scale.
If asked to guess how many hydroelectric schemes had been granted abstraction licenses in the Snowdonia mountains in the last three years, many might assume the number to be quite small. This is a National Park after all, so three or four, perhaps a dozen. The actual figure is over a hundred, encouraged by extremely generous feed-in tariffs introduced in 2010.
Admittedly, some of these are pretty small-scale affairs, but not all. A 1.8km pipeline was needed across the Elidir Fawr hillside to supply a Cwm Dudodyn turbine house. And when three small schemes sit tight together on the Afon Gafr above Nant Peris, each with its weir lifting water from the stream, when does small still become too much? There’s even another scheme on the Gennog below Cwm Glas Mawr, a little further up the Llanberis pass.
It might not be long before we find it hard to enjoy a walk beside an unfettered Snowdonia stream. In a nutshell, is the building of small-scale hydro schemes in these glorious mountains being allowed at the expense of the environment they’re supposed to protect?