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It’s good to be out

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"The hope that all the direct engagement we see going on - no matter how big the tent - will strengthen people’s understanding of and commitment to protecting Scotland’s wild lands and wild places"

It’s been another busy summer in the Highlands. Recent drives through Glen Clunie and Glen Shee down to Perthshire have left me feeling conflicted. Glen Clunie in particular – with its easy road access and flat grassy patches next to the Clunie Water – has become a hotbed for wild camping, but in some cases not wild camping as I used to think of it. This is wild camping with a family size tent and accompanying barbecue gazebo, not sore feet, a tiny tent, a Trangia, and some Super Noodles.

Why does this leave me conflicted? On the one hand I’m pleased to see people enjoying the Highlands, and the influx of tourist money into villages such as Braemar that are so dependent on seasonal income. On the other hand, maybe I resent the luxury, and conclude (probably incorrectly) that such camping can’t bring the same satisfaction as finding a spot far from the madding crowd.

If I’m allowed a third hand, I genuinely worry about the effects of so-called “dirty camping”. These include concerns about the environmental impact of relatively dense and repeated wild camping in certain sites, and the associated potential long-term consequences for the open access and wild camping rights which we currently enjoy. Again, however, I feel conflicted in these concerns. How can society complain about people doing something when we may be making limited - if any - effort to explain why what they’re doing causes problems? A good example of this was provided in an article in the Guardian from last summer. This pointed of that at the same time as there being an outcry about how some people were treating the countryside, spending on promoting the Countryside Code in England was trivial.

Overall, although still problematic in places, I think things are better this year than last. Tourism infrastructure has had a chance to gear up during the 20-21 winter. Simple things – such as having more toilets open, and providing disposal facilities for campervan effluent – can only help. But I also wonder if some people are more aware of the potential problems, and whether this is an illustration of the power of communication and education to alter the way in which we interact with, and benefit from, our environment.

The importance of understanding, and routes to enable interactions between people and their environment, are highlighted in a recent paper by Antonia Eastwood and Hutton colleagues. Antonia’s paper explores the use of participatory video as a tool for “(a) providing new insights on young people's experience of greenspace, (b) enabling meaningful and transformative human–nature interactions and (c) building efficacy.” Importantly they found “The films produced by the young people showed that greenspaces were not for them; they were associated with violence and bullying or simply thought of as ‘boring’. The study also provided unexpected evidence for the potential of PV, to not only transform the way previously disengaged young people viewed their local greenspace but also how they use it, benefit from it and begin to change their behaviours towards it. The PV process also enabled young people, individually and collectively, to connect with nature and experience activities that enhanced their efficacy, confidence and sense of empowerment.”

What’s I find really interesting here is that the research using participatory video told us something about how people were interacting with their environment and the benefits or disbenefits they derived from this, but also changed the way in which that interaction took place, ultimately increasing the beneficial side of the equation. Scientifically maybe this is tricky; it’s a case of the observer effect, with the act of observation altering the state of the thing being observed. But from the point of view of generating traction for nature conservation, sustainability, and environmental protection it demonstrates the power of engagement.

Returning then to Glen Clunie, perhaps the (probably jaundiced) negative side of my personal balance equation can be offset with the hope that all the direct engagement we see going on - no matter how big the tent - will strengthen people’s understanding of and commitment to protecting Scotland’s wild lands and wild places. And I’m interested to see whether this level of engagement persists when overseas travel (hopefully) becomes easier; how many converts to the joys of the Scottish summer has Covid created?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Research


Printed from /blogs/EcologicalSciences/it%E2%80%99s-good-be-out on 29/11/22 12:21:34 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.