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Hill Land Use and Ecology Discussion Group

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I'd like to reflect on a experience back in spring this year, to ponder why some groups are dismissed as mere 'talking shops' whilst other apparently similar groups persist and are valued.

If a group or organisation has the reputation of being “a talking shop” rather than a means of effecting change or making a visible contribution, then rightly or wrongly it tends to struggle to maintain membership or attract new members. Not so the long-running "Hill Land Use and Ecology Discussion Group" (HLUEDG), despite its unwieldy name! Its origins reach back to the 1960s when it was founded by Professor Charles Gimingham of the University of Aberdeen. The Group has around 150 members, comprised of individual landowners, farmers, employees of the Scottish and local governments, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commission, private forestry companies, utility companies, SRUC/SAC, research institutes and universities.

HLUEDG is a group of a different kind. Its annual meetings take place in the field. They are informal, with no written reports or minutes. At present the group does not even have a website: the only sensible Google result will lead you to the chair’s LinkedIn profile (https://www.linkedin.com/pub/ewen-cameron/51/848/b43). That makes it somewhat difficult to find out what topics have been discussed and what places visited previously. The meeting I attended in April took place in Highland Perthshire. During this visit I was struck by how well the hydro power schemes in Glen Lyon blend into the landscape (those around 800 kW, in size somewhere between micro hydro and massive dams), and what huge dimensions windfarms can take (the Griffin windfarm south of Aberfeldy has 68 turbines, each generating 2.3 MW). 

I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions, where people were encouraged to speak freely regardless of affiliation (this reminded me of Chatham House rules although this term was not mentioned). However, I do struggle to articulate precisely what I gained from the day. I had the chance to follow up on new developments in the SRDP with people from government agencies, heard from a community council member (all relevant to my current projects) and met former employees of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute. It is difficult to quantify what will come of these ‘leads in’, contacts refreshed, and bits of information I gathered. On the other hand, it was refreshing to go to a ‘meeting’ without having to prepare anything, and no deliverable to be produced from it. Such an arrangement gives considerable freedom of mind and seems to be what attracts people.

So is a two day outing with the HLUEDG worthwhile? If you don’t know the major players in Scotland and the sights in the uplands yet I would definitely recommend it. If you like talking – very good. If you like listening – even better. And no one will get annoyed if you decide to take notes!   I suggest that successful 'talking shops' persist when they allow freedom to think and learn, as well as unpressurised networking opportunities.  Are there other examples out there similar to HLUEDG?

Author: Katrin Prager

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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Printed from /blogs/hill-land-use-and-ecology-discussion-group on 29/01/23 08:54:58 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.