Wednesday 29 July 2020

Poisoned eagle, disappeared eagle. Please write to politicians.

A grouse moor in the Eastern Highlands

Since I wrote the post below a satellite tagged young golden eagles has disappeared in the Strathbraan region of Perthshire, a raptor persecution hotspot (see Raptor Persecution UK). There is now a Parliamentary motion lodged by MSP Alex Rowley, calling for more to be done about the killing of birds of prey in the Highlands (again, see this post from Raptor Persecution UK). Those of us in Scotland should write to our MSPs asking them to sign this motion so it can be debated in the Scottish Government.

Wild Justice, the RSPB, and Hen Harrier Action have also started an e-action so people can send a pre-written letter to their MSP/MP/MS about raptor persecution and the damage done by driven grouse shooting. So far, 41,000 people have sent letters. Please join in.

Original post:

A young white-tailed eagle has been killed by poisoning on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, the latest in a series of deaths and disappearances of birds of prey on or near grouse moors. (see Raptor Persecution UK). This is a disgrace and has rightly caused a big stir on social media.

This latest case makes a mockery of the National Park designation. I have to say I'm not surprised though. There are areas of the park and the Eastern Highlands I won't visit again as they are wildlife deserts with bulldozed roads, animal traps, and ugly muirburn. Their sole purpose is to ensure there are large numbers of grouse for a few people to enjoy killing.

Nothing seems to be done to curb the wildlife slaughter on these industrialised grouse moors. It's time that changed (my view is that driven grouse shooting should be banned). One way to do this is to put pressure on the Scottish government and I urge everyone concerned to email the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Environment Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham.

Many people have already sent emails and the progress of the campaign can be followed on Raptor Persecution UK.

Thank You

I'd like to give a huge thank you to all those who've supported my blog with donations. I really appreciate this. 

I love doing this blog but it does require time and effort that could be spent on paid work. The blog will always be free but your donations do make a big difference. Thank you again.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Camping in the Lake District in the long hot summer of 1976

In Hollow Stones

As the rain continues to beat down outside I've been sorting through more old photos and came across some from a very different summer, one where it was dry for week after week after week. 1976. I made several trips to the Lake District, alone and with friends, walking and camping in the fells. The heat made for an indolent relaxing idyllic time, ambling to the tops, relaxing in the sun. A summer like no other.

Near Bleaberry Tarn with Crummock Water far below

My pictures, taken on an old point-and-shoot Instamatic, are soft and grainy and the colours have faded. They do bring back that glorious summer for me though.

A rare cloud! Great Gable from Lingmell

Bowfell Links from Three Tarns

Scafell Crag from Lingmell. My pack is on the right - Camp Trails Ponderosa bag on a Camp Trails Astral Cruiser external frame

Hollow Stones

Monday 27 July 2020

The camping problem, nature and wild land: a perspective

The problems of so-called wild camping that I wrote about a month ago have not eased. The media is still full of stories and pictures of trashed campsites, abandoned gear, and damage to the environment. Whatever you call it (I’ll write another post about that) this type of camping is anti-social, unpleasant and upsetting. Maybe some of the perpetrators are doing it out of ignorance and could be educated. Some undoubtedly don’t care.

What I want to do here though is put all this in the context of conserving and restoring nature and wild land. Yes, this vandalism does do damage, especially when tree branches are hacked off and campfires are burnt into the ground. Clearing up the mess creates chores for rangers who could be doing other work. Trees take time to recover. But fire rings can be erased, and litter collected. The areas with these problems are not large, but they are very visible as they’re usually next to roads and often in popular beauty spots. Overall, the damage caused is limited. Of course, it’s to be condemned and everything possible should be done to reduce it (I don’t think complete prevention is possible) but in the overall picture of what is happening to wild land it’s not one of the big problems.

Let’s take campfires for a start. Mostly these create a small patch of burnt ground and perhaps some damage to nearby trees. Very occasionally one gets out of control and devastates a larger area, which is terrible. Certainly, such campfires should be banned and people heavily discouraged from lighting them. But far greater damage is caused by heather burning on grouse moors, which takes place on vast areas of high ground every year, killing wildlife and creating an ugly monoculture. Animals and birds can be killed by litter that isn’t cleared up, which again is terrible. But thousands are killed deliberately on those same grouse moors, all so a few people can blast small birds out of the sky. The devastated landscape of a driven grouse moor is vastly more damaging than some roadside campers leaving rubbish behind. (See Raptor Persecution UK and Mark Avery’s Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands).  

Those grouse moors mean roads too, bulldozed across the hills. In recent years there has been an increase in these and an increase in their size. I’m reminded of the late Edward Abbey who said about chucking his beer cans out of the car window “after all, it’s not the beer cans that are ugly; it’s the highway that is ugly.”. Now  I wouldn’t do that myself or condone anyone else doing so but I think the point he’s making is right. Roads into wild areas are ugly, damaging, and bring problems with them. (This is a good essay on Abbey and roads and beer cans). 

Then there’s over-grazing, monoculture spruce plantations, wind farms and hydro plants. The first two lead to biological deserts with little wildlife and poor vegetation. (For overgrazing see this report from Scottish Environment LINK, for plantations see this piece from the Scottish Wildlife Trust). 

When I walked through the Southern Uplands on my Scottish Watershed walk I was dismayed at how little wildlife there was, most of the hills consisting of sheep pasture interspersed with plantations and the occasional wind farm. Wind farms and hydro plants bring roads and further damage, both visually and to the land. Glen Etive is one of the areas that has suffered from inconsiderate roadside campers. However they’ve had minimal effect compared to the damage that will be done by planned hydro developments (see Save Glen Etive).

Industrialising wild places is the big threat, not roadside camping.

Thursday 23 July 2020

Back camping in the hills again

Four months since my last camp, my last night out in the hills. Such a long time! But shouldering my pack at the start of the walk down Glen Feshie it felt as though I’d never been away. Setting off like this was so familiar, something I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times over the years. Four months absence could not overcome that. But to be heading deep into the Cairngorms again did feel wonderful.

The forecast was good and my plan was to wander along Glen Feshie, admiring the ancient pines, feeling inspired by all the new trees, and watching the surging silvery river, and out beyond the forest to camp, preferably somewhere breezy and midge free. The next day I’d come back over the tops, how many depending on the weather.

Glen Feshie was as lovely as ever. There were quite a few people about at first, many of them mountain bikers, but once I was past Ruigh-aiteachan bothy I only saw three others. As the last trees faded behind me the landscape opened up with heather moorland and gentle rolling hills spreading into the distance. The old path threaded a way through the bogs, intercut in places by an ugly modern vehicle track slashing muddy gashes in the terrain. 

Feeling surprisingly strong or at least attuned to the rhythm of walking I went on past two previously used camp sites, the first with a mountain biker just pitching his tent, the second with two closed tents. Both these sites are where burns come rushing down from the Moine Mhor to join the River Feshie. At these confluences patches of dry grass lie amongst the bogs.

At the River Eidart I turned away from the Feshie just as it began its curve back on itself. Beyond Eidart Bridge there are only sketchy deer tracks and the going is rough amongst deep heather, bogs and peat hags. I walked shingle banks and narrow strips of grass beside the river where possible, cutting away from the water where there were little crags or undercut deep pools. From previous visits I knew it was some four kilometres before the bogs started to fade and the land became grassier and more suitable for camping. 

I’d set off late and the sky was darkening as I walked the last few kilometres. My legs were weary now, reminding me I hadn’t done this in a while. Wanting to stop I prospected a couple of spots but knew that I wouldn’t sleep well on the bumpy boggy ground so I went on, finally stopping on a strip of grass between wet areas of cotton grass. It would do.

The night was calm and cool, the temperature falling to just 5.6°C in the few hours of darkness. There was a light breeze so I slept with the tent door open. It had been light for hours when I woke to a grey sky and rain spattering on the tent. 

Boggy heather led up to the southern edge of the vast Moine Mhor plateau. Here the wind was cold and squalls of rain blasted across the hills. Some passed me by to the south and west and I watched as they swept over distant hills. I joined a bulldozed track that should never have been built up here and followed it almost to Mullach Clach a’Bhlair. A short path led to the summit. A heavy squall caught me here, the rain icy and stinging. My hands felt chilled and I wished I’d brought gloves. With no views I didn’t linger and was soon heading down the track back to Glen Feshie. I didn’t feel like spending more time high up in this weather.

Walking back along the glen I felt content. A good trip in a familiar favourite place. I was back.