Like many of your readers, I grew up with the Campsie Fells continually in my sight. Not only are they a place to walk, to swim, to cycle, and ultimately to enjoy, but they are also an omnipresent feature of our skyline here in East Dunbartonshire. The rock formations are unique and recognisable from many angles across central Scotland, and the beauty of this area can sometimes go untold. Yet, it wasn’t until they were no longer continually in my sight did I realise they weren’t what they could be.
I have been fortunate enough in my life to have visited several cities across two continents. Every city is unique – that’s what makes them special – yet they all have something in common. From Barcelona in Catalonia to Berlin in Germany, and from Cuzco in Peru to El Calafaté in Argentina, this similarity soon hit me like a tonne of bricks. As I stood in the heart of Patagonia admiring the mountain range and glacial scene that was in front of me, I took particular joy in one aspect that seemed normal to everyone else around me. The trees. Every mountain I was looking at was covered in trees. And that’s exactly what these cities had in common. Trees. Outside of these cities were forests and national parks and natural woodland and all of these wonderful nature inspired initiatives that centred around trees. It made me think of home, and about how our hills and mountains are bare and barren.
Millennia of deforestation, and centuries of sheep farming, has left Scotland essentially an ecological desert. For a country that was once covered in temperate rainforest and the Caledonian forest, it’s heartbreaking to see the scenes of desolation that plague our wilderness. Outwith national parks, it’s rare you see a forested mountainside or hillside, unless for commercial timber purposes. This issue is not only aesthetic in nature, but has presented a whole range of side effects for us to deal with. From rapid biodiversity loss to landslides, our wilderness is literally falling apart before our very eyes.
Many species used to call this land home, and they’ve been forcibly evicted as if we’re nature’s repo men. Can’t pay? We’ll take it away. Magnificent animals like bears, wolves, lynx and a wide array of other species have been driven to extinction here, and the effects of this are extremely apparent. With the loss of natural predators from the food chain, the entire ecosystem has been thrown out of whack. It’s called a chain for a reason. With a link removed, it breaks apart. With the loss of our natural predators, deer populations have exploded, and forests have little hope of regenerating as things stand. Scotland is also awash with what has been nicknamed The White Plague – sheep. These gracious grazing creatures, whilst cute in appearance, have caused some amount of damage to this country’s ecology.
This is most certainly the case when it comes to the Campsie Fells. Go a walk up the Campsies. You’ll have great views, but if you stop for a second and actually contemplate what is going on, you will see things in a new light. You will see fences to stop loose rocks falling onto the road as the soil erodes from the lack of vegetative protection. You might not see many trees, but you’ll more than likely run into clouds with legs and faces. You will see beautiful waterfalls where some trees have managed to hang on as the sheep and deer can’t reach them there. Sadly, the thing you’ll see the most is grass. Some ecosystem that is.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There can be a tree-packed future for Scotland. We know this because project after project has been launched here to help reverse this trend of deforestation. Organisations like trees for life are doing fantastic work in attempting to restore the native Caledonian forest. Community led buy outs, like the successful one we seen in Langholm, are going against the grain and letting the trees do their thing. They’re showing us exactly what is possible in Scotland. It doesn’t have to be this way for the Campsie Fells either. There can be a tree-packed future for the Campsies. We don’t have to put up with desolate landscape constantly clouding over us. Not only do we not have to put up with that, but we shouldn’t. As climate change hurtles towards irreversible levels, we have to be doing everything we possibly can to allow nature to recover. We need bold, ambitious, radical, and decisive action.
It’s with this in mind that I am pleased to announce we have launched The Campsie Rewilding Initiative. Put simply, this is an ambitious plan to create a rewilding project and nature reserve in the Campsie Fells. A trust is in the process of being established so that we can fulfil the vision of rewilding as much of the Campsies as we possibly can. This would not only be visually stunning, but the animal and human benefits would be extraordinary. From firming up the soil and stopping loose rock from posing a threat, to creating vital habitat for persecuted birds of prey, this would be a monumental step in the local community’s efforts to preserve and restore our local environment, and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Once this trust has been established, we can begin the process of finding land to purchase. We will begin by scouting areas owned by public bodies – this means we can seek to utilise the Community Empowerment Act for their purchase. We will then be crowdfunding for said purchases, and once that is successful we will start giving the land a chance to heal.
The sad reality is we can’t wait for the Scottish Government, or anyone else for that matter, to come and save us from climate change. We must be the initiators of this ourselves. The local communities must be the ones to defend the land, in our interests and in the interests of the future generations to come. Community ownership of this area, resulting in the rewilding of the Campsie Fells, could well be a marker for further radical action on climate change. This will be a project that spans decades, it will not be easy, it will have many hurdles, but it is entirely necessary. I am hopeful that we can start something beautiful here.
The truth is, we barely understand this mouldy rock we call home. Not one human alive understands it better than mother nature herself. We have tampered with it, attempted to control it, and that has left us on the precipice of mass extinction. If we are able to remove the factors that are causing the demise of forests and other natural ecosystems that are the lifeblood of this planet, then we can safely say we are doing our bit in the global struggle against climate change.
As the Lakota shaman Wallace Black Elk so eloquently put it: “We don’t have to heal the earth; she can heal herself. All we have to do is stop making her sick.”
By Harry Barnes.
Harry Barnes is a local campaigner who likes to blend environmentalism with anarchism. He helped run the Don’t Frack the Briggs campaign from 2014 until its eventual ban, and is now working on a campaign to rewild the Campsie Fells.
Twitter – @hazbee3