However, SBS is central to what is wrong with the British conservation mindset, according to George Monbiot in his recent book Feral. This inspiring read explores the concept of 'rewilding', essentially allowing land that is no longer used, such as abandoned farmland, to be left alone. Not actively managed in any way (except to control particularly damaging invasive species) but allowed to be truly 'self-willed'. The book demonstrates that this is anathema to many mainstream conservationists: they confuse conservation with gardening, according to Monbiot. So much of our conservation revolves around maintaining landscapes that are far from natural: most notably barren uplands where there would be forest were it not for centuries of repeated clearance and over-grazing.
For us these denuded landscapes are the 'baseline'. They are what we think of when we think of wild land in Britain. Our affinity with landscapes such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales shows how much we equate the countryside with farming as well. Yes, to us the neat little fields and drystone walls are a relatively 'old' landscape, and a preferable one in terms of biodiversity to our modern-day prairies of wheat and oil seed rape, but to conserve it is to continue to heavily manage it, to suppress and prevent ecosystems from re-establishing themselves.
|Sheep and a knot of trees mark Curr ruin in Glen Brown|
The final blow came with the Depression years in the 1930s. That seems to be when the last few houses began to be abandoned (what role if any the landowner had in 'clearing' the glen, I'm not sure). Sheep are still run there and lapwings and curlews still fill the air with their calls in summer, but the people are gone and the human link to the land is broken. I think it's such a sad place because although it's uninhabited, it doesn't feel as though it has moved on. It is still waiting for its people to return and renew the bond, but the only people that occasionally pass by are alien visitors from a different world: walkers, tourists, seekers of peace and solitude in a place only lately fallen silent.
|Glen Brown showing its potential for re-growth of native woodland.|
|Hardy old Scots pine in Glen Brown|
If the people aren't coming back and the only tenants are some sheep, what better use could there be for this land than to let it revert to something more wild and less predictable? And this is where re-casting our relationship with the land into something more authentic to the times comes in.
|Tombreck, Glen Brown|
The opportunities for rewilding are great, and nature's powers of regeneration are immense. But we're at a critical moment when the natural world is under the cosh as never before. With people, and especially children, losing their engagement with nature, the more chance there is that exploitation will accelerate with less and less opposition. It's therefore critically important to re-engage people with nature, and an inspiring programme of rewilding could be a big part of that.
A lot of hidebound landowning, shooting and conservation interests won't like it; but ask yourself, what do you want your grandchildren's baseline to be?
A few more pictures from Glen Brown and neighbouring Gleann Iomadaidh...
|The garden at Tombreck|
|A lonely survivor on the moors near Dorback, looking towards Geal Charn (821m)|
|Letteraiten, near Dorback|
|Stand of Scots pine in Gleann Iomadaidh|
|Woodland remnants in Gleann Iomadaidh|
|Scots pine, Gleann Iomadaidh|
|Half-buried ancient car near Bauminich ruin, Bridge of Brown|