Words by Moj Taylor.
20 years ago my great grandmother passed away and she gave her Scottish estate to Greenpeace. According to my grandfather it was the second largest private donation of an estate they had received at the time. Perhaps it still is. My family were surprised by her donation but only mildly: she was a quiet, wild (in the best possible sense) and unpredictable woman. I wasn't even sure what Greenpeace was, but I knew I liked the sound of the word: 2 words that stirred strong emotions individually, and stirred even stronger emotions when I think of the complete serenity of the 25 acres between the A831 and the bonny bonny banks of the small but beautiful Loch Meiklie.
My great grandmother was not our genetic one: my grandfather's father - who once owned the Highland Hotel but drank and debauched most of his reputation away - had undertaken the rarity of divorce in those times and remarried before the Second World War began and he was called off to fly planes. The Taylors certainly weren't on the bread line but certainly weren't affluent, and as a child I at least had enough of a grasp of my parents' jobs to know that they weren't at all envious of her decision to donate the estate. We have always lived a non-excessive lifestyle, and holidayed in the U.K, usually combining it with seeing family - and instead of a sadness at not being able to visit anymore, I remember thinking “you lived your life and are now part of the land, and now it is in safe hands...so good on you”.
Now, in my 30s, with my own baby daughter and a concern that she will experience a world stripped of wildness and diversity, I reflect on those 20 acres of land (it mostly was: apart from a small neat house, garage, orchard and boat house) with a hint of sadness. Sadness that I won't be able to let Mila explore it, but also comfort as I can trace it back as a key moment in my ever-growing love of the outdoors. It's probably the reason why, a few years after she passed, I signed up for another key experience in my love of nature: the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
I remember being in awe of my great grandmother. As well as swimming in Loch Miekle every day of the year, she was fluent in German and worked at Bletchley Park during World War Two. I wish she had lived long enough to tell me some stories, and to guide me through a loch swim. At the time the Loch terrified me, because the loch flows in from the River Enrick, which flows directly from the next door loch: Loch Ness. As a child my imagination was fodder for far too many tales of Nessie. I had convinced myself she would 'head next door to our Loch' when she was hungry. I used to fear rowing and then being pulled under. Now, I live my life with a mission to one day swim the loch - on the surface and vertically down perhaps. I'm still scared but I think fear fuels focus and problem-solving, which is why we should all instil a little fear of nature within us, when it comes to immersing ourselves into it in order to feel the urgency of conserving it in the face of climate breakdown, before it's too late.
Whenever I asked her if she was one of the famous Bletchley code breakers, on my way to the little 2-person sauna in her house (what a way to come in from the Loch), she would give me a wry Scottish smile and a wink. Maybe I wasn't old enough for the stories. To me - only a former code breaker has a sauna next to a stunning milk pond vista. Childhood memories root themselves into our subconscious and resonate deeper than a Scottish loch. I run a lot of study skills workshops in schools, and highlight to students that we, as humans, imbed memories strongly that are based on strong emotions. In my case, those emotions were wonder and mysticalness. Of an alien country where there was drastically less of everything: people, concrete, cars, and urban sounds. It felt so far from home, yet oddly home. It felt daunting, and unsafe, yet naturally comfortable at the same time. This was before anyone had a phone (let alone a 'smart' one) or social media, and no more than 4 channels on our TVs (she didn't even own one).
I'm now a member of Greenpeace. And although I haven't yet enquired about what's become of the old estate, I will one day, ideally on a BearMade team trip or on a pilgrimage with my young daughter. But in the interim I take comfort in knowing that the land is in good (green) hands. I have an apocalyptic dream of great granny's old house completely abandoned and reclaimed by two decades of nature - doing what it does best: evolving to redress the imbalances of human activity. I hope that not a single hedge, heath or grassland bog has been lost, and that they have been left to bloom. I hope the pine trees are as abundant as I remember. I once climbed an old pine twice as big as my house with my dad. Getting up was easy. Getting down was the real challenge. I had some incredibly fond memories of climbing those trees, exploring her orchard and rowing to the middle of the calmest quietest loch (and place) I’ve ever experienced, on a small creaky wooden boat.
We have lost enough on our native shores: bear, lynx, elk, and wolves used to roam our tree-covered lowlands and highlands, but were all driven to extinction by nearly 6,000 years of land planning which lacked foresight. According to TreesforLife.org, only around 1% of of Scotland’s native pinewoods remain, due to long term ecological destruction via the first neolithic farmers to more recent powerful landowners who prioritised grazing for profit over local rural communities who mostly lived in balance with the natural world. 100,000s of acres have been scorched of their natural heath and pinewood, to encourage fresh growth of heather for livestock feed. They never show you that on Visit Scotland ads.
We still have time to preserve (and rewild) not only our highlands, but our lowlands too. We can all harness a little of what I call the 'buzz fear' which I get from performing, to find collaborative, playful and creative ways to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. I believe this is a more fruitful way to tackle emissions, instead of countless scaremongering and a resigned feeling that we are past the point of no return and should just do nothing and enjoy it whilst we can. I have to choose to believe this for my daughter - and every other young human born into our one and only planet. We can get creative with how we tweak our daily lives: we can reduce our meat and fish consumption (not ban them outright), we can reduce how much we travel and why, and we can buy less physical things but buy more into causes: like campaigns, petitions and crowd funding in start ups for things like native coastal carbon capture, and native tree replanting and forest protection projects (Bear plant trees for every purchase made). We can invest in smaller, more agile and fairly priced renewable energy to power our homes - and stop wasting time and energy and companies that don't do what the planet needs (it's the key way big business listens: when their profit margins start to shrink). Finally, we can invest in items we will actually use, and use well, which are made from natural materials and can be repaired and passed down to our children. We can't all pass down a small estate in Scotland to our families, but we can pass down strong values and quality goods that stand the test of time.