Words by Moj Taylor. Image by Matt Clifton
20 years ago my great grandmother passed away and she gave her entire Scottish estate to Greenpeace. My family were surprised but only mildly, and the irony of it at the time was that my family loved going to the estate on the bonny banks of Loch Meiklie, but at the time as a child I felt apathetic about it. 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 that place. My great grandmother was not our genetic one: my grandfather's father - who once owned the Highland Hotel - 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. We weren't on the bread line, and as a child I at least had enough of a grasp of my parents' jobs to know that they weren't envious of the decision to donate the estate - 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 you've donated, to help protect itself and wider nature, so good on you”.
Now I look back and trace it as a key moment in my 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 had some incredibly fond memories of climbing huge trees, exploring her orchard and rowing to the middle of the calmest quietest loch (and place) I’ve ever experienced.
I remember being in awe of my great grandmother, as she told me how without fail, she swam daily in the loch. Which at the time terrified me, as the loch flows in from the River Enrick, which flows directly from the next door loch: Loch Ness. And 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. I'm still scared but I think it fuels focus and problem-solving, which is why we should all instill a little fear of nature, when it comes to tackling climate change before it's too late. I was doubly in awe that she had worked at Bletchley during World War II.
Whenever I asked her if she was one of the famous code breakers, on my way to the sauna in her house, she would give me a wry Scottish smile and a wink. 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. We 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, or even more than 4 channels on TV.
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 Bear team trip) but in the interim I take comfort in knowing that the land is in good green hands. I have an apocalyptic dream of her great grandmother’s old house being not only abandoned, but reclaimed by two decades of nature doing what it does best. I hope that not a single hedge, heath, grassland bog or tree has been lost, and that they have been left to bloom. I remember climbing an old pine twice as big as my house. Getting up was easy. Getting down was the real challenge. We have lost enough: 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 the Visit Scotland ads.
We still have time to preserve (and rewild) not only our highlands, but our lowlands too. We can focus on ways to limit our own carbon emissions, limiting our meat and fish consumption, and investing in native coastal carbon capture and native tree replanting and forest protection projects and initiatives (Bear plant trees for every purchase made). We can really invest thought into choosing which renewable or non-renewable sources our home consumes energy from. And we can limit how much energy is consumed via consumerism, which leads to an unsustainable drainage of our natural resources.