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Sunday, 18 February 2018

Scottish Highland Estates, greed & the loss of wild land

INTENSIVE MUIR BURN ON A GROUSE SHOOTING ESTATE [RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN A NEW TAB]


Regular visitors to this place will have read the piece posted on here a couple of days ago: Scottish Highland Hydro Scheme Mapping. I provided a link to it on the TGO Challenge Message Board, as these schemes have a direct impact on Challengers who walk across Scotland, particularly so as the majority of these schemes have not yet made it onto Ordnance Survey Maps.

Here's a screen grab of that post on the Message Board, and the first reply from a chap who will be taking part in the Challenge for the first time this year. 

RIGHT-CLICK TO ENLARGE IN A NEW TAB

For those of you with small screens, I'll reproduce Paul's comment at a larger size below:



I've met Paul and I found him to be an intelligent and likeable bloke. I'm sure quite a few other very decent hill walkers will share his view, which is why I'm giving space to it as a separate piece, away from the narrower issue of Small Hydro schemes.

As regular readers will know I am particularly keen to promote the TGO Challenge, especially to first-timers as they are the life blood of the walk. (Mortality is a statistician's delight as without exception everyone dies and the more Challenges you do, the closer you are to meeting your maker.) If we want the TGO Challenge to continue, then fresh blood is vital.

I've walked across Scotland for over twenty years and over that time have seen a dramatic drop in the wild places. The predominant reason for this being the remorseless spread of wind farms (with the associated tracks and electricity pylons) a massive rise in hill roads for the grouse shooting industry and considerable changes, especially in the eastern Highlands in vegetation as muir-burn has become the predominant landscape. Recently Small Hydro (predominantly run of the river schemes) have  spread like a rash throughout the wild places.

Elsewhere on this blog I have written extensively about my despondency of walking through more and more damaged landscapes on the Challenge. (Just click on "Wind Power stations" under the 'Label' heading on the RH column of this blog) As I promote the Challenge a great deal, I think it is time to accentuate what is fabulous about walking across the Highlands and some of the positive changes that are being made by enlightened estate management.

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As I understand it, Paul is making two points; The first is that Highland Estate owners have to make a living from their land and the choices are from either small hydro scheme subsidies, wind farm rental, commercial forestry or grouse shooting. His second (supporting) point is that he's all in favour of killing mountain hares to preserve the grouse shooting industry, which in his opinion preserves the land from commercial forestry, as he would prefer to see shooting instead of forestry or wind farms.

He suggests that it is not helpful for me to rail against small hydro, grouse shooting and wind farms, as that leaves only forestry and he would not like to see that marching across the hillsides. In his view trying to limit wind farms, small hydro, grouse shooting and forestry (which I don't believe I have ever mentioned) will lead to the depopulation of the Highlands.

At first pass it might seem that Paul is making a fair point. Indeed, these are the points that Scottish Land & Estates - the representative body of the majority of Estate owners - trot out at regular intervals to support grouse shooting, industrial scale wind farms, hydro schemes and commercial forestry across Scotland. After all, these Estates provide a living for a fair few estate workers across the country.

Let's look at Paul's second, supporting point to start with, as it bolsters the main thrust of his comment.

The points about livelihoods and killing hares (regarding grouse shooting) are made well in the recent BBC Countryfile television programme that Paul made mention of on the TGO Message Board, before he deleted the comment. The programme examines the mass shooting of mountain hares (a native species) to protect the grouse shooting industry. However, the same could also be said of the points made by Harry Huyton of OneKind against the shooting of Mountain Hares. Take a look at the programme  yourself: It's about a ten minute watch. You can see the programme on the BBC iPlayer for the next 16 days by clicking on the following link:


NB: Rather than watch the entire programme, the relevant sections are from 7:00 to 14:00 and 30:30 to 36:10

Harry Huyton's subsequent take on the programme can be found here: Three reflections on Countryfile's mountain hare culls feature 

For a detailed look at hare culls you might like to view this document: Mountain hare persecution in Scotland After reading that, I think you'll agree that Paul's position on culling mountain hares looks pretty shabby.

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Now let's take a look at Paul's first, main point: Scottish Estate owners have to make a living, and it's going to come from either grouse shooting, rental income from wind farms, commercial forestry or small hydro.

Of course, this is a straw man argument. Those are a carefully selected sample of possible income streams for Highland Estates. As it happens, they are the income streams that some find unacceptable in the modern world and so we are given a choice by the estates (and Paul) to choose those we find least unpalatable from their selection.

On the morning of the day I posted the link to my piece on Small Hydro Mapping on the Challenge Message Board I had also posted a piece that Chris Townsend had mentioned on twitter - an inspirational piece from the Scottish Wildlife Trust's website written by the Estate owner, Lisbet Rausing, detailing the work that Corrour Estate has been doing over the last ten years or so and the plans it has for the next ten. You can find that piece by clicking on this link:


LOCH OSSIAN AT THE HEART OF CORROUR ESTATE @ JONNY HUGHES


I really would like you to read this piece so that we can understand each other as we move forward. So sit up straight at the back of the class and take a few moments to read it please.

Thank you.

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*
*

And, you're back in the room! Hello again. That was a great read. You're jolly glad you took some time over it.

You will have seen that the stewardship of Corrour Estate has shifted fundamentally from an extractive model to a stewardship model. The entire ecosystem - flora and fauna - is recovering from over a century of appalling abuse. It appears from this shining example (and others mentioned in the piece) that Highland Estates can make a living without wind farms, grouse shooting and forestry. The Estate now washes its face economically by generating income from tourism attracted to the place by the transformation of the landscape and wildlife.

Who knew?

Tourism is a *major* business in the Highland economy. Visit Scotland estimated that 1,88 million people from the rest of the UK and 0.4 million people from overseas visited the Highlands in 2012/13. These visitors spent a combined total of £509 million.

However, you will have spotted that Corrour *does* include four small hydro projects as part of its income stream - a fairly big disappointment.

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This brings me rather neatly to another reason for disagreeing with Paul's comment.

If you or I were to buy our first home, we would know that along with the mortgage and rates that we would have to pay, we would also be faced with a raft of additional costs. Every once in a while all the exterior woodwork would need painting. The decorations inside the place would need keeping in order. Plumbing problems, heating bills, electricity bills, they all need to be sorted.

Moving on to your next, larger house, all those costs increase, and so on to an even more expensive house, with a large garden, fences to maintain, you'll need a larger lawnmower. You can already see where this is going, can't you?

Those fortunate enough to be in a position to buy a Scottish Estate know full well what they are buying. They are buying a whole heap of ongoing outgoings that to you or me would seem eye-watering! Of course, they would try to mitigate these costs by having an income from the Estate. And that is exactly what Lisbet Rausing is doing at Corrour.

But let's not kid ourselves; these Estate owners are incredibly wealthy individuals, from all corners of the world as well as the UK. And let's be brutally honest. They can afford to run an Estate, even when it makes a loss. Their accountants will have told them how much it was going to lose year on year before they bought the place and that was part of the purchase decision, just as I knew full-well when I bought a sixteenth century listed cottage with wattle and daub exterior walls that it was going to be eye-wateringly expensive to heat. There's not a scrap of difference between the two purchases.

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Going back to Paul's comment: He says "...what would you like them to use the land for? It has to be used for something..."

I really do have a big problem with that statement alone. I would be quite happy to sit here for a few days debating just that one question and answer. You see, Paul is looking at land as a commodity, or a vehicle to provide an income.  He's not looking at land as something that just by being there provides huge pleasure to those who live amongst it and those who travel through it. These people are not monetising land. I could quote John Muir verbatim about land and wild places. You'll have heard it all before.

However, the land that these Estates have parcelled up between themselves doesn't care who owns it, or who walks though it. It is just there and that is why we hill-walkers go there ourselves. It is for freedom from the daily grind. It's to reduce stress. It's to be like my friend Mick, who I wrote about only this week, HERE.

And we should not forget, that is the main reason the Estate owners bought the place at the very outset. Because to live there would be to fulfil their dream of living in one of the finest places on the planet.

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So let's not hear any more about monetising Highland Estates. It's not about the money. It's not about choosing between one, two or three or even four methods of abusing wild land. Those choices are strawmen arguments put up by those who enjoy shooting birds for fun. This argument is put up by those who want to rake in extra money by letting out their land for commercial forestry, or wind farms or building small hydro schemes - each of which is designed, built and paid for by other commercial enterprises.

So Paul, let's not hear anymore about the further depopulation of the Highlands; Corrour has shown that to be complete nonsense.

Let's instead encourage landowners to take a lead from Lisbet Rausing and the incredible work she is doing at Corrour transforming the place from an extractive business model to a stewardship model. And really, Lisbet, there was no need for you to build those small hydro schemes at all. You can afford to live there without them. 

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Footnote: Wise and venerable readers of this blog will have noticed that in this entire screed, written all in one mad rush, there is no political message. I haven't mentioned the SNP once, because there's no need to. Greed is the same the world over.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Scottish Highland Hydro Scheme Mapping

Reading TGO Challengers' accounts of last year's walk across Scotland I was struck by how many Challengers encountered run of the river small hydro schemes, often in places that would otherwise have been described as having a feel of wilderness. To a man, they felt these places had been desecrated

I was aware of the existence of small hydro schemes in the Scottish Highlands as Phil, Andy & I had walked past a few on our Challenge in 2014 prior to our TGO Challenge in 2017. Here's one on the north shore of Loch Quoich. This particular building houses turbines that have a plated capacity of 775kw. (For a recognisable comparison most modern land based wind turbines have a capacity of about four times that amount.) That does not mean it produces 775kw; it's the maximum it can produce. Like wind turbines, run of the river schemes like these are weather dependent. If it doesn't rain for a while the water levels will drop and the power output will be a small fraction of the plated capacity. In a very dry spell it will produce nothing at all.

This means that a lot of work goes in to providing very little power - and variable power at that. These schemes attract heavy renewables subsidies (paid for by you and me in our electricity bills) to make them economic to the developers. Let's be very clear here: They would not be built without these heavy subsidies.

775KW CAPACITY HYDRO SCHEME, LOCH QUOICH







The photograph below shows that VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams posing by an access road to the Taodail Small Hydro scheme near Strathcarron - a hour into our walk into the wild places on last year's TGO Challenge.

TAODAIL HYDRO SCHEME ROAD, STRATHCARRON




This was my take on the two schemes we bumped into that year. We were not impressed. Neither of the roads we saw had made it onto O.S. mapping so they were an unpleasant surprise.

  • Surprisingly, we catch up with Croydon, Paddy & Gillian on one of those new Hydro Scheme roads that are currently being blazed throughout the length and breadth of the Highlands, destroying yet more of the wild quality that has been such a magnet for so many years. After a bit of a dither where the new road has obliterated the old stalkers path, we clamber up the side of the cutting and carry on our way, deeper and higher into the hill. 

SCREENSHOT OF HIGHLAND HYDRO SCHEME MAPPING [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

The above map is a screen shot of the Highland Council's map that shows all the hydro schemes that have been either been built, or are under construction, or in planning and also those that have been refused planning in the Highland Council planning area.

If you right click on that map and open it at a much larger size in a new tab you will find the Taodail Hydro project. On the actual Highland Council map, if you were to click on the Taodail little yellow dot the screen shown below appears:

TAODAIL HYDRO SCHEME [CLICK TO ENLARGE]


















You'll note that the dot is coloured yellow as at the time of the map's preparation (Jan 2017) the project was under construction. When we discovered it in May 2017 it looked virtually complete. You can get rid of the information tab to reveal all the mapped features of the scheme. See below:

TAG REMOVED TO SEE MORE CLEARLY [CLICK TO ENLARGE]



















Here's my take on the second run of the river hydro scheme we bumped into on our way over from Glen Orrin to Glen Strathfarrar, one of the most beautiful glens in the Scottish Highlands:

  • Pleased as punch we positively gambol down the other side on nibbled turf. The first quarter of an hour is fabulous, following a bubbly caochan downhill until it becomes the Neaty Burn proper. Then it all goes to rat-shit for a while with stumbly heavy heather, awkward clambers up and over the burn bluffs. It's still cold and showers are now coming at us from the west down Glen Strathfarrar. It's all quite knackering. 
  • And then we see a big new road, dead ahead, following the burn downhill. 
  • Of course, it's yet another Mini Hydro Power scheme. The actual works themselves are not wildly intrusive, tucked away at the bottom of the little gorges that they are placed within but the roads that enable the schemes to be built and maintained are horribly so. And they're appearing all over the Highlands because there are massive subsidies to be farmed by the already wealthy landowners. The amount of power they produce is minuscule and all at a terrible cost to wild land.
NEATY BURN HYDRO SCHEME


































  • The old stalkers path down the Neaty Burn has been obliterated by the new road and so we plod somewhat disconsolately down the dirt road wide enough for two trucks to pass each other. The old path chose a line with gentle gradients. This new road dives straight down the hill which is tough on my dodgy left knee. All the wild qualities of this old route have now gone. We're now on a road, heading down to the new housing for the generators - a modern pitched roof construction, not unlike a large house in appearance, surrounded by a large concrete apron and heavy river pebbles.
  • We sit against the wall for a little shelter from the rain and it's all rather depressing. Dear God. What were they thinking of? They've already screwed huge swathes of Scotland with bloody wind farms and now they're destroying havens of sylvan bliss with houses, concrete and roads. All in the name (and only the name) of supposedly 'green' policies. Had these idiots actually done the maths they would realise they are pissing in the wind and their tokenism is fucking Scotland to the hilt. 
  • Bastards.

The next map is the detail gleaned from the Highland Council mapping. This scheme, which has totally destroyed the wild feel of this wonderful place produces a paltry 700kw (plated, remember, so a great deal less on average, and intermittent) of electricity at a massive cost to the environment.

ZOOMED VIEW WITH DETAILS OF THE 700KW NEATY BURN HYDRO SCHEME [CLICK TO ENLARGE]



















With this mapping from Highland Council it is now possible to plot these Hydro Schemes on your own maps (a lot of Challengers print out their maps) so that you know when out on the hill where they are and can choose to avoid them.

The Highland Council maps can be found by clicking on the link below.  Have a play with them. Blow them up. I believe you'l be very surprised at just how many of these schemes there are and the crass insensitivity of their locations.

Scottish Highland Hydro Scheme Mapping

Comments are welcome:

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Political Compass: Six years on.

Six years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post about the Political Compass test. It spawned a huge, light-hearted discussion in the comments thread, that nowadays is a joy to read. I believe that political discussion has become woefully polarised these days due to the in-built distortions caused by the algorithms used by Facebook and twitter. 

You can find the post by clicking the following link: POLITICAL COMPASS

It's well worth a read just for the comment section (102 comments!) But for the idle buggers who frequent this place, I've cut and pasted the piece below:

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THURSDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2012


Political Compass

Over the years I have seen my political views slide slowly to the right. At school I was definitely “left wing” and since then, passing through university, working for someone else and then working for myself I have found my sympathies laying more and more to the right of centre.

But it’s not as easy as that. There are some current Conservative policies that I am diametrically opposed to: Planning “reform”, NHS “reforms” nuclear weapons… i could go on. However I still saw myself as to the right of centre.

The other evening Chris Townsend & I were having one of our regular fun ding-dongs on politics (always in good humour, it should be said!) and he introduced me to a questionnaire that I hadn’t seen before, that dug deeper than left or right and also examined your views on authority and libertarianism.
It was quite late at night when I bundled my way through it at breakneck speed and i was quite surprised at the result. It turned out that I was in fact a bit of a lefty libertarian!

This evening I went back to the questionnaire to have another go – less tired and taking more time over my answers. The results were surprisingly similar – but this time it found me bang in the middle in the left / right sense but still a bit of a libertarian.

Here are the graphic representations of the results:

Political Compass 7th Feb 2012
(7th Feb, Late at night, done quickly)

Political Compass 9th Feb 2012 
(9th Feb, Completed with care)
So how does this compare with some better known in political circles? here you go:
Political Compass Compatriots
And:
Political Compass Compatriots 2
So there you have it! You can have a go for yourselves by clicking on this link:

You don’t have to let me know the results, but secretly I would love to know! The one big surprise was to find myself politically well to the left of Gordon Brown… I am not quite sure how that works…

***
Reading that brought back happy memories and also the realisation that my views on two of the topics had changed radically - nuclear weapons and the reform of the NHS. 'Blimey', I thought to myself. 'Perhaps I'm slewing to the right in my old age?'

Full of trepidation I set to, and had another bash at the test. Here's my latest result:

13TH FEBRUARY 2018





















Phew! I'm now ever so slightly more to the left than I was six years ago, and slightly more Libertarian in outlook. I could well be the love-child of the Dalai Lama and Angela Merkel. Hold that thought...

However, this means I can relax, as I am still a happy, fluffy, cuddly type of chap and not a frothing Nazi. But I wonder. How will I turn out in another six years' time, in 2024? I must set a reminder in my Google Calendar.

Right then! Now it's your turn. How will you get on compared to six years ago?

  • Will Chris Townsend make for a happy bedfellow with Mrs Merkel?
  • Will the Dalai Lama, Ghandi and Nelson Mandela need to buy bigger beds?
  • Has the CIA been tapping anyone's phone calls? (You'll need to read the 2012 comments)
Here's the link again for you all to try:
POLITICAL COMPASS QUESTIONNAIRE

Answers, please in the comments section. Thank you in anticipation! 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Book yourself into the soul asylum. Go for a walk.

A week doesn't go by without the media telling us that we are fat. We fill our faces with pizza, greasy burgers and ice cream. Our kids don't play out anymore. We spend less time talking face to face than ever before. We're couch potatoes.

It does not come as a surprise then that depression is now at epidemic proportions.

So that's the bad news.


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A few weeks back I was talking to a friend. He had been through a pretty torrid time in the last few years. He mentioned that he has a photo of a bloke he barely recognises in his wallet. The man in the photo has a serene expression. He's the epitome of happiness. In fact, the photograph is a selfie, taken on a walk across Scotland on the annual TGO Challenge. He was backpacking from coast to coast and at the time was about half way across. He had settled into his 'gentleman of the road' persona. His daily rhythm was to wake, have breakfast, then walk fifteen or so miles carrying a heavy rucsac. At the end of the day he would find a place for his one-man tent, have a lie down, make dinner and sleep. Life was simple.

He looks forward to this walk all year. He can walk alone for days but on occasion he can bump into old friends he has met on the walk years before. They each have this walk, this gift in common; they are kindred souls if you will. It may well be that this walk, this happiness is the only thing they have in common. But each recognises it and the sense of belonging is shared. 

For him, this long walk delivers the same pleasure and sensation as listening to his favourite music. Whatever it is, be it dopamine, adrenaline or some other pleasure chemicals the brain sends out, it does it for Mick.

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Another friend has carried a small pebble in her pocket found on a beautiful walk years and years ago. It gives her reassurance to feel it there - as a reminder of wonderful times when she needs it most. I was very taken by this, so much so that I picked up my own small rock at Land's End - that I christened Ricky - and carried him seventeen hundred miles on my own long walk the length of Britain. He still comes with me on every adventure.

RICKY THE ROCK
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If you dig around a little you find that stress, anxiety or depression can blight lives. As an example, a couple of months ago I read an incredibly brave blog post from an outdoor blogger I respect hugely. Geoff's blog post "Depression and me" made me stop and think hard. Depression is damaging. 

That brought me back to thinking about Mick's photograph and Ricky the Rock. 

If you are looking for ways to reduce your stress levels, a recent poll suggests that you could not do better than simply going for a walk: Two thousand UK adults were surveyed to find their favourite stress reducing activity:


Britain’s top 10 stress-reducing activities

Choice
%
Walking
42.7%
Music
31.2%
Having a Bath
29.4%
Reading
25%
Watching TV
21.8%
Gardening
20.25%
Sport / fitness
18.4%
Nature
16.8%
Meditation
11.45%
Yoga
9.9%


It seems that Mick has it about right. He goes for a walk and listens to music to make his life happier, to make his head a good place to be.



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Regular readers of this blog will know that come each New Year I set out to walk just three miles a day up until May, when I set out for my annual walk across Scotland. Originally this was intended as a means to work up a general level of fitness and to fight the post Christmas flab. 

You may be surprised to learn that this lazy old sod carried on with the regime as I thoroughly enjoy my walks. I live in a mixed urban-rural landscape, not one that would normally be associated with going out for lots of walks. However, whatever the weather I'm out there. It's a bit like that old Mackeson advert. "It looks good, it tastes good, and by golly it does you good." Okay, there may be a pub or two involved as well...

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So there you have it. Statistics never lie. My suggestion is to be like Mick. Get to be that chap in your own photograph. 

Going back to the start of this piece: Go for a walk. You may well continue eating pizza, greasy burgers and ice cream. Your children may still have their faces in their screens. However, you won't be a couch potato and you may get to meet a lot of folk that you quite like and have real conversations again when out on your walks.

And you'll be a lot less stressed and much, much happier for it.