“In John we trust”

Yesterday, Jane Bradley wrote (The Scotsman, 17 December 2010 – In John we trust)

Edinburgh University ecologist, author and John Muir enthusiast Martyn Murray is lobbying the council over the shooting of wild birds in the park. Under Scots law, people have the right to carry out “wildfowling” – and although the council has the right to limit the number of permits granted in a country park, up to 100 people can still hunt there (many more than that, see my earlier post – Hunting for John Muir’s Sanctuary).

While often still overlooked in Scotland, where his Dunbar birthplace is twinned with his adopted home city (in California), Muir – who was largely responsible for convincing President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside lands at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier as national parks – is nothing short of a 19th-century celebrity in the States. Hundreds of events are held in the States every year to mark the life of John Muir – who emigrated to the US as an 11-year-old and subsequently made his name as one of the world’s greatest conservationists and the founder of America’s national parks network.

But conservationists fear that while the council-run Tyninghame park – the closest Scottish relative to the Muir Woods of California – gives lip service to the work of Muir, his values are not being remembered. The council, while adamant that Muir’s legacy should be revered, admits the park has had to be adapted to modern needs – both of wildfowling and other sports.

“We have no intention to change the number of wildfowling permits allowed at the moment,” said an East Lothian Council spokeswoman. “We assess the impact on wildlife in conjunction with bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and that seems to be working well.
“We are seeing a lot more people coming here to enjoy the park for watersports, such as surfing – not necessarily for the wildlife.
“We do think that, as much as possible, we want to take in some of the key thoughts and beliefs of John Muir when curating the park, but it has to fit in with the modern need for recreation in all its forms.”

Nestled in the countryside of Northern California, just 12 miles from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, there is no wildfowling at Muir Woods. The 559-acre patch of land was donated to the state by Congressman William Kent and named in Muir’s honour by Teddy Roosevelt. A wooden statue of the great man himself greets visitors to the site, which attracts more than 750,000 walkers and nature enthusiasts each year.

Jane Bradley’s article captures the interweaving of ideas and passions and is well worth reading in full. The relationship to wildlife in Scotland is anachronistic in many ways. The reluctance to champion the nation’s wildlife for its own sake is remarkable and tied up, I believe, with our legacy of a highland sporting tradition and the intensive production of game on highland estates.

About Martyn Murray

I fell in love with nature when I turned twenty-one camping under Acacias in East Africa, surrounded by giraffe and zebra with my nape hair raised by the distant roaring of lions. I went on to work for fifty years in Africa, Europe and Asia as an ecologist and conservation consultant. A few years ago I moved to the Isle of Lismore to pursue my passion for reconnecting people with the natural world. My first book, The Storm Leopard, is a journey across Africa and into the heart of the environmental crisis. My second, Origin of Species: Bite-Sized, contains the essence of Charles Darwin's greatest work – his theory of evolution by natural selection – in a text that is 15% the length of the original. The third, Beyond the Hebrides, is the story of a sea voyage in an old leaking boat and on how to keep personal freedom alive. I am currently working on a fourth which is about the global collapse of the natural world. Its working title is, In This Together. It challenges us all over our current connections with nature. More details are on my website, www.martynmurray.com.
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