“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

Martyn is a writer, sailor and conservationist. His first book, The Storm Leopard, is a journey across Africa and into the heart of the environmental crisis. His second book, 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. His third book, Beyond the Hebrides, is the story of a sea voyage in an old leaking boat beginning in an Irish creek and ending on the remote islands of St Kilda in the west of Scotland. It is a tale of romance and adventure which arises from one man's exploration of practical ways to keep personal freedom alive in today’s demanding society. Visit Martyn's website at www.martynmurray.com. Martyn was born and brought up in Ayrshire, Scotland and now lives in North Berwick. He went to school in Perthshire, and studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, Zimbabwe, Malaya and Cambridge for degrees in Zoology with field research into: shelduck along the Scottish coast; impala in the Zambezi Valley; wild figs and figwasps in the Malaysian forests; and wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. This work was underpinned by theoretical investigations into competition, conflict and social behaviour. Martyn is a consultant in biodiversity and natural resources management.
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