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NATURE AND ENVIRONMENT
HIGHLAND BIODIVERSITY Framework Document
A Draft Framework for Biodiversity in Highland
14.1 Previous sections seek to give order to biodiversity by developing clear habitat themes that link issues and priorities relating to land use, nature, people and conservation. The introduction makes it clear that this is a technical and essentially ecological perspective, and that others coming to this Framework from different backgrounds can leaven it and add depth. In addition there are a number of key issues which cross-cut every habitat. These connecting threads are important elements of any biodiversity approach. We are thinking here of education and awareness projects, projects that promote better interpretation, that develop skills to manage and benefit from the natural heritage, that address biodiversity in terms of it recreational value and enjoyment and that encourage business development, and in terms of its links with other disciplines such as archaeology. There are also the questions of how communities can be better involved in management of Highland's biodiversity, and how wider questions of sustainability can also be addressed within the biodiversity agenda. Some of these issues are addressed in terms of specific examples in individual habitat sections, but one can also envisage action at a more strategic level.
Education and Awareness
14.2 Education and awareness is important for specific groups working in the countryside, (such as farmers, crofters, or road maintenance engineers), for visitors (to impart why Highland's biodiversity is just so special) and for Highland community as a whole. The Highlands Youth Strategy “Right Here, Right Now!”, identifies improvement in knowledge of the natural heritage and the associated opportunities as a priority. Current national schemes are often ill suited to Highland's young people, especially in areas of social exclusion. The Highland Environmental Network is currently an entirely voluntary organisation supported by the Education Service and has recently produced a valuable teachers pack on field work. There is a case for a better resourced organisation, with dedicated project staff addressing biodiversity in the context of sustainability issues. Perhaps those involved in biodiversity also need to find new ways of expression and to take themselves a little less seriously! In England, Community or Parish Mapping has been used as a useful means of raising awareness of what is one a community's door step. This has been a very successful way of working. A review of the ranger services is beyond a Biodiversity project, but the valuable service that the rangers provide in this whole field must be recognised.
14.3 Interpretation is an area which has received much attention in recent years and the Highland Interpretive Strategy and associated Area Strategies are useful guides to how interpretation can be extended. Part of this is about informing, part of it is about enhancing the visitor experience. Visitor viewing facilities can be found linked to CCTV at Fosinard (hen harriers) and North Kessock (red kite). Possibilities also exist for sites with eagles and other birds of prey to exploit this technology. In Wales one farmer regularly lays carrion and charges visitors to see red kites feeding, surely there are ways that income can be generated for the local community by providing improved interpretation. Interpretation is not simply about 'boards', it is about imaginative communication of all forms. More use could be made of the arts more to celebrate Highland's natural richness? A serendipitous nature trail where visitors discover interpretation, sculpture, poetry and history hidden on the trail, etched on rocks, on a plinth in a pool, in rock cracks, encountered on dramatic art forms has interesting potential. Arboretums of native trees arranged by name according to the Gaelic Language have been established in a number of locations in Highland. There are also species which are poorly interpreted, that occur widely in Highland - for example cetaceans (Gills Bay).
14.4 Where people can tell this story then this is one of the most effective means of all. All of us have a fascination with the daily lives of those in other places, so as well as guiding, a broad heritage perspective is highly desirable. More effort to link interpretation of farming (and forestry) practice is vitally needed. How many pier heads give visitors any clues about what is landed and where it is from? Some further questions: where does this heritage interpretation already occur but where biodiversity could be introduced? Is there the potential for training local people to provide interpretation as part of a crofting income - maybe linking these to micro interpretive centres, half way houses between manned interpretive centres and simply boards? If so do we need to rethink out charging policy for guiding? The work of the Dùthchas project may also have potential in terms of projects and ideas here.
14.5 Considerable investment has gone into Highland in terms of footpath networks, upland paths and long distance routes and Sustrans cycleways. Maybe we should think more about capitalising on this investment in terms of interpretation? Alternatively are the undiscovered jewels that more could enjoy if only they knew about them? Conversely, are there real pressures from visitor presence and if so where?
Better Use of Information
14.6 To achieve all these things there is a need for enhanced community skills, (recognised to some degree in The Community Learning Strategy). This includes knowledge of a locality's flora and fauna. Some of this might be aided by more efforts to encourage hobby naturalists. To those not who are not currently interested in natural history it can present in a rather dull and studious image. Simple things like bat groups, school nature gardens and bird box schemes can help dispel such myths while being of genuine conservation value. A national programme to promote swift conservation has brought attention to this overlooked and declining bird.
14.7 The access to quality biological information is also important both in terms of the network of protected sites and of the wider countryside. How accessible are existing records and what they mean to people who might wish to use them? What are our gaps in our knowledge, and how might we plug them? When we do collect and present information is it clearly with an end in mind? Have we thought about change in the countryside and how we should monitor this? Such issues link to questions around a Highland Biological Records Centre. There is also an opportunity to think about associated issues such as the inter-relation of biodiversity priorities with landscape and archaeology. For example it is a major concern of the latter, that native woodland re-established can damage key archaeological sites. Efforts in the area of local biodiversity can be also used to improve the quality of statutory and non-statutory plans: these can benefit from better information, enhanced working relationships and better consideration of biodiversity priorities.
14.8 Green tourism offers many opportunities. The Audit and Evaluations study identified some of these, and some ideas in terms of new, more sustainable ways to generate income from our biodiversity. For example, maybe a biodiversity pack to accommodation providers would be a good way of informing their visitors of the biodiversity on show in Highland. However, entrepreneurial thinking is difficult, and it is not simple a matter of having a good idea that is likely to result in new rural enterprises. Indeed, it is good people and a good interface between private and public/voluntary sectors that are crucial. Yet there is potential for diversification. One area that might be important is set-up advice for Green Tourism Businesses, and a question is whether existing agencies are well equipped to give this. At the same time this business must be founded on sustainable practice, if it and the resource are to survive. So projects promoting good practice such as those focused on viewing capercaillie leks in Strathspey and The Dolphin Space Programme are important, and ripe for extension, provided this involves the businesses in question.
14.9 Then there is the issue of Community involvement. We have already identified proposals to work with existing community partnerships. This is important if we are to get the multiple, broad benefits that are the aim of the Project. Other questions must involve what involvement can communities have in the management of the natural heritage surrounding them. Patterns of land ownership often have precluded much say or making the most of that asset, but land reform opens up new possibilities. This is not least because owning the resource is the first step, not the last and invites considerable debate on management. We have been learning in this direction. The John Muir Trust are acknowledged leaders in this field but even they would probably admit to learning by experience (and there are others with considerable combined experience for example HIE, SERAD, HC, FC, SNH, and the RSPB). Designated sites and nature reserves offer the potential to tackle this community involvement from another direction, and imaginative ways of involving the community are possibility, which the voluntary and statutory organisations are only now beginning to develop. The proposal to using existing rural partnerships in developing LBAPs offers much in this direction.
14.10 Finally, biodiversity offers the opportunity to develop trusting partnerships. If we can make progress, gain each other's confidence, we can start to look at some of the more difficult issues without dismissing each other's viewpoint. There are controversial species, (birds of prey, geese, seals etc) and management issues (deer, fisheries, freshwater management). A biodiversity project cannot solve these overnight, perhaps at first we need to put some of these delicate issues aside, but in due course and with commitment there will be common interests or at least understanding on certain issues, and others the opportunity to look jointly at difficulties and seek out resolutions.
14.11 Sources of further information
Action for Scotland’s Biodiversity, SBG, 2000.
Biodiversity of the Cairngorms, Cairngorms Partnership, 1999.