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This laund wis wrocht for you an me: hou the ootdoors community will benefit fae repeoplin

The anely aye-bidin thing in life is chynge.

Thon’s a truism that the past year an a hauf haes made us aw a bittie ower famíliar wi, in weys baith guid an ill. But chynge raxes ayont the stramash o wir ain lifes forby, bein as deeply rootit in naitur as the things it touches, fae the blimmin o the yellae whins on the braes tae the broun hairst leafs birlin in the wind. Tho we tend tae focus on naitur’s abílity tae chynge its ain sel, we humans hae juist as muckle agency in shapin laundscapes. Oor needs an desires determine hou we uise the laund, chyngin its appearance an effects on us forby.

Gey few pairts o the warld tell thon tale mair dramatically nor wir ain Hielands. Ony auld gadge in yer local will tell ye it’s aw thon ower-concentratit laund-ownership, ken — an he wadnae be wrang. Vistas that a vísitor micht think eternal hae actually aye been chyngin tae suit the needs o thaim that own thaim, wi wids becomin fields becomin muirs as the laird’s economic interests gang fae tenants tae sheep tae deer.

But thon’s a weel-kent quair needin nae retellin. Whit the gadges in the pub discuss ower little is the naitur o an reasons for oor perceptions o a laundscape. Gin “bonniness bides in the ee o the behauder”, whit dis the behauder think o thae northren glens an bens, an wha’s daein the behaudin onygates?

Juist as the uiss o laund chynges, oor perceptions o’t dae an-aw. A modren chiel micht leuk on a Hieland laundscape in awe an wunnerment, whiles a body three hunner year syne wad be sair chitterin wi dreid at the thocht o haein tae drive their kye throu it. Hae a glisk throu auld traivel journals an ye’ll finnd 18t century vísitors tae the Hielands descreivin glens as dour, dreich an roch that Victorians juist a hunneryear efter celebratit for their beauty. Thon’s tae say, the wey we react emotionally tae a laundscape says muckle anent hou wir economic or social context maks us interact wi it.

Nouadays, muckle swaes o laund in the Hielands ar the domain o ootdoorsy fowk, be they hikers, cyclists or climbers. It’s tae this category ah masel belang. Oor interaction wi the laund is recreational, uisin it as a kinnae playgrund – an interaction anely possible thanks tae the systematic an aften forcefu clearance o native Gaels. Wi ilka moment we spend dumfoondert wi a place’s appairent tuim ‘wildness’, we benefit indirectly fae clearance an depopulation.

Sae ye micht jalouse that, sin an ootdoorsy body’s interaction wi the laund is aw aboot takkin advantage o its tuimness for recreation, oor associatit emotional reaction wad be tae revere thon tuimness. Yit, for maist o us, thon isnae the case at aw.

Onybody that’s spent eneuch time in the glens kens fou weel thon quare dowie feelin that hings ower clearance ruins lik haar ower the braeheids; a jag o sadness at the fact that naebody steys there onymair. Sae maugre o wir interaction wi the laundscape bein biggit on the forces that brocht aboot clearance, the accompanyin emotional reaction tae it is aften tinged bi feels that the laund isnae meetin its potential – an micht be better aff repeopled.

It seems awmaist contradictory that a body can haud thae sindry feelins at ae time. Whit wey is a group o fowk benefitin fae clearance aften sae keen tae reverse the process that gied thaim whit they hae? Wad walkers really be happy tae swap tuim glens for touns an clachans, an for trees tae block the lang, sweepin views they haud dear?

Ye could mak an airgument that it’s a classic case o NIMBYism – o privileged fowk denooncin injustice til the steps taen agin it daur tae affect thaim. An wha kens, aiblins the ootdoors community wad staund agin ony steps tae repeople the glens. But ah hae ma douts. Plans tae repeople the cleared clachan o Rosal in Nor Sutherland hae been met wi muckle support on mony a hillwalkin social media page.

Gin NIMBYism disnae explain it, mebbe it’s simply doun tae the fact that thaim that spend mair time in the hills ar richt weel educatit on the horrors o clearance bi wey o exposure, or aiblins acause they hae experience o the mental an physical health benefits o connectin wi thir kinnae laundscapes. But nane o thir explanations chynge the inherent contradiction o wantin tae repeople laund we lue for its tuimness.

Mebbe it’s no as contradictory as ye think.

The community-run Assynt Foundation owns the popular walkin areas o Glencanisp an Drumrunie, containin siccan weel-kent hills as Suilven an Canisp. Syne buyin oot the laund in 2005, the community in Assynt haes commitit itsel tae simultaneously expandin its population throu biggin new hooses aroond the toun o Lochinver an creatin local employment, whiles impruivin the quality o their surroondin laundscapes an access tae thaim. Native birks an pines creep further up the glen ilka year, an the weel-mainteened fitpath is the hillwalker’s equivalent o the autobahn thanks tae the community’s efforts tae raise mair nor £200,000 for its repair alang wi the John Muir Trust.

On t’ither haund, the isle o Jura is equally popular wi walkers, yit the paths aroond its maist popular hills, the Paps o Jura, ar nocht but clart an glaur. Awmaist the hail island’s population is stappit intae a wee neuk o laund aroond the village o Craighouse, an the anely biggin in view o the Paps is a muckle estate hoose belangin the Hoose o Lords mannie that owns the laund. It lees tuim but for twa-three weeks a year, an the rest o the laund exists anely tae facilitate deer stalkin.

For maist lairds — whither they be green, tree-plantin yins or no — laund is little mair nor an economic asset, but whan the local community is in chairge, the laund is in the haunds o fowk that respect it. Thaim that rely on the laund no juist for a bittie siller on the side but for their hale livelihoods ar mair likely tae treat it wi respect an tak tent o its lang-term health.

It’s community-driven efforts tae repopulate cleared laund that deliver the best results for awb’dy interactin wi thon laund, whither they’r bidin on it or climbin a nearby hill. Bi pittin laund in the haunds o thaim wi a muckle stake in it, repopulation an tap-quality ootdoor access can gang haund in haund lik it dis in Assynt.

Thon’s whit wey, ah jalouse, us outdoorsy fowk ar aften sae supportive o the idea o repeoplin the laundscapes we value for their tuimness. We ken that, sae lang as it’s the community in chairge, it can be duin in sic a wey that the presence o fowk benefits the laundscape juist as the laundscape benefits thae fowk. The auld laird-run system benefits neither communities nor thaim that come tae enjoy the laund recreationally. Aiblins it’s aboot time for suhin new.

Photae by Jack Capener.