Place, Photography and Politics
Some years ago, I stood at Glen Affric early one morning, as the sun rose behind the trees, casting shadows on the mist. The glen contains a small remnant of the old Caledonian Forest, where some trees are 350-500 year old and there has been forestry on that ground around 8000 years. The feeling of being out in the pure landscape, just me and the view of the wilderness doing what happens naturally, were awe-inspiring.
I often find the practice of going out to make photographs of the landscape relaxing and rejuvenating. Being based in Scotland, it's not far before one can see and walk among mountains or lochs or glens. A little further and the landscape gets quite wild, which I love: knowing that the rocks on which one treads have been around for 3 billion years is reassuring that they're not going anywhere any time soon. A sense of place brings a sense of perspective.
And so to conservation. I have a particular stance on green issues: I take "green" to mean "good for the environment", including minimal disruption to the plant and animal wildlife that's evolved somewhere. I believe people need places to which they can run away, escape the rat-race, be still and at peace.
It's often said that views don't pay the bills, but if you work in small local shops then tourists, coming to view the scenery, will indeed pay the bills. And if those views should disappear, so will the tourists.
A particular concern of mine at the moment is the rise of interest in "green" or renewable energy sources. I desperately wish to clarify that the two are not the same! Renewable means the supply is not going to run out, such as is provided by solar, tidal or wind power. Supplies of finite resources, such as coal, oil, gas and uranium for nuclear power may last a century but then will be depleted and take many thousands of years to regenerate.
Obviously, renewable energy sources are therefore desirable. However, those in power must not forget that the goal is to be green, nor lose sight of what being environmentally-friendly means.
In late 2009, a BBC television programme "Countryfile" ran an episode looking at windfarms. The message was naive to the point of unthinking: "windfarms are green" (in so few words) and everyone who disagreed was branded a "NIMBY" by the programme. Not so!
Take, for example, placing a wind-farm in a peat-bog. That bog has taken a thousand years to form, evolving its own mini-ecology of mosses and plants and wildlife. A wind-turbine is designed to last a mere 20 years by comparison. Surely the idea that destroying the peat-bog ecosystem to install an edifice of short life-span for mankind's short-sighted selfish requirement for power is abhorrent! If a pylon 150m tall were installed in a landscape designated a National Park because of its wilderness, ecosystem and beauty - and drawing in tourists for purposes of enjoying those qualities - is that not the definition of shooting oneself in the foot? This does more damage to the landscape, not less - the very landscape that eco-friendliness and "being green" is supposed to protect.
The message is more complex. Whilst representing renewable energy-sources is laudable, the method of deployment also needs to be green. Wind-farms may be sited off-shore, power-lines may be run underground. I strongly believe local generation is required; rather than digging up the landscape, why not situate wind-farms around towns and cities to bolster local supply? In the process, if the occupants feel lead to consume less energy, that would only be a bonus.
And so I return to my landscape, concerned for its future yet reassured by its present presence.