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For all its remoteness, it cannot be said that Morvern fails to move with the times when it comes to putting on entertainment. Much of last Saturday’s performance in the Lochaline Village hall was a combination of Brexit’s migration between the lords and the commoners, the recent South Korean revolt and a classic Irish Fado farce.
Not that this was billed as an evening of relaxation. Story-telling, drama and wine there was to be in plenty but no light-heartedness please. For some months a local laird has been telling his friends and family about his intention to turn his 35,000-acre estate on its head by removing the sheep, culling hundreds of deer, building dozens of miles of fences and planting thousands of trees for a Living Landscape project (posh word for rewilding).
In other words, putting an end to a well established pattern of life for the foreseeable future in order to reintroduce top predators and other animals which had become extinct before Noah and the Great Flood. Now I realise agricultural in Argyll may not rate highly in GB’s annual export tables, but, for all its faults, it has been the county’s bread and butter for generations.
The resident whips had been at work and such was their diligence that an unprecedented number of folk, described later as being of wedding reception proportion, gathered in the village hall ready to defend a way of life their forebears had slaved to maintain. The bars emptied. Television sets from Achagavel to Drumbuie were mute. The atmosphere was electric. A local organisation was hijacked to host the presentation whether it liked it or not, and the cast was set. This was to be the long-awaited, quasi-secret, Green Paper on the proposed Morvern Living Landscape Project (LLP) in all its gory detail.
Just who was responsible? Much of the blame must rest with a left wing, free-lance writer for the Guardian, called George Monbiot, co-founder of rewilding Britain. Well known for his environmental and political activism, Mobiot wrote Feral – rewilding the land, sea and human life. Search for Monbiot on the internet and read his submission to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee inquiry: ‘The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum’, and you will soon discover that he is no friend of the traditional Highland way of life.
Three speakers were parachuted in from Sutherland which, coincidentally had been the home of Patrick Sellar who cleared much of 18th century Morvern, to excite the assembled company by deigning to speak in the name of ‘the people of Assynt’. Another came from the Scottish Wildlife Trust – owners of the Rahoy Reserve in Morvern itching to become partners in Scotland’s latest LLP by adding to the demise of the deer on land held by them in trust for the nation, despite a gentleman’s agreement with their benefactor to the contrary. A few years ago the SWT were teetering on bankruptcy and set to fold when, lo, somebody identified the European LLP and with the aid of the John Muir Trust, invented the ‘Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Project’ who have since trousered £4.5 million and rising, in grants which have created a mere half a dozen jobs.
A few weeks ago, for the ‘crime’ of nibbling a few oak saplings on ground its ancestors walked on 10,000 years ago, a young red deer stag was ‘shot to waste’ in a small wooded enclosure on the Rahoy Nature Reserve because SWT staff didn’t make the effort to drive out he and another four family members onto the open hill. It is surely not appropriate for a charitable conservation trust to take a wild animal’s life then leave the body lying on the ground for predators to tear to bits. Deer too have lives to give and to guard and need to be shown dignity and respect. It does not bode well at a time when mass killings of deer in remote areas is being discussed.
The meeting ran on and soon workshops were formed producing a lot of suggestions about new-age crofts, registering an interest with the Scottish Government’s land unit to force a buyout of the local estate, high speed broadband, the need for cheaper fruit and vegetables in the area, lower fares on the Corran ferry, a community biomass boiler, woodworking classes and much more, but, ne’er a word about the poor old deer gazing down on Loch Aline that night from Torr Molach, Eiligear and Cnoc Caroch, leaving Mr John Nudds, Lochaline’s ace live-stock breeder, to succinctly sum it all up by asking: ‘What was the point of this, why are we here’? Why indeed?
‘Where was the landowner who had started it all?’ was another question asked by many on their way home, ‘why hadn’t he bothered to turn up to talk about his plans and to allay the genuine local concerns?’ Some of his family were present as were a number of estate officials but they said not a word. Where too was the BBC’s ‘Country File’ film unit?