This isn’t a blog about Dinnet this week….the simple reason being, I’m not there, I’m very sensibly enjoying Christmas with my family and forgetting all about work. Even with a job like mine, you need time away from it…but the bit of you that watches out for wildlife never switches off. What’s that moth that’s just come out of the firewood? Oooo! Sparrowhawk past the kitchen window…did he get anything? At Muir of Dinnet, we’re lucky- you see wildlife all the time-but the wildlife can’t depend on one NNR alone.
In Scotland, we have about 47 NNRs, spread from the seabird cliffs of Hermaness in the north, to the massive open flats of the Solway coast at Caerlaverock in the south.
Other NNRs take in the sprawling pine forests of Speyside or the seemingly bleak boglands of central Scotland.
And all these NNRs play a vital role in protecting nature, often just by providing a bit of space for wildlife. Nature is getting crowded out; there are more people than there have ever been and, quite bluntly, we’re all living well beyond our means in terms of the resources we consume. And resources equal space- you need a certain area to support an animal, in terms of food, water, shelter etc … as we increase, there is less room for nature as more land is given over to housing and food production….and spaces where nature can exist become fewer and more important.
So why does this matter? Why not just take some trees and put them in a tree museum?Well, we need fresh water to drink….clean air to breathe….food to eat….and “nature” (ie a healthy ecosystem) provides all these just by existing. Bees pollinate food crops. Trees produce oxygen. Water is cleaned as it cycles through the environment. And all these things happen without us doing anything clever to them. It’s termed “ecosystem services” and is worth billions financially and ….well, how do you value the quality of life that comes from fresh air and food and water?
And it’s not just NNRs- they can’t support a healthy ecosystem on their own. It’s all those green spaces that exist worldwide. All those projects to put green spaces into cities contribute. Farmers do a lot too, by maintaining agri-environment schemes. Even back gardens do a lot to give nature a home….and help us in the process.
But there’s another aspect to ecosystem services too. In this day and age, it’s easy for everything to be driven by money- so we often look at what “nature” can do for us from a purely financial perspective. However, it’s important not to forget the unaccountable side- the quality of life that you can’t put a value on. People will seek out nature….look at the visitor numbers at Loch Leven …250 000 people in a year…that’s 4% of the Scottish population on one NNR.
So it’s clear that people will often choose to put themselves in a “natural” setting. It’s good for them (us) too- exercise, fresh air and there are clear links to improved mental health. And, if you’re really lucky, that moment of wonder when you encounter a wild animal, bird, insect or even plant you’ve never seen before. It can be life changing. I remember, as a kid, getting interested in nature and avidly reading bird books. Growing up in Scotland, it was some of the southern species that seemed impossibly exotic…avocets rather than ospreys fascinated me, and bitterns stalked through the reedbeds of my imagination. When I first saw these things, from a hide at Minsmere, I don’t think I breathed the whole time. To quote Simon Barnes “You couldn’t bung a brick without hitting an avocet. It was like looking onto a field of unicorns”. We need to keep places for nature so everyone gets the chance to feel that feeling….but just don’t forget to breathe!