The article that follows is written by Fiona Sinclair to mark the passing of World Environment Day. Fiona has had articles published before on this site which were very well received by my readers.

World Environment Day, 2022 – Stands Scotland where it did?

On World Environment Day, where does Scotland stand? Looking back over the past 30 or more years, very little has changed for the better, and much is a great deal worse, in terms of Scotland’s environment and, especially, the global environment.

In the early 90s, there seemed to be a turning point in environmental politics. As with many historical turning points, it’s turned out to be a whole series of missed opportunities, brought about through the active undermining of needed change by sectional interests and because of the acquiescence of those who could have done much more to bring about that change.

In 1991, I was completing my research and interviews for the Scottish chapters of a book on community campaigns against the incineration and dumping of toxic waste. I ran my own campaign, with a small group of people, against a toxic waste incinerator next to Inverness Airport.
Although the company running my local toxic waste incinerator – counter-intuitively called Nontox – persuaded the Scottish Office Reporter to give them retrospective planning permission for an incinerator that had been running for two and a half years, they chose to close the incinerator, citing local opposition as their reason for doing so. We had thought we’d lost. Other campaigns around the country were also successful, most of them stressing the potential effects on health and the environment – even though these were nothing like as well understood as they are now. One of my fellow campaigners took over the co-ordinating role for Communities Against Toxics across the UK. His campaigning emphasis was on human health effects and damage to the environment. However, in spite of the success of this approach, in fending off waste incineration and inculcating understanding of environmental matters at grassroots level, the funding for co-ordinating and supporting community campaigns dried up. It was a massive missed opportunity for the environmental movement in communicating its message, because starting with the self-interest of protecting health got people’s attention in a way that nothing else did. They were then receptive to other environmental information.

So, 30 years on, there are now a tranche of waste incinerators in Scotland because, although I helped to raise awareness of another batch of planning applications over a decade ago, there is a limit to what unfunded individuals can do. As a full-time carer, I don’t have the time to continually monitor and campaign against such developments, however much I know about the damage they do to human health and the wider environment. If, however, even one political party or major environmental organisation had used this issue as a starting point for educating the public about environmental issues, I am certain that, not only would the planning applications have been defeated but, as a country, we would be much further along the road to a clean environment, with better health and a more prosperous future. We would also be using our resources appropriately, not only to benefit Scotland, but the world as a whole, because our natural resources hold the key to many of the interlocking problems that beset the world today.

In the early 90s, I was also a member of the SNP’s Environment Policy Review Group, having been nominated because of my activism on toxic waste and wider knowledge of environmental issues. The group used the Brundtland Report as the basis for constructing the party’s environment policy, on the recommendation of two of its members, Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell. Ron is the author of this article, hosted on the Yours for Scotland blog:-

World Environment Day, 2022 – Stands Scotland where it did?
When I was sent the names of my fellow members of the review group, I was excited to see the names of Greer and Pretswell, as I had read about their work with the Loch Garry Tree Group in an excellent magazine called Environment Now which, sadly, ceased publication some years ago. Their work in practical ecology mirrored another article in the same publication around the same time, about a farmer in the Pentland Hills, who was buying huge quantities of earthworms and making seemingly eccentric choices of blackcurrant bushes in his woodland planting regime. He reckoned that the problem on his farm was down to poor soil fertility, not drainage.

Thirty years later, this approach would at least roughly fit the definition of Regenerative Agriculture, just as Greer and Pretswell’s could be described as Restoration Ecology. Whereas Greer and Pretswell’s philosophy and ideas, based on that of earlier Scottish ecologists and contemporary ecologists from the Nordic countries, was not given the official stamp of approval in their homeland, the very same principles have been applied with huge success in other parts of the world*. Most particularly, just as the main association of organic growers in the UK is called the Soil Association, Greer and Pretswell put soil right at the heart of their thinking on ecology, as can be seen in this blog entry:- – Eroding the Mountains of
Thirty years later, that focus is now becoming mainstream.

In essence, both Regenerative Agriculture and Restoration Ecology involve working with nature, rather than against it, because many current practices in agriculture and land management are deeply damaging and unsustainable, reducing the overall productivity of land over the longer term. The UK is now waking up to the possibilities of soil and biomass not just as carbon stores, but also by creating and maintaining that biomass, in the form of trees and other plants, being able to prevent flooding, soil erosion and to increase soil fertility which, in the light of climate change, is a pressing concern,.

More and more research is revealing the importance of biological systems in both the health of the land and its people. The importance of soil organisms and the microbiome in the human gut are almost analogous. The pity is, that we are now finding out just how much damage has been done to both, not least because of synthetic chemicals and plastics, which are now ubiquitous in our environment. Micro and nano plastics are found in all the oceans of the world, are present in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we grow our food crops in. They are even in tree fruits, such as apples. Fish have so little to eat in a depleted and degraded marine environment, caused by human over-exploitation and pollution, that they are eating plastic. Microplastics are found within human cells and the damage these cause is now a hot topic for research. The initial findings include cell death and allergic reactions.

Single-use plastics, which are a large part of packaging materials, have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. The developing countries have suffered disproportionately from the export of waste plastics, but we are hardly immune to the damage that they cause, especially given government plans to persist with incineration as a means of waste disposal. The Scottish Government’s review of incineration ruled out any in-depth study of the effects of incineration on human health, but I took some time off to submit my response to their consultation, which included a substantial number of references on this very matter.
So much of the environmental damage that has been done, in Scotland and around the world, has been completely unnecessary. The full costs are unquantifiable, not least because of the synergistic and combined effects of pollutants. We don’t live in a laboratory.

Without any consideration of environmental costs, synthetic textiles are cheaper and more profitable for the clothing industry, but the massive increase in their production, in combination with cheap imports, has been responsible for the near collapse of the Scottish woollens industry, which has had to shift to high-end fashion, to survive the onslaught. Wool is not the only fibre that could make a comeback, but there needs to be an economic incentive to shear sheep and to rear breeds that produce the quality of fleece needed for textiles.

There have always been alternative ways to use resources and to live. Hemp is much touted as a crop – for food, paper, textiles and construction (as hempcrete) and for its capacity to absorb carbon. New crops are being researched and developed from plants with old roots as crops. These can bring an economic return on what is currently less than productive land;-
• The nettle, on record as the oldest plant textile in Europe, and processed into Scotch cloth as late as the eighteenth century in Scotland, is now being subsidised as a crop in Schleswig- Holstein. The Italians spin it into a thread, mixed with wool, as nettle fibre has a high tensile strength and, as such, makes a good natural substitute for nylon. The French appreciate nettle cloth for its appearance, which is similar in lustre to silk. The Germans used nettles to make their uniforms during the First World War because, unlike the British, they didn’t have access to Irish linen (which, like nettle, is processed by retting). Interest in nettle as a textile has been revived because of the environmental problems associated with cotton, which needs a lot of water, but cannot grow in northern climates. Cotton is usually grown with a hefty amount of pesticides, too.
• A recent research report on gorse by the Hutton Institute revealed that this shrub has excellent nutritional properties, and claimed that gorse alone could feed the entire
population of Scotland. Gorse was once used as animal fodder – indeed, there is a gorse mill, which was used to process this spiny shrub, at the National Folk Museum of Wales. When large tracts of the Amazon rainforest are being burnt down to grow soya beans for animal feed, surely with modern processing, gorse could replace some of that feedstock?
The ecological slum (to use Ron Greer’s description) that is Scotland’s degraded land will not be restored to health by taxpayers handing over large sums of money to landowner lairds – green or otherwise – to pay minimum wages for planting trees. The potential productive capacity of land that has suffered from over 300 years of deforestation, overgrazing, muirburn and an absence of human stewardship, is far greater than this. In a pandemic world, where the priorities of a globalised world are being pulled apart, resilience and self-sufficiency are of paramount importance. We need that land for ourselves, not for a playground and green investment for the rich.

My thanks to Fiona for this article. There is a lot of sense here. Fiona does not complain in a negative way, she makes constructive suggestions about alternative routes. I was particularly pleased that she recognises the excellent work of both Ron Greer snd Derek Pretswell and highlighting that while being recognised in other countries these long term Independence stalwarts they have been largely ignored by the SNP, to Scotland’s undoubted loss.

I am, as always




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  1. All the time we have an increasingly neoliberal SNP we will remain vulnerable to shortsighted, ignorant, ungenerous, inhuman policies which lead to centralisation, lack of regulation, corporate deafness, blindness and insensitivity, and loss of the Scottish identity and culture of self sufficiency and self respect. It has only taken seven years to achieve this sad, sad situation after centuries of hanging in there against all odds, and all the while the SNP retains its slimy hold on the political agenda, we are stuck. Bogged feet syndrome. Let’s hope is isn’t quicksand our feet are in. (I except Raymond Bremner of Caithness who is the new leader of the Highland Council from my miserable complaint against the SNP, its really just the leadership and the SNP majorettes who qualify I guess) So disillusioned.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Innovation, whether it’s ferries in Caithness or blackberry bushes in the Pentland Hills is something Scotland does not suffer from a lack of. Why then are we shackled by a government intent on pursing the western world’s “one-size fits all” economic and political policies, which rejects local innovation in preference to global standardisation.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Perhaps, Stuart, the answer in part lies in one of my previous blogs on this site:-
      and also these comments by Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell
      – Eroding the Mountains of Inertia
      `We originally thought committees were platforms for compromise, but our experience makes us believe that they are cul de sacs up which good ideas are lured, then silently strangled.`

      `Derek Pretswell
      Andy trust me it is not because they have not been told from within the party. All politicians are more interested in the messenger than the message. We need ‘experts’ from institutions and academic bodies to say things that our elected members will listen to. This is then copied by NGO’s and quangos it is all about power for our institutions and validation for our politicians it is not about structural argument and empiric evidence.
      Ron Greer
      and that politics includes the incestuous relationship intra-inter the NGO -Quangocracy and the political class. Any suggestions Andy?`

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent article Fiona.Readers of Iain”s blog are no doubt familiar with “The cheviot,the stag and the black,black oil” about the exploitation of Scotlands assets and resources. Added to that should be “also the Sitka spruce”.
    I am all for a healthy and sustainable forestry industry in Scotland but does the whole country have to be covered in Sitkas? Could we not have at least some pockets of native hardwood trees to support indigenous wild life planted and offset the hideous uniformity of the millions of Sitka?
    From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, Scotland would be better with a more diverse landscape.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. At least they are living and breathing. In Caithness we have sprouting wind turbines increasing expotentially with as far as I can tell no plan for dealing with their decay, no method for distribution of benefits, and no apparent effort to bring Westminster to modify the Soprano tactics used to charge us even more to put the resultant electricity into the grid so that while out countryside is being hijacked our personal costs for power also rise. Expotentially.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I agree entirely, Jim. But it’s not just aesthetic. I’ll just give some reasons why:-
      If you read `Project Blaeberry`, you’ll see that blaeberry doesn’t grow in dense conifer plantations – some foresters even think, because of this, that it will only grow on the edge of woodland, which is nonsense. The absence of adequate light in these plantations, coupled with the smothering effect of the needles, has a very negative effect on every other woodland plant, so biodiversity is severely impacted.
      I read several decades ago that Sitka saplings can’t even compete with heather, so herbicides were used to suppress the heather. Just think of the effect that that has on soil organisms, other flowering plants and pollinators. All for a species that used to be used for pulp – although now the better quality Sitka is used for some construction purposes.
      You’ll also read about blaeberry’s mycorrhizal associations in my report (which was written over 20 years ago). These associations have been extensively researched over the past 20 years as a whole, not just for blaeberry, but as a key part of soil and plant science. These relationships probably explain why regeneration of woodland is now more highly favoured than planting trees, especially as a carbon sink.
      Also, further research reckons that plantation conifers don’t actually store carbon, because their low grade timber is used for purposes lasting only up to 15 years!
      I’ve always found it mystifying why hardwoods are not more favoured for planting schemes. I have a birch tree in my garden. I planted it about 24 years ago, when it was already a few years old. I reckon it is now over 40 feet high. Why is it that IKEA can produce furniture made from birch, but we can’t? The only reason I can thin of for this aversion is that it needs more maintenance to grow hardwoods – but you end up with better quality timber.
      One bright point – Sitka is now being affected by Phytophthora ramorum, which is why it is unwise to plant so much of one species!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for this.
    If folk took an hour out to understand the soil (plenty out there on YouTube), we would quickly realise that our current agricultural practices are a one way street to catastrophe. A morning primer on permaculture would lead people to understand that our current growing and building practices are bonkers.

    Our soils aren’t just growing media, they are carbon sinks and huge water stores which are annihilated every time we plough or dig them over. They host the biggest living organism on the planet. Believe it or not, a whole season of Star trek’s ‘Discovery’ was motivated by the writing of Paul Stamets, author of mycelium running a fascinating book which amongst other things describes the fungal information superhighway that lives in the soil.

    The principles laid out by the late Bill Mollison (permaculture) and the work of P.A Yeomans (water for every farm) could be used to transform our landscape and our towns and cities. We can’t just ‘plant trees’, we create systems, whether we do that randomly or intelligently. So far I cant see any systems thinking with all the cash being doled out to the ‘green lairds’.

    I see what’s possible in Scotland and what’s actually being done and it leaves me furious. I used to fly in and out of Rotterdam and would marvel at the sea of light below as you took off to the south west. This was of course year-round food production in growing tunnels – a huge export base for the Netherlands. What do you do with all that spare energy being generated at night in Scotland? You apply systems thinking – you use it to grow Scotland’s food supply or energise district heating systems.

    I would say We are limited only by our creativity, yet in Scotland we are hamstrung by a weak leader who will not address rent seeking behaviour which sees our land used as someone’s bank account. We have a govt which apparently prioritises ‘well being’. What they didn’t tell us is that they prioritise the wellbeing of the speculators over the people who live here and actually work for a living.

    There is no doubt, we are going to see food shortages in the coming years – for a variety of reasons, and our middle class politicians have pretty much chosen which side they are on. Probably no coincidence that they want to ban protest at holyrood.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. What a great comment, Scott! You need to read my comment to Jim and my `Project Blaeberry` report (website address above). The health of people in Finland used to be on a par with Scotland. They are now one of the most well nourished and educated nations on the planet – and wild berries, such as lingonberry and blaeberry are a key part of their diet, as in the rest of Fenno-Scandinavia. I certainly believe that Scotland could grow a lot more food for ourselves. Why don’t we grow more soft fruits, such as blackcurrants and gooseberries in Scotland? Our growing season is well suited to other fruits too, especially plums – and yet these are all imported. And yes, given the newer technologies in horticulture – glass, lighting, use of IT – we can extend growing seasons under glass in Scotland, making use of our surfeit of renewable energy. Interestingly, I know that commercial glasshouses pump carbon dioxide into them to help the plants grow!

    Liked by 2 people

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