I have just glanced back at the first Annual Report of the NEMT in my possession. It is dated October 1981 and within are tackled Rights of Way, the clearance of the Canadian Campsite at Mar Lodge, Helicopters in the Cairngorms, Mountain Bothies, NEMT comments on various Local and Structure Plans, Ski Developments in Glen Shee, and the campaign to protect the coastline around Longhaven. Ski developments in the Northern Corries and the whole action surrounding the associated Lurchers Gully Public enquiry are also described. Interestingly a review of climbing and hillwalking clubs in Northeast Scotland by Trevor Stutchbury revealed they had gone from 10 to 30 in a decade.
By the 1982 Annual Report, topics considered also included bulldozed tracks in the Cairngorms, the Caledonian Pine Forest, the Glenmore Forest Park, and the publication of The Future of the Cairngorms with the recommendation for a National Park in the Cairngorms which is where we are now at.
Much of these concerns are still with us so what has changed? What has changed most is the whole political context in which the Trust works. In 1980 there were several important environmental voluntary groups highly active in Scotland, such as the RSPB under stalwarts like David Minns, but being an environmental pressure group was still a lonely job. There were not many soldiers around you. The main contribution of the Trust was not its activity on any one issue, but its influence on the general scene. It brought the whole world of outdoor recreation into the environmental debate and it brought it in strongly. It influenced other organisations. It was a key influence in causing the Mountaineering Council of Scotland to focus much more on the future of the mountain resource and not just the development of mountaineering. It provided a role model that strongly influenced the development of groups like the Scottish Wild Land Group. It was a key element in creating the first co-ordinated alliance of a diversity of environmental, recreational and community groups called the Longhaven Coastal Alliance in opposing superquarry proposals for Longhaven. Through the lessons learned there it became a key influence manoeuvring the debate into a public inquiry and then marshalling the case against it.
The victory over the proposals to expand ski development into the Northern Corries and finally into Lurchers Gully was a turning point in the environmental debate in Scotland. After it, government knew we could not be ignored, and the activitists realised what they could achieve, for that battle was won against political odds almost everyone felt were hopelessly against us.
The experience of Lurchers led on to the development of Scottish Environment Link as a permanent way of continuing the co-operation between environmental groups and as a way of gaining political access at the highest levels. It was very successful. The Trust was an important player in getting it established and provided its first chairman. At an individual level, many people who first became involved in land use and environmental issues with the Trust, such as Andy Wightman, have gone on to develop their interest and influence.
Many people worked to create such major success; so many that it seems wrong to mention names but people like Graham Boyd, Jim Conroy, Ronnie Wood, Brian Robertson, Ronnie Robb and Greg Strange come immediately to mind. One name stands out. The contribution of Adam Watson has been massive. He not only put his time and the benefits of his very considerable intellect at the Trust's disposal, but also his huge and detailed knowledge of the Cairngorms and the Scottish uplands in general.
What made the Trust such an influence? Its total income in that year of 1981-82, I saw in the Annual Report, was £2026! We were a tiddler. The answer is that what mattered, and still matters, is not so much size or money but things like commitment, leadership, a grasp of issues and of tactics and strategy, and intellectual edge that led to situations at the Lurchers Public Inquiry. There, the QC for the Nature Conservancy Council, observing the beleaguered would be developers, remarked that is was not so much a victory as a route!
The present mess of proposals for a Cairngorms National Park reveals that government
still needs organisations with the edge, and commitment to prevent stupidities
disguised as benefits being visited on the Scottish mountains and those who
love them and hence that the Trust is still needed.
Drennan Watson, 27th September 2002
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