The Dunoon Project is a fantastic, ambitious, community led project, which intends to bring the hills of Cowal into Community ownership and establish a tourist hot spot with zip wires, toboggan runs, mountain bike runs and visitors centres. If it all works out, it could transform this area.
I wrote to them today, saying this;
Dear Dunoon Project
I have been following your progress with great interest, attending two public meetings and reading all your blurb. You deserve the highest praise for your vision, ambition and community mindedness and I for one want to thank you for what you are trying to achieve. I hear on the grapevine that the project evaluation report is now complete, and I look forward to reading this as soon as you are able to release it. I know that you are looking in to ways of making sure that the project actively involves and engages with the wider community at all levels so in particular, I hope that the report is able to give some indications as to how you might achieve this goal.
However, my reason for contacting you at this time is because I was reflecting on the challenge being brought to our political system by ‘Extinction Rebellion’. I began to think about this challenge from a Cowal perspective. What environmental choices are within the gifting of this community, both in terms of holding our own politicians to account and (as with the Dunoon Project) imagining direct community action? It occurred to me that the scale of the Dunoon Project offers a unique opportunity to make a major impact on the environment and ecology of this region.
The Cowal hills are beautiful, but also broken. The once-thriving, richly layered and interdependent eco-system of the great arboreal rain forest has been largely destroyed. Some things are gone forever; the giant elk and the hairy elephants disappeared thousands of years ago, followed by bears and wolves and then countless small animals and insects. Despite the strength of iconic species such as the red squirrel and pine marten in our area, many less celebrated species are declining and under great pressure. We cut down all the old trees and replaced them with contour-planted conifers that act as a barrier to wilderness, and are themselves a barren habitat, by comparison to what was there before. You may think that I overstate my case, that things are really not so bad, but sadly if you speak to any ecologist (which I am not) they may well tell you that I am understating the scale of the disaster that we have wreaked on our local environment. Consider the exploding numbers of deer, who have no natural predators. Everything is out of balance.
I have listened carefully to what the Dunoon Project has said about your environmental aims, and welcome them, but it seems to me that they were mostly cast in terms of ‘doing minimal harm’. I wonder, given the ambitious nature of the project, whether this is enough? After all, we might be able to do so much better than this because preservation is no longer enough. We have to look towards restoration.
It is not too late for Cowal. There are many examples inspiring of rewilding projects across Scotland. If you have time to do some of your own reading, there is a lot of information here; http://www.rewildscotland.org/
Imagine the forests returning to their natural state; Birch and Oak, which support hundreds of unique creatures. Crucially, the concept of rewilding can in many ways go hand-in-hand with tourism. Think of what the re-introduction of Beavers (often described as ‘eco-engineers’) has done for Mid Argyll, or the Sea Eagles for Mull.
The Dunoon Project has the potential to bring a lot of people into our hills. We can give them a thrill, but perhaps we can also give them a taste of something that is truly wild. Imagine how different our hills would be if there were areas in which Wolves or Lynx were roaming? There is increasing evidence that the re-introduction of carnivores has a remarkable effect on the whole of the food chain.
There is a cost to all this, but in a world that is beginning to come alive to the alternative, I would argue that we have no choice. We have to take any opportunity to seek to redress the balance. We have to (literally) rebel against extinction, and so my plea is for the Dunoon Project to do just that. Help us re-create an environment in Cowal that becomes an example of what is possible- something that we can all be proud of, and something that, rather than ‘consuming’ in the manner of small touristic excursions, we can all participate within.
The possibilities are endless. Check these out;