I'm kicking off with one of my New Year's resolutions early. I post a fair bit on social media, but rarely say much about how I really feel about things, and I self edit/curate a lot. Mostly as a result of being pretty sure that I don't have enough knowledge or experience to write about anything that would add significantly to the existing lexicon, but in all honesty also a concern that I might be saying things that don't fit a certain image. Last year for a brief while I worked with a real writing talent, Sarah Grigg, who encouraged me to try to write in a more connected way. I did for a while, but I just left everything sitting as unfinished articles on a hard drive. So in 2018 I'm going to write more and try to say a bit more of what I think, unedited. Really its just about boosting my google search ranking!
In 2017 I've been more public and active about salmon farming in Scotland than I ever have before. When I look back on what I've said it is undoubtedly overwhelmingly negative. The reality is that I have just enough knowledge to find and highlight problems, but lack any expertise to contribute to practical industry solutions and I have little desire to work in the industry. However, I think I'm ok with the negativity, knowing it is actually coming from a place of love and positivity.
To my core I have a profound connection with Scotland. Not with its culture and history, but a physical sense of being connected to the land, the weather and the wildlife. I think I've always had it, or perhaps it was forged as a kid on a hill sheep farm, maybe that welded me to the land. I never really felt I missed Scotland when I was working in London, South East Asia, Africa or the Indian Ocean. But I do know that although I loved what I was doing, there was a constant underlying sense of unease. Never feeling settled. But stick me back in Scotland in the gloom and the mud and I might not be any happier but I do feel, frustratingly, that I know that this is where I am meant to live. It's for this reason that I feel compulsively protective over the actual fabric of the landscape. I struggle to watch it being torn up, biodiversity reduced, intensively used. The communities who have struggled on in relatively barren wild places in the north west coast of Scotland are in my view the protectors of these places. By refusing to give up and move to the city.
There is a future for salmon farming in Scotland and I fully support that if the people that have to live with it do, and that they are the majority beneficiaries, rather than a couple of Norwegian billionaires. But the current situation cannot go on. A mature forty year old farming industry with death rates on farms at least 5 times higher than the most intensive battery chicken farms, 100% of all waste, (sewage & chemicals) discharged directly in to the environment, (sometimes only a few hundred meters from public beaches and children's play areas) no separation of disease and parasitic outbreaks from wild fish and the immediate ecosystem. Combined with an almost complete lack of any legally enforceable rules and regulations, a government and industry in constant denial and worrying signs of independent regulators being pressured by vested interests within government.
Salmon farms are not here because of magical properties in our water, simply that they are allowed here and have the freedom to operate in a low regulation low operating cost environment.
In 2018 my fight is only going to get more intense, the call for change louder, the resistance more active, better organised and well funded. But the fight will be honest and respectful.
I believe rightly or wrongly that Scotland's great natural assets, its space and relative wilderness, are not commodities to be filled with as much heavy industrial commercial exploitation as quickly possible, be that salmon farms, forestry, sporting interests, tourists or wind. Especially not as the medium to generate revenues to support short term political ideologies. Over the longterm healthy diverse ecosystems able to sustain apex predators and an abundance of indicators species like Atlantic salmon, valued for their existence rather than economic potential, will for me be the sign of a mature and self confident Scottish government.
One of the most exciting prospects for me in 2018 reflects this more than just about anything else I have seen in Scotland. It is Wild Land Ltd's recently revamped fly fishing lodge and operation at Kinloch Estate. Not without controversy both locally, as well as nationally, (change is always scary for those within it) and definitely in its infancy, but I truly believe we are seeing the emergence of a new era for Scotland's wilder places, as we gently evolve from a romantic Victorian model of land management to perhaps more authentic wild places. I look forward to bringing our guests to Kinloch Lodge in 2018 to experience the salmon, sea-trout and brown trout fishing in the rivers and lochs of a hundred or so thousand acres of Sutherland. For more information about our brown trout and salmon fishing vacations in Scotland please click here
As I look forward to 2018 I do it with a realistic view of the many challenges for Scotland's wild places and all of its inhabitants, but as ever I feel a sense of positivity and pride in our country. There are some huge problems that need to be put right, and quickly, but we are closer to government and the forces of power than we have ever been. Close enough that I can meet the country's second in charge doing his shopping and it's not unusual. Because of this it is possible for individuals to effect real change in our little country. I believe that the right things will happen despite extreme differences of opinions and questions of competency, because I have no doubt that the vast majority of our politicians are decent people who want good outcomes.
So in a couple of days I'll crash into 2018 with overflowing inboxes, long lists of projects that will get half done, inevitable personal stresses and challenges that I know are coming, but also a commitment to spend plenty of time on the water, sharing great fishing experiences with old and new friends a like.
So, 2018, here we come..........