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PN Review 274
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This item is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

Letters to the editor
Dave Wynne-Jones writes: I was surprised to read ‘The Con of the Wild’ in PN Review 271. The argument of the article is full of holes but to treat it to a point-by-point rebuttal would necessitate another article-length piece rather than a letter to the editor, so a few details will have to do. Bloom and Wild quite clearly only use the term wild as in wildly enthusiastic whilst Scottish Natural Heritage overwhelmingly use wild in combinations such as wildlife and with no particular reference to wilderness (there is a difference though Silis McCloud [sic] doesn’t seem to recognise it). More worrying is the deliberate suppression of parts of a quotation from the RSPB underlined below that suggests the opposite of the facts: ‘Loch Druidibeg is a [sic] excellent example of Uist moorland and loch. The area has been managed by crofters for peat cutting and grazing animals. We are managing the area along with the crofters and landowners to benefit the diverse range of wildlife from carnivourous [sic] plants to the mighty sea eagle.’

A patronising and evidence-free critique of the Knepp Estate project contrasts remarkably with a comment from Sir John Lawton, author of the report, ‘Making Space for Nature’: ‘Knepp Estate is one of the most exciting wildlife conservation projects in the UK, and indeed in Europe. If we can bring back nature at this scale and pace just 16 miles from Gatwick airport we can do it anywhere. I’ve seen it. It’s truly wonderful, and it fills me with hope.’

And why shouldn’t Brewdog’s emphasis be on educating the public when the vast majority of the UK’s population is based in urban concentrations which permit little contact and less sympathy with the natural world? This is a widely recognised challenge for conservation.

Mr[s] McCloud [sic] is, however, right that Scotland is not Europe’s Last Great Wilderness. How could it be with Lapland and Transylvania in the mix, not to mention Slovenia, which exports its excess brown bears to Italy and Spain for rewilding projects? The ancient Caledonian Forest that covered 15,000 square km following the last ice age is now confined to 180 square km in disconnected pockets of Scotland, so SNH’s reforesting aspirations have a long way to go. [S]He is also right that ‘we are not in balance [in] the essential relationship between mankind and the world around us’, but the imbalance is all on the side of humanity and its ruthless exploitation of the natural world. It was the hand of man that cleared the Caledonian Forest. Accounts of explorers in North America describe the teeming abundance of nature such that they were able to run across a river on the backs of the spawning salmon. That has gone but nature has an incredible ability to regenerate itself if left alone and perhaps supplied with a little help. Mr[s]McCleod’s [sic] idealistic nostalgia for crofting ignores both the fact that the activity didn’t pay enough for his parents not to have to work at other jobs and the fact that the grand estates were no benevolent influence on wildlife, as their records show. To quote from a poem based on those records:
On Glengarry Estate
between 1837 and 1840,
27 White-tailed Eagles,
15 Golden Eagles,
18 Ospreys,
63 Goshawks,
63 Hen Harriers,
275 Red Kites,
285 Buzzards,
462 Kestrels,
and 198 Wildcats
were meticulously recorded
by the gamekeeper who killed them.

This issue is, of course, a fit subject for poetry but ‘The Con of the Wild’ makes no appropriate connection and I’m left wondering what on earth prompted its publication in a highly respected poetry magazine?

Silis MacLeod writes: I’d like to thank Mr Wynne-Jones for reading my essay on rewilding in Scotland. He has, however, misunderstood much of the argument. I am no apologist for the Scottish shooting estate. In fact, ‘The Con of the Wild’ is as much a cry to end the irresponsible ownership of vast swathes of the Scottish countryside as much as it is a send-up of the slippery phenomenon of ‘wilding’. (Perhaps he misread my passages on the Clearances as a celebration of these acts?) Crofting was always subsistence farming, as in it did not pay. Once the market economy expanded through the Highlands of Scotland, the crofters required money to purchase goods rather than barter between themselves. Many crofters became joiners, gardeners and farmers for the local estate to earn wages. That a lifestyle does not pay a living wage does not mean that it lacks merit or value. Crofting puts people in touch with natural processes and gives them control over their immediate environs as well as their means of consumption. In short, it empowers the human to work with(in) the natural world, rather than against it, as many of our more urban lives do. I do not consider this nostalgic. One can, and does, croft without the presence of ‘The Estate’.  I trust, however, that Mr Wynne-Jones will forgive my sloppy journalism regarding RSPB Loch Druidibeg, as I excused his frequent misspelling of my name in his letter as well as the erroneous presumption that I must be a man in spite of my published contributor biography. ‘The Con of the Wild’ was a commissioned article, so he might look to the Gods of Poetry for its relevancy to this highly respected magazine.

This item is taken from PN Review 273, Volume 50 Number 1, September - October 2023.

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