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Living in Place
an essay by Ed Iglehart
(prepared for Reforesting Scotland Journal, Autumn 2000)

Globalisation seems to be an attempt to override the traditional wisdom that the most important determinants of property value are location, location, and location. With profligate use of fossil fuels, goods and people can be moved anywhere. Living a long time in one place is a privilege granted to far too few of us these days. When one's work is also largely 'at home,' the deeper relationship to place is intensified. That this is nowadays such an uncommon boon is a mark of our times - mobility seems more highly prized than stability. I'm 28 years in place - how boring!

The front door overlooks a tidal valley with a settlement of six thousand folk a few miles upriver and a disused ford and fishing port (now yachts & dinghies) a mile downstream (both thankfully on the other side of the river!) Half a mile downhill (but upriver) is Palnackie, which owes its existence to good anchorage and functioned as the principal port for the catchment. From the hills out back, the landscape is coastal peninsula and bay grading through arable, pasturage, and forested hills which rise steeply above treeline to 1250 feet.

It would be difficult not to become deeply attached to such a place. Sadly, many of our young are unable to remain. The dominant economic assumptions and the imperative of mobility draw them off and we maintain our low but stable population largely by importing silvertips who can afford to live here without paid work.

The Stewartry of Kirkcudbright is over one-third forest (if the term is used loosely enough to include conifer plantations) and over the years, I have developed a deep interest in the trees which are the nearest and most numerous of my neighbours above the scale of birds and mice. For so large a clan, however, the tree folk have few really old members hereabouts. Despite this, timber harvesting is expected to double in the next fifteen years, as the optimum lifespan for a Sitka Spruce is reckoned to be forty five years.

In my time here, there have been no less than seven successive District Forest Officers (DFOs) responsible for the 150,000 acres of Forestry Commission woods in the Stewartry. (They're now styled Forest District Manager, (FDM))

Adjoining North Glen and opposite Kippford lies Tornat Wood,6 where many of these lines were written. For at least ten years I have tried to encourage the Forestry Commission to designate it as a community wood for Palnackie, badgering a succession of DFOs. At first, when the opportunity arose, I dragged a kilted one through bracken & briar and got verbal acceptance that amenity should be the dominant value for the wood. Later, when it was in preparation for sale, our community woodland group were in position to buy it, but Scottish Natural Heritage wouldn't make the necessary binding recommendation (SCWT was a new group with no "track record"), and the best we could get was its removal from the disposals list. We then got verbal agreement from the new DFO that it should be managed in partnership with the community council, but progress towards formal partnership is slow (no bad thing?). Local young folk (with some encouragement) have begun to use their own initiative, have cleared and signposted paths and talk of building a bird hide which may do duty as a bothy at times.

At the top of Tornat on a sunny afternoon in a light northeasterly breeze, seagulls and buzzards cry and circle below high jets singlefiling southwards. Across the Solway, the hazy mountains of Cumbria taper down to St Bees Head. Just around the headland, out of sight and long ago, the Queen opened Calder Hall. Britain's nuclear electricity was going to be so cheap it wouldn't need to be metered. The adjoining plutonium recovery facility has been re-named frequently, reflecting its habit of thinking (and lying) globally while acting locally (and shamefully carelessly) - Seascale, Windscale, Sellafield, what next? Never mind, for the moment, it's downwind...and as I muse, company arrives. He retired from North London to Gelston (4 miles away) eight years ago, and we swap favourite walks, talk mountains, lochs and waterfalls and the need to get young folk outdoors. As he is setting off, a father and daughter arrive. He's from East Kilbride, now Dalbeattie, a retired aircraft engineer (Merlin engines), widowed last September. Daughter is cabin crew with BA out of Brighton; grandkids in Dumfries and Arisaig (spoiled by streetlights). He often used to walk in the dark several miles through the forest from Dalbeattie for a pint at the Clonyard. When folk asked "Aren't you afraid?" he replied, "of what?" They have left the car at the port in Palnackie ("It makes us walk!"), and like my earlier visitor, it's the first time they've come this way, thanks to the kids' pathwork and signs - wonderful!

The sun is warm and from the opposite quarter to the wind. I settle down in the lee of a tussocky outcrop and enjoy the vista of bracken, down and brown, with green emerging on the gametrails (just). A young larch in the middle of the bracken has made a complete corkscrew turn, but has now sorted out vertical with its leader; on the east, white birches and green pines edge the meadow, and over the steeper western edge the tops of oak, beech and sycamore are still bare of leaves. In dead centre sits Rough Island, its causeway and the flats clear, but the river's channel is nearly full and will overflow as the tide rises. Further down the estuary the channel swings in close to Gibbs Hole and its wood, mixed and full of bluebells. The Granite outcrops still have iron anchor rings for seagoing sailing ships. A path, formerly a cart track, can be followed from the anchorage through mature broadleaf woods along the base of the peninsula to South Glen, and Palnackie passing Tornat and North Glen. This served ships unable to wait for larger tides, or with small amounts of cargo to discharge.

Above the broadleaves, Castle Hill has been clear felled (and, sadly, replanted in spruce) providing a magnificent 360 degree viewpoint until the new trees get away. I could walk to Almorness House, beating the tide across the mudflats, and thence to the hilltop and home the long way, but it's too nice here in the sunshine and out of the breeze. A falcon flies from right to left, low grey and smallish and down through the pines. I think he saw me lying here, still but not camouflaged. Cock pheasants crow and fly across; the hens will be hidden in cover, sitting on eggs.

The settlements and windmills are visible in the distance on the English side. Across the river at Kippford, there are boats on the mud and larches just greening among the evergreen slopes above the village. The Muckle Lands are a high bluff of bracken and stone crossed by the new power line, which marches from Dalbeattie straight through the National Scenic Area, where planners won't easily allow a doghouse. The power grid apparently has eminent domain, and Kippford now has streetlights, over the objections of most residents. Scenery apparently only matters in the daytime.

The sun is trying to go down, so I set off down the meadow and swing around the west face through beech, sycamore larch & oak. The ground is covered with long green bluebell leaves and moss - very little grass. The buzzard's nest is quiet for the present, as is the rookery, and the dogs explore rabbit holes and chase squirrel scents. As I follow the contour (musn't lose height), a bright flash of light is reflected from one of Angus' ditches as I pass through alignment with the slanting sunlight. It cuts the alluvium parallel to the shoreline some 300m away, efficiently flowing between twin, straight fencelines enclosing bare banks. A horse is grazing and lambs are calling to their mothers. The farmhouse is quiet.

Further along, dropping out of the wood and onto the track, I stop to lean on the Glen Gate, where Palnackie folk would come to look out to Gibbs Hole to see what ships were tied up. When Annabel was young, we used to pause here, and she would go up into the wood to a pretend kitchen in a tumble of boulders, and prepare an imaginary cup of tea for us to sip while we leaned on the gate and looked out to sea. The pond and channel here supplied water power for a horse-drawn itinerant threshing mill, and perhaps at other times, but was insufficient for continuous use.

I have trees on other folks' land, and not all of them know. It's natural regeneration, phantom treeplanting. The ash people have learned that survival is aided by sprouting right next to a young hawthorn, and this successful pairing is common around here. Noting this, I have evolved a mixed relationship with the bramble people and others of their ilk. In places on behalf of the bluebell folk and others, I've made war on them, and in others I've planted native trees among them (protected by their hostile nature from cattle and sheep, and from rabbits by plastic) which will eventually form woodland canopy from Tornat halfway to Palnackie, and this may be extended to the village and beyond towards Kirkennan and Munches. Both of these relatively small estates are rehabilitating and extending native woodland bordering the river. Their larger woods, actively managed for two centuries or more, contain many fine trees, native and exotic.

Over the rise and approaching home I visit one of my favourite trees. Part of the hedge along the roadside, its roots are under the road, but one branch escaped the hedge-mangling flail by extending itself horizontally until out of reach and has since grown to a goodsized trunk, while still keeping up the hedge-disguise on its flank. I've sometimes pointed it out to children as "the tree that got away," and speculated that someday it will be blown over and lift a great hole in the road. I imagine them with their own children: "Do you remember old Ed? He used to say this would happen."

Tom Niven, whose father (also Tom) owns the fields next to the village, proposed reinstating the towpath from the port at Palnackie downriver to Tornat as a "millennium trail." Angus, who owns the rest of the riverside, was in full agreement, but after much enthusiasm and support from officials and residents, the project had to be abandoned (postponed?) because the owner of the first fifty meters denies the right of way. There is little doubt that recourse to law would confirm a right, but patient counsel prevailed. In the meantime, Tom & Angus have contributed a wee bit of steep land where their fields adjoin as a millennium viewpoint beside the Glen Road. It has been levelled and dyked; bulbs and a couple of trees planted (The hedge already has two good oaks emerging, thanks to ribbons tied to confuse the hedge-mangler).

Sam Thornely has gotten a millennium award to make furniture for the viewpoint, for which he's set up a greenwood workspace in a tipi at North Glen. He's involving the Palnackie schoolchildren (and me), helping them establish a tree nursery at the school, using seedlings they collected from the wood next to the school. The wood for the furniture is mostly windblown oak from Kirkennan wood, and a couple of weeks ago, the 'big room' kids. teacher and a couple of parents went up into the wood to see Sam free a butt from its rootplate and cleave it in half. Boggy, (a traveller) and Pinky (his horse) then pulled the halves down to the road.

As we walked up to the location, two wee girls updated me on their progress in reading the Lord of the Rings in class. I saw the first swallow today, and a few flower spikes on the bluebells. After the holidays (but before the bracken is up) we'll lead an expedition to Tornat to see the bluebells and other things. It's a wonderful place for dens.

"To put the bounty and the health of our land, our only commonwealth, into the hands of people who do not live on it and share its fate will always be an error. For whatever determines the fortune of the land determines also the fortune of the people. If...history... teaches anything, it teaches that."

-- Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank, 1995

There is considerable discussion and debate on the strategies appropriate for forested land, whether more land should be forested, and appropriate objectives for such afforestation. From the trees which currently cover one sixth of Scotland, only one Scot in five hundred is employed. Best estimates are that fewer than one in fifty jobs in our area is provided by the trees who occupy one third of the land. There would seem a strong argument that any public money in the sector should be targeted towards developing forests with more direct benefits to people, particularly those who live (or wish to live) in close proximity to forests.

"Thus, at the heart of the Strategy there must be a strategic direction: - to ensure that forestry in Scotland makes a positive contribution to the environment. ...This must recognise the need to ensure that Scotland's trees, woods and forests are located and managed for long term sustainability and biodiversity in order to make the maximum contribution to the environment consistent with agreed economic objectives." (1)

But it is apparent that the Forestry Commission, who manage the public estate, and their private sector colleagues are constrained by such "agreed economic objectives" which require maximum mechanisation and upgrading public roads to carry the heaviest lorries and machinery. "If vehicles are overloaded this process [road damage and deterioration] is accelerated. Studies over many years have shown that the damage caused is proportional to the fourth power of the weight. [emphasis added]" (2) Thus, putting twenty tonne load limits on rural roads would remove almost 94% of the damage . It would also involve twice as many jobs for lorry drivers and increase the cost of timber haulage, as opposed to externalising the social and economic cost of roads onto local authorities (communities). This is utterly rejected by the industry as harmful to competitiveness.

"Rather than presenting quick answers, as technocratic culture tends to do, we need to reflect on whether or not we are asking the right questions...[or whether] ...people ‘participate’ in a project without having to decide on the critical issues related to that project."                 

-- Pablo Leal (3)

It would seem that everything is up for discussion in consultation with the notable exception of "agreed economic objectives" which are obviously agreed elsewhere. That the perceived need to become competitive in the global market militates the minimisation of employment and maximisation of fossil-powered mechanisation with attendant emissions only emphasises the folly of continuing to build a global culture based on moving things and people around by burning carbon. Such thinking is not restricted to forestry or agriculture, but is visible everywhere in our heavy addiction to mobility. Transport is the sole sector expected to increase emissions of greenhouse gasses in the coming decade(s). This seems so accepted that it passes without notice in government papers. (4,5)

In short, in consultations concerned with rural development, land reform, land-use, including forestry, and probably many another, a common thread emerges, embodying the persistent fallacy that the economy contains the ecology. Sustainable development, the mantra repeatedly invoked, must in every case be subservient to "agreed economic objectives." Clearly the right questions are not yet being asked of the right folk.

(1) Draft Scottish Forestry Strategy: (
(2) Roundwood Haulage Working Party. (1998). Road Haulage of Round Timber Code of Practice. Published by Forestry Contracting Association Ltd., Dalfling, Blairduff, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB51 5LA on behalf of Roundwood Haulage Working Party FC/AL/7K/Sept 98 (2nd Edition)
(3) Pablo Leal, Participation, Communication and Technology in the Age of the Global Market, in Forests, Trees and People Newsletter No. 40/41:
(5) Ed Iglehart, 2000; A summary critique of the above: crit2.html
and: A response to the Draft Forestry Strategy: strategy.html
and: Is Consultation Worth the Candle? consultation.html
(6) tornat.html

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