What you REALLY need to know before visiting Scotland

Well over a year ago now I stood very near to where I am right now and told you guys 10 things you should know before you visit Scotland. On that list, number 5 was an instruction
to get out into nature. I talked about how beautiful Scotland’s
nature is and that you can’t miss exploring some of it if you travel
here. But, I wasn’t telling you guys the
whole truth, not because I was purposefully omitting it – but because I didn’t know
it myself. And the truth is that Scotland is one of
the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We have shaped and destroyed this land beyond
what our ancestors would recognise. Right now 1 in
every 11 species in Scotland is at risk of extinction, iconic species like red squirrels,
Scottish wildcats, capercaillies are all in serious trouble – and that’s not even
including the keystone species like lynx and wolves that we killed off centuries ago. Scotland is an ecological desert, and so many
ecosystems are not functioning in the way nature designed them to. A wee while ago, I made a video called “Scotland’s
deer problem” in which I discussed the unnaturally high population of deer
we have living in this country – but in it
I didn’t fully explore just why deer populations are so unhealthy. Of course, a lack of
natural predators – like the lynx and wolf – is part of the issue. But, so is the
aristocratic stalking industry. Deer numbers are kept artificially high so
that there are more to recreationally shoot. During the winter, when it would be natural
for there to be a population drop due to starvation, some
estates actually provide deer with supplementary feeding to maintain the population
level. This high number of deer
then means that the land is over-grazed which doesn’t allow for vegetation
succession or growth of new woodland – which then means other species are losing
out on potential habitat and sources of food. It just isn’t a healthy, functioning
ecosystem. All so a few rich people can continue killing
animals for the thrill. Which
brings me onto what is perhaps the biggest challenge facing Scotland’s nature. Driven grouse shooting is big in Scotland
– so big in fact that grouse moors account for almost a fifth of Scotland’s total land
mass. If you don’t know what driven grouse
shooting is; it is a “sport” here in the UK where red grouse are “driven” towards
hunters by a line of “beaters” who blow whistles and wave flags so that the grouse
will take off right into a line of bullets. It’s estimated that around 500,000 grouse
are killed during the shooting season in the UK. And this population of grouse is, again,
not there naturally. To increase red grouse numbers, heather on
the moorlands is burned so that the grouse can feed on the more nutritional new
growth. But burning heather has been
found to have significantly negative effects on the environment. It causes important
peatland to dry out, it turns rivers more acidic, raises soil temperatures, and can
lead to an increased risk of flooding. And this is permitted to happen, even though
we’re in the middle of a climate emergency – a
climate emergency that the Scottish government have declared themselves. To support this shooting industry, farmed
birds are also released into the British countryside to be shot. Pheasants and red-legged partridges are released
in their millions, and obviously, the release of such
a density of birds – non-native birds – is going to have some effect on ecology. Pheasants, for example, will predate on
adders and other reptiles, and ecologists believe the decline in the adder population
could be due to high densities of pheasants. Of course, while they might not be
considered “native”, pheasants have now lived in Britain for hundreds of years – but
that doesn’t mean more and more still should be continually released, especially
when it has been estimated that 60% of pheasants that are bred to be shot are…not. And now, the biomass of pheasants in the UK
is more than the total biomass of every other bird combined. Pheasants are also dumb as hell and are, I
would say, most commonly seen as roadkill. A study found that this has led to a population
increase of carrion birds such as crows and buzzards – that will then go
on to predate on smaller birds in higher numbers. And that’s just the effects the game birds
have themselves – let’s now talk about the
increasing wildlife crime that occurs on grouse moors. I’ll warn you now, I am going to insert
some images that some people may find upsetting. If you want to skip these, you can click this
time. Some months ago, Chris Packham – a famous
naturalist and TV presenter here in the UK – broke a heart-breaking story of
an adult male hen harrier who had been found with appalling injuries on a grouse
moor in South Lanarkshire, caused by an illegally-set spring trap. He was found and brought to a specialist veterinary
surgeon who tried his best to save him – but unfortunately
his injuries proved to be too severe, and he had to be put to sleep. Another trap was found to have been – so,
so cruelly – set within the hen harrier’s
nest. The two eggs found within the nest also
didn’t survive, and there was no sign of the female. Hen harriers are incredibly
scarce birds of prey, and there are huge conservation efforts to ensure the survival
of this species – but because they seem to like to nest on upland heather vegetation,
and prey on fowl – they are the most persecuted bird of prey. And that isn’t the only story that has exposed
the wildlife crime committed on grouse moors. Satellite-tagged birds of prey routinely go
missing over grouse moors, in July of this year two golden-eagles disappeared
over a moor in Perthshire and on the 13 th of August (one day after the first day of
the grouse shooting season) a picture started circulating online of a golden eagle with
a spring trap clamped around its leg. It most
likely died a slow and painful death. According to the RSPB’s yearly Birdcrime
report, there were 12 confirmed incidents of illegal
raptor persecution in Scotland – double what was recorded in 2017. It’s not just raptors that are persecuted
on grouse moors – other natural predators like foxes, badgers, stoats and crows are
killed because they will kill precious grouse (and of course aren’t paying for the privilege
to do so). Mountain hares are also
culled in large numbers to protect grouse from disease, and if the culls aren’t
regulated then we are going to see the mountain hare driven to extinction – along
with countless other species here in Scotland. All of this bloodshed, all of this loss of
precious wildlife – just to protect game birds,
of which an insane number will be killed anyway and the rest will go onto breed and
do ecological damage to other species’. And the Scottish government seem to be ignoring
this problem, and as long as these intensive shooting estates are allowed to
continue wreaking havoc unchecked – Scotland’s nature doesn’t stand a chance. You know, I think we are living in denial. Just because we have nice views of lochs
and snow-capped mountains, and just because we don’t have sprawling mega cities
– we think we have this beautiful, nature-rich country. The fact is we don’t. What little
nature we have left is struggling under the weight of one poor environmental policy
after another. All of this – and more – is why I passionately
believe in and advocate for urgent and extreme land reform and rewilding in this
country. We look out at what we consider
to be our beautiful, natural scenery and don’t realise that this isn’t what Scotland is
supposed to look like. I know this video has been insanely negative,
but I think pretending that Scotland is full of wild nature
just creates the risk of becoming complacent. We need to acknowledge that, of course, Scotland’s
wildlife and nature is beautiful, but it could be so much more,
and we can only achieve that by recognising what we’re missing. I didn’t make this video to convince you
not to travel to Scotland, in fact, I would love
for you to still come here. Especially, if you’re coming here for wildlife
tourism. We
need to show the Scottish government that wildlife is valuable and worth saving. So
come to the Isle of Mull to see white-tailed sea eagles and otters, go whale watching
in Shetland, come and see the Eurasian beavers in Argyll, and the ospreys that
make the trip from Africa to the Cairngorms every year. We need to show them that
ecotourism and wildlife tourism are greater assets to the tourism industry and the
economy than shooting estates are. You can also support pro-rewilding initiatives
like Scotland: the Big Picture, Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe – the links
to which I will pop in the description box. Despite all the negativity I’ve spouted
in this video, I am hopeful. And it is my dream
to see Scotland rewilded and a huge chunk of its nature restored. I dream of seeing
long lost species like lynx, wild boar and wolves roaming the Scottish countryside
once more. I dream of being able to say with 100% pride
and sincerity that Scotland is a wild and nature-rich country once more. Thank you for watching, I hope you enjoyed
and I will maybe see you next time.

12 thoughts on “What you REALLY need to know before visiting Scotland

  1. If you have any questions, points to add, or discussions you want to have – please don’t hesitate to leave a comment ✨ Let’s just be kind to each other!

  2. I want to visit Scotland for many reasons. If I could choose only one country besides the one where I was born (United States) to visit, I would choose Scotland. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
    I was saddened but not particularly surprised to learn that nature is being abused there as it is in so many other places.
    I believe that human beings are a natural part of the environment. That we are part of nature, not separate from it. As such we have a responsibility to take care of this home which we are borrowing from future generations. Sadly, we are not doing a very good job.

  3. You mentioned the name of a bird that was killed by a trap. To my American ears it sounded like hen hire. I’m pretty sure that I heard it wrong. What is the name of that bird so I can look it up?

  4. I may not know very many facts about Scotland, overgrazing, overhunting, and overstocking, but I am aware of how Scotland is definitely facing an ecological crisis. However I do not believe the reasons given here are the primary resons for this crisis. Certainly they do not help, and certainly they do much harm to the enviornment for little gain, but being a wildlife enthusiast/hunter myself I cannot see a relatively large deer population in selected areas causing this ecological devistation. This and certain other difficult to quantify arguments put forth here make this a relatively misdirected video in my opinion.
    I am certainly glad that there is attention being given to Scotland's ecological crisis and I am glad there are people out there doing what they can to stop it, but I simply hate to see their efforts go to waste, see their fire go in the wrong direction, when there are bigger and more pressing issues to attend to first, that may actually get these growing issues resolved.

  5. This is excellent, Meg. Very good to hear a truthful (if somewhat distressing) account of our country's ecology. It isn't insanely negative, it's brilliantly honest and forward thinking. Really good presentation.

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