Scotland’s Big 5


It is interesting to see SNH’s push to celebrate Scotland’s “Big Five” in the name of “2013: Year of Natural Scotland”. The animals chosen to represent Scotland’s wildlife are red squirrels, grey seals, red deer, otters and golden eagles. It is difficult to see the purpose of the Year of Natural Scotland other than appealing to that marginal but significant body of people who are apparently so devoid of inspiration and vigour that they blandly sit around waiting for government bodies to suggest activities for them to do. For these folk, the Year of Natural Scotland is a veritable bonanza of guided walks, demonstrations, colouring-in sessions and opportunities to leave sandwich boxes under hedges. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical.

My interest in the “Big 5” comes down to the fact that these are the animals that we want to show the world. It says a great deal about Scottish conservation to (in the butchered words of Burns himself) “see oorsels no’ as ithers see us, but as we want ithers tae see us”.

It did make me laugh to remember that the expression “Big 5” was first coined to describe the five African species which were traditionally found to be the hardest to hunt on foot (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo). It conjured up mental images of tourists flocking to Scotland to shoot squirrels and otters, but I suppose that the expression has been so far distorted into the realm of the binocular safari now that it only has resonance as a box ticking tourist’s phrase.

SNH’s “Big 5” were apparently chosen in order to generate discussion and controversy, so I will try to indulge in neither of these. Suffice it to say that four out of those five species probably deserve their places.

Whoever thought that seals needed to be included ought to have their head examined. Perhaps my time working on a hebridean fishing boat have soured me against those overweight, salmon-munching water hogs, but it does seem a travesty when there are so many endangered species which deserve a bit of publicity. I daresay seals were chosen largely because it’s easy to see them – a conspicuous species allows families with small, cold children to get involved. It would be nice to include ptarmigan on the “Big 5” list, but getting people out of the car and up a munro to see them creates a number of problems.

It seems then that these animals have not only been chosen on account of their symbolic status, but also because the average member of the public who doesn’t know or care about wildlife can (with a minimum of effort) feel engaged. And I suppose that’s the point of it.

Since I don’t want to enter the discussion, it would be too much for me to put forward my own Scottish “Big 5”.

But it would be black grouse, wildcats, killer whales, short eared owls and red deer.



One thought on “Scotland’s Big 5

  1. Hard to imagine five iconic Scottish species without including Capercaillie or Ptarmigan. But these lists are always a matter of opinion, and perhaps as you suggest they are just too difficult for the average punter to see.

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