Langholm Future

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It was announced overnight that Langholm Moor will soon be up for sale. The news is already being spun in a thousand directions to suit numerous narratives, but it’s left me cold.

I’ve spent many happy hours working (and playing) at Langholm, overseeing a heather beetle project and stalking goats as part of a woodland regeneration plan. I made several pals there and thrilled at the spectacle of leks and sky dancers over the course of almost ten years. I can tell you it’s exactly fifty seven minutes from my front door to Middle Moss, and I’ve made that trip at every hour of the day and night. So aside from the politics and uproar, I feel something like anxiety for the future of an old friend.

Already there are rumours that the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project has made the place “too hot to handle”. The project will publish its final report this summer (sometime?), and several anti-shooting activists claim that the details will be so controversial that Buccleuch have decided to wash their hands of the whole place. I hear that the project partners can’t agree on when or where to launch the report, and this is just the latest in a long list of klutzy failures. They haven’t agreed on much over the past decade, and in retrospect it’s hard to see how they ever drew in such an enormous amount of money to collaborate in the first place.

But the idea that birds have been a driving force in this sale feels naive; the kind of theory circulated by people who have lost touch with a bigger picture. It’s dangerous to work in a small, niche echo chamber, and I can be just as guilty of reading my own special interests into unrelated stories.

Those of us who follow the grouse/raptor debate need to remember that we’re arguing over the thinnest sliver of a very marginal argument. The truth is that Britain is not very interested in gamekeepers or grouse shooting, and we need to stay in touch with a far bigger context which brings in global, social and political factors. There’s way more to this than social media activism and hen harrier costumes. Surely it’s obvious that Buccleuch has weathered controversy before and could easily handle more of the same if only there was a financial case to justify it.

In reality, Scotland’s uplands are entering a state of tremendous upheaval, and what starts at Buccleuch often rolls out to the wider countryside. Of course I can only speculate, but the sale is more likely to be an economic decision which reflects a pragmatic approach to shifting land use pressures, driven by the advent of massive change.

Perhaps Langholm will be snapped up by an environmentally conscious NGO, or maybe the property’s numerous designations will mean that it’ll lie unsold for a decade. The key issue is that we now face a chasm of uncertainty, and whatever “team” or “side” you identify with (as if “teams” were a helpful way of thinking), that’s no good for any of the birds we associate with Langholm Moor.

And for all Langholm is a “famous” place, it stands as a tiny microcosm of fragile moors across the entirety of Southern Scotland. It will not take long to completely reimagine the hills which lie between Berwick and Portpatrick, and yet again I watch the foresters keening for more space and more plantings. Parts of Langholm will be protected from development, but other places are not so heavily burdened with designations and SPAs. They will simply vanish, and few people will ever acknowledge the untapped trove of cultural and natural heritage that will go with them.

There’s a rising tide, and it’s at times like this when I realise how insubstantial birds and wildlife are when measured against market forces.

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