I’ve spent the last few weeks travelling around Galloway speaking to hill farmers and people who manage land in marginal places. This has all been part of a bigger project (which will get bigger in 2020), but it’s given me a great excuse to meet people and find out more about what’s happening in the Galloway Hills.
Perhaps it was the bad weather or the shortness of the day, but my heart sank this morning when I went to meet a landowner who is trying to restore a badly dilapidated piece of hill ground near Castle Douglas. It was a beautiful place and it brimmed with potential, but in a half hour visit I was quickly bogged down with so many of the usual obstacles and obstructions which have come to characterise agriculture and conservation in this part of the country. There was overgrazing and under grazing to worry about; there was habitat fragmentation for waders and a grievous lack of funds to invest in upkeep and maintenance across the board. There’s a growing theme of farmers who would love to do more for nature but simply can’t afford to, and there’s a parallel thread of farmers who are able to make positive changes but simply refuse.
It all seemed to come over me at once; the realisation that while there are many good people trying to do great stuff for nature and sustainable farming, the system itself is bogged down and busted – there are all kinds of drivers for this, but a fair part of the problem is the fact that the same schemes run all across Scotland – in trying to fit everyone, they fail to fit anyone.
You could say that many of the things which are going wrong in Galloway are down to the fact that we don’t have many official designations; we get little support or recognition from government and there’s almost no public oversight when things go wrong. But however you want to pitch it, the situation feels like we are trying to push mud up a hill, and seeing it all replay again for the hundredth time this morning really took the wind out of me.
There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020. I have grand plans for how the year might go, but I must admit there are times when I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall.