In a time when our lives are organised with more predictability than ever, nature still offers an immersive experience of wonder and surprise. Many of us travel to far flung corners of the world to find nature-rich wildernesses, forgetting that Europe still offers many remote places ripe for exploration.
One of the wildest landscapes here in the UK can be found in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland, the location of the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP)’s Cairngorms Connect project. Much to the excitement of the ELP, it was recently announced as the chosen location for the next BBC Winterwatch series in January 2019. As Chris Packham, one of Winterwatch’s presenters, put it: “[Scotland is the] land of the brave, home of the wild and hope for the UK’s wildlife”.
Not everyone has the opportunity to visit such wild and rugged landscapes, but with increasingly sophisticated and immersive cinematography we all have an opportunity to get an insight into the natural world. Michaela Strachan, who also presents Winterwatch alongside Gillian Burke, has expressed her excitement at visiting the “dramatic” Cairngorms and the abundance of wildlife it has to offer, “from golden eagles to mountain hares, wildcats to black grouse, ptarmigan, pine marten, red squirrel, water vole, otter…[The Highlands are] one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”
Reconnecting people with nature through inspiring examples of restoration is one of the core objectives of the Endangered Landscapes Programme. Experiences of nature have been shown to benefit mental and physical health and wellbeing. Although there is no substitute for getting out and surrounding yourself in nature, the real-time images brought to us via Winterwatch are a reminder of the wonders and excitement of the natural world and provide inspiration to visit such places.
The 60,000 hectare Cairngorms Connect project is one of eight landscapes in Europe where ELP projects are restoring biodiversity and natural ecosystem processes. Although the project area encompasses the largest surviving remnant of ancient Caledonian pinewood forest and is a stronghold for stunning wildlife such as the capercaillie (a huge woodland grouse), it is a mere shadow of its former glory. Over centuries, it has been impacted by the changing demands of farming, commercial forestry and field sports. An exceptionally forward-looking project, Cairngorms Connect (a partnership between the RSPB, Forest Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Forestry and the Cairngorms National Park Authority) has a 200-year vision to reinstate Caledonian forest to its natural limit, creating a landscape rich in wildlife that can support sustainable local economies.
Programmes such as Winterwatch remind us why we must make every effort to protect and restore landscapes, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. As we reflect on the progress of the ELP this year, from the selection of our eight funded projects to the Programme’s official launch in October, we look forward to sharing their achievements over the coming year.
You can catch Winterwatch on BBC Two in January 2019 (air date to be confirmed).