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5 Oct 2017

‘Let’s protect what we value’

Stuart Brooks Head of Natural Heritage Conservation at the Trust
Stuart Brooks, the Trust’s Head of Natural Heritage Conservation, tells us about his love for wild Scotland and what we can do to help preserve it.

What first turned you on to nature?

Looking back, I think there was a phase in my early adolescence that gave me a passion for nature and led me to a career in it. The River Welland flows through my home town of Stamford in Lincolnshire. It had a wild quality to it and I became fascinated with life above and below the water. My favourite time was early in the morning when the mist was rising from the river and spilling out across the water meadows.

How did your path lead from Lincolnshire to Scotland?

I originally studied fine art at Manchester before switching to geography at Newcastle University. It was while I was there that I first visited the far north-west of Scotland. I was just blown away by the landscape. After a spell volunteering with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust I landed a job with the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a peat bog field officer. I think I was in the right place at the right time as peatlands had become ‘the next big thing’ and within a few years I’d gained a lot of knowledge. Scotland has been my home for 20 years now. I’ve raised my family here – and the landscape, culture, people and wildlife will keep me here.

What is it about Scotland’s landscape and natural heritage that is so special to you?

The scale, diversity, beauty, history … it’s pretty much all here. Scotland has the space to allow nature its place – you don’t need to travel far from our towns and cities before you are in beautiful, wild landscapes.

What is the appeal of working with the National Trust for Scotland?

It is the largest conservation organisation in Scotland, with some amazing properties in its care. The Trust has clearly stated it wants to develop a stronger voice for conservation and I want to help us achieve that. Having that broader mission, as well as 370,000 members, puts us in a good position to use our voice for change.

Is Scotland’s nature under threat?

People have impacted on every part of our planet. It was heartbreaking to learn that a killer whale washed up on a Scottish beach was contaminated with over 20 times the safe level of PCBs – these were banned in the 1970s but are still prevalent in our environment. I fear we are doing the same with the volume of plastics we are putting into the oceans. So yes, nature is under threat from us. It’s not all doom and gloom though: our younger generations are far more environmentally aware; woodland cover is expanding in Scotland; we are investing in restoration of our peatlands; we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions; and our wild land has been afforded some protection from industrial development. And there are conservation success stories such as the expansion of ospreys and the reintroduction of the European beaver. I think we have a mixed scorecard but we need to redouble our efforts to make significant progress.

Glencoe and Mar Lodge Estate were recently awarded NNR status. What does this mean for these two sites?

National Nature Reserve status is a national accolade awarded to the country’s most important places for nature. They are also places where people can access and experience it for themselves. We will continue to encourage nature to thrive in these places and we hope their new status will encourage even more visitors.

So, if you’ve never seen a red squirrel, a red deer or a golden eagle – get yourself out to one of the UK’s newest NNRs and you might just be lucky.

How can we help to protect the natural world as we go about our everyday lives?

I think the best thing we can all do is to get out and experience nature for ourselves and then become an advocate for it. Speak up for nature or support an organisation that does, like the National Trust for Scotland. Marvel in the small things – the mosses and butterflies – as well as the majesty of our landscapes.

What’s top of your outdoors to-do list?

I was blown away by the regeneration of our pine forests on a recent visit to Mar Lodge Estate and I really want to share that experience with my family.