Trust gives Lifetime Achievement Award to US environmental campaigner

Trust cements Scots-American link on John Muir’s 180th birthday with special award to inspirational successor

Larry downing and peter pearson 21 april 2018 web detail

As part of our commemorations to mark the 180th anniversary of John Muir’s birth, the John Muir Trust bestowed a rare honour on a veteran American environmental campaigner.

Born in Dunbar on 21 April 1838, Muir emigrated with his family ten years later to the United States, where he rose to become a household name. In 1892, the multi-talented explorer, scientist, writer and campaigner became the founding President of the Sierra Club, which has since grown to become one of the biggest and most influential environmental organisations on the planet.

At a ceremony in the Dunbar Townhouse on Saturday afternoon (21 April), Larry Downing, who served two terms as President of the Sierra Club from 1986-1988, became just the fifth recipient of the John Muir Trust Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the four who previously received the honour were legendary Scots climber and broadcaster Tom Weir and English mountaineer Doug Scott.

The honour was in recognition of Downing’s outstanding contribution over half a century to the protection and conservation of wild places in the United States and Scotland.

Peter Pearson, Chair of the John Muir Trust said: “As a charity that stands up for wild nature, the challenges we face today are both local and global, and Larry Downing is just the fifth person – and the first outside Britain – to be recognised with this prestigious award.

“For more than half a century, he has been an inspirational figure in the international environmental movement. Like John Muir, he is a superb communicator who has devoted his life to advocating and campaigning for the protection and cherishing of wild places in his native United States and worldwide.

“Larry has strong connections with Scotland and has been a great long-time friend of the John Muir Trust, serving as a Trustee for eight years and as Honorary Adviser for ten years. He has been an excellent confidante, friend and adviser, bringing an international dimension to our discussions and helping to keep us true to the message and inspiration of John Muir.”

Downing is widely regarded as having been one of the Sierra Club’s most effective presidents since John Muir himself, overseeing a spectacular increase in the movement’s membership and influence.

Among his many achievements, during a brief spell working as a research chemist for the multinational corporation Procter & Gamble, he replaced the use of petrochemicals with water in liquid cleaning products.

Meanwhile, the John Muir Trust is involved in a number of other initiatives around John Muir's 180th anniversary – many centred on Highland Perthshire where we are based.

On Saturday 21 April, poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn hosted a free walk on Dun Coillich hill in the shadow of Schiehallion, during which they aimed to create new place-names for as yet unrecognised features of the local landscape. The pair previously co-authored a book-length poem, The Road North, as they travelled through Scotland from the Machars Peninsula to Shetland.

On the following day, a trio of women – international artist Karen Rann, John Muir Trust land manager Liz Auty and Emma O’Shea from Walk Scotland – led a guided walk and talk on Schiehallion itself, focusing on the invention of contour lines by mathematician Charles Hutton during a famous scientific experiment on Schiehallion in 1774 to calculate the weight of the earth.

The walks were part of the Lines of Attraction mini-festival at Schiehallion, supported by Creative Scotland. The festival also includes:

  • An exhibition of Karen Rann’s map-based artwork in the Alan Reece Gallery at the John Muir Trust’s Wild Space visitor centre (on until 28 April, 11 am to 4.30 pm from Thursdays to Mondays inclusive).
  • Music on the Mountain with Luss Collective – an evening of music, storytelling and poetry inspired by the history of Schiehallion in a specially constructed yurt near Braes of Foss car park below the mountain (on Saturday 21 April).
  • Four Views of Schiehallion and Live Music in Pitlochry Festival Theatre (Saturday 28 April, 1pm). Reserve a free place on Eventbrite.

Liz Auty, the John Muir Trust’s Schiehallion Land Manager said: “We are delighted to be celebrating the 180th birthday of one of Scotland’s great international heroes with these events centred on Schiehallion, supported by such talented artists, poets and musicians.”

Photo by Rob Bushby, shows Larry Downing (left) with Peter Pearson outside John Muir's Birthplace in Dunbar on 21 April 2018 (Muir's 180th birthday).