A Highland gathering
The Trust’s 2016 AGM and Members’ Gathering brought music, celebration and debate to Inverness
Peter Pearson, Chairman of the John Muir Trust, welcomed members to the Trust’s 33rd AGM and Members’ Gathering in early June. He started by thanking Councillor Helen Carmichael, Provost of Inverness for hosting the Trust at a civic reception the previous evening where 100 guests had recognised and celebrated the Trust’s work.
The Provost presented a number of John Muir Award Certificates to pupils of Dochgarroch Primary School to mark their bushcraft and conservation work on the banks of the Caledonian Canal, guided by one of our partner organisations, the Scottish Waterways Trust. The event included a lively traditional concert by the talented students of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music based in Plockton, who recently produced a special CD inspired by the Trust’s properties.
Chief Executive Stuart Brooks (pictured above) began the staff reports by illustrating the relevance of the Trust’s work by setting the current social, political and economic scene. He shared the results from a recent report published by Scottish National Heritage – Scotland's People & Nature Survey, saying that the survey has English and Welsh counterparts and the trends are generally the same across the UK. He said: “The big message is that the vast majority of people think that wild land should be protected.” He stated the Trust exists for the public benefit and to be relevant we need to work for and with both people and politicians, recognising the growing importance of health, well-being and education on the political agenda.
Stuart said that people joined the Trust because they believe in protecting wild land, and they want to make a difference, to improve access and wildlife and to give people the opportunity to learn, so they too come to value these places. He concluded: “The balance of these motivations vary, the special places in people’s hearts differ, but the love of wild places is the thread that runs through the John Muir Trust and its members.”
^ Land Management
Mike Daniels, Head of Land Management (pictured above), gave an overview of the Trust’s work across its properties. He highlighted our conservation work on the Trig point at Ben Nevis this past year, and joked that the subsequent re-survey of the Ben means “we now own another metre of land.” He thanked members for their generosity. Not only did this enable us to make progress with path work on Skye and at Steall, but the recent successful response to the Glenlude Appeal means this site will continue to be a hub of volunteering and a ‘natural health centre’. He concluded that while we manage the land, “it’s the connections that people have with it that are really powerful.”
^ John Muir Award
Rob Bushby, John Muir Award Manager (pictured above), presented two maps side by side, highlighting the wild land areas in the UK and the location of John Muir Award providers - showing the national reach the Trust has. Around 33,500 people engaged with the Trust last year through a John Muir Award with 25 per cent of those coming from an ‘inclusion background’. He highlighted that the John Muir Award’s recent conserve audit showed that 36,200 days of conserve activity across the UK was valued as being worth almost £1.3 million. Rob outlined the strong connections the Trust has across education and cited a recent Education Scotland report that states an objective that: “By 2030 all young people will have a love of nature.”
Helen McDade, Head of Policy (pictured above), spoke of the Trust’s work to meet with MSPs and MPs in the past year across the UK, with the Trust attending many political party conferences. That work is starting to bear fruit as wild land areas are increasingly being recognised as significant and in need of protection amongst politicians. Following the first 12 months of the introduction of the Wild Land Areas Map, “there wasn’t much to report”. But, since then, we’ve seen six refusals of wind farm developments that mention wild land as a reason – including proposed developments in Sutherland (opposed in our Area 34 campaign). However, “we mustn’t be complacent”. The Trust has recently objected to 12 new applications - as high as at any recent time. She spoke of the Stronelairg case: “We think it is unreasonable that the Trust was refused a Protective Expenses Order” and warned that: “It seems likely that even if we do win this appeal, SSE and the Scottish Government will take this case to the Supreme Court.”
Kate Barclay, Head of Fundraising (pictured above), brought the staff reports to a conclusion, thanking members for their support. She spoke of the financial pressure resulting from increased competition for private and public funds. This is likely to get even tougher she said, highlighting a lack of trust and negative press about charity fundraising. She confirmed that the Trust is reacting to this and will be working to help members ‘opt-in’ to communications as is likely to increasingly be required by legislation in the coming months and years. She confirmed that the Trust takes these issues seriously and doesn’t outsource any of its fundraising. Kate finished by highlighting the success of recent appeals for Knoydart, Glenlude and Stronelairg, once again thanking members for helping make these important conservation projects happen.
Chairman Peter Pearson (pictured above) then started the formal AGM saying that the Trust’s win in the first round of the Stronelairg court case shows we were justified in taking the action. ‘I am proud that we are bold, and that as an organisation we are punching above our weight” he said. He picked out the fact the Trust “not the biggest of entrants” has won the TGO campaigner of the Year award two years running and paid credit to all the Trust’s staff for their hard work during a year that also contained plenty of uncertainty.
Jim Gibson, Trustee and convenor of the Trust’s finance committee, reported on the Trust’s finances. He also urged people to raise money for the Trust and/or sign up new members, saying: “we’re in this for the long-term, what we do now will affect our grandchildren and then our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”
In the afternoon, Trust members enjoyed discussions on policy work and excursions including visits to the Fyrish Monument at Alness, the Abriachan community-owned forest near Loch Ness, Culbin Sands on Findhorn Bay, and Aigas Field Centre near Beauly.
^ Scotland: The Big Picture
Pete Cairns (pictured above), the acclaimed wildlife photographer brought the event to a spectacular conclusion with Scotland: the Big Picture – an inspirational call for mass ecological restoration of the Scottish Highlands, illustrated with breath-taking pictures and film clips.