October 7th 1950
Ron Greer's priceless workRon Greer is a visionary, a very practical visionary; a freshwater biologist who became an authority on silviculture, a Glaswegian passionately devoted to the countryside, an ecologist and an environmentalist who is concerned with living communities rather than dead landscapes.
In 1974 Ron, in his work at Pitlochry Freshwater Fish Laboratory became interested in the Arctic Charr, a small fish of which not a great deal was known. He discovered that there was a small colony in Loch Garry, beside Dalnaspidal. At this time the fishing was not particularly good in Loch Garry due to the absence of trees growing near the loch. Up to 90% of the insects which flourish in the loch depend for their food on the autumn shedding of leaves from deciduous trees.
No trees, therefore poor feeding and at the end of the chain poor fishing. But, said the knowing ones, Dalnaspidal is 1,400 feet above sea level, too high to allow deciduous trees to flourish so nothing much can be done about it. Ron refused to accept this expert opinion. There was evidence that trees had once grown in the area and he was determined to see if they would grow today.
For the next five years, before he purchased a car, he hitched lifts up to Loch Garry from his home at Blair Atholl, carrying with him not only young trees but also tools and fencing materials. Every small sapling needed to be netted to protect it from the ravages of sheep, rabbits and deer. He experimented with different species finding the Alders, Red, Grey and Common all growing particularly well in these difficult conditions. They were growing at the rate of a foot a year with no fertilisers.
The areas round the trees also showed an improvement, more grasses and an increase of creatures such as frogs and lizards. His work attracted local interest and eventually resulted in the formation of the Loch Garry Tree Group which by 1990 boasted 130 members, all living within the area. This is essentially a practical organisation and members are expected to undertake the necessary work of planting and fencing.
In 1990 they received an environmental award given jointly by the Sunday Times and the BBC. They also received the Benson and Hedges conservation award for game fishing waters. This award brought with it a cheque for £5,000 and has resulted in a 2.2 acre plot being planted beside the Loch with the following deciduous trees. Rowan, Willow, Common Alder, Hawthorn, Downy Birch, Sessile Oak, Elm, Holly, Gean and Scots Pine.
In addition to his tree planting Ron is experimenting with the sowing of blue lupins which grow wild in some parts of the Highlands. Lupins are of course one of the leguminosae, they ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen and thereby improve the fertility of the soil.
Ron Greer is not only concerned with the improvement of fishing, he is looking towards the regeneration of the land and the regeneration of the Highlands in human terms. He feels strongly that there are lessons to be learned from both Iceland and Norway. Iceland once had 40% of its land covered by forests. Today that proportion is down to 1% and Iceland shares with Spain the doubtful privilege of having the most eroded landscape in Europe. It is a warning of what could happen to us in the Highlands. It is for these reasons that he is not too enthusiastic about S.S.S.I’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest.). These are sites in which development is very strictly controlled. Too often this means merely controlling desolation. He does not wish to control the Highlands in aspic but to develop them, not just as tourist attractions, but as areas with viable local communities.
If Iceland serves as a warning, Ron feels that Norway shows what can be done with government support and the right policies. He points out that the coastal communities of Norway have climates similar to those in the Highlands of Scotland. Yet their mountainsides are covered with mixed plantations of trees where too often our mountains are bare. Their sheep are managed in a different manner too. In the summer the sheep are taken above the forest areas, rather as the Highlanders used to take their animals to the summer shielings. In winter the sheep are brought inside like many of our cattle. Not a practical proposition in Scotland? Perhaps not, yet in Norway they achieve an average of 1.5 lambs per ewe, they run more sheep to the acre than in the Highlands and in a bad winter there is no question of digging out ewes from snow drifts and there are no winter losses. It is worth thinking about.
Ron plans in due course to have a fringe of woodlands all round Loch Garry. It will be a magnificent achievement. But he dreams of even bigger projects too such as taking over a 50,000 acre derelict estate and bringing it to life again. There is of course the small problem of finance but he is a practical visionary, a knowledgeable enthusiast with that happy gift of motivating others. With such qualities all things are possible. He deserves every support.