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Issue 13 - Stunned and speechless

Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004


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Stunned and speechless

Dominic Roskrow gets back to nature

Richard and I spotted them at about the same time, our gaze almost instinctively drawn upwards; four dots on the skyline, one larger than the other three. And we stood in awed silence as they approached, squinting through the sun-hazed cloud as we realised what we were watching.

The golden eagle led the way, dignified in flight but desperate to return to the stretch of bracken and heather behind it. The three buzzards had other plans though, and were working together to drive it away from their territory. Their assaults were not manic or jittery, however, but smooth and flowing, and the whole dogfight was conducted with grace and in silence as the birds came ever nearer.

Who knows how long we watched for. Two minutes? Three? And then the eagle accepted defeat and from almost directly above us, turned and retreated towards the celebrated paps of Jura and we were left stunned and speechless.

There have been moments in my life that were more amazing and adrenalin-charged than this, but not many. The birth of my sons, the moment my soccer team scored in extra time to win the first major trophy in its history; any number of rock music moments from Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Dylan to Husker Du, R.E.M. and The Replacements.

Nothing this natural, though. Or unexpected.

Those moments on Jura with Whyte & Mackay’s master blender, Richard Paterson, completed a remarkable period for me – a period that has fundamentally changed my whole outlook on life. Quite literally.

I wrote last issue about how wonderful I thought Orkney was. But I visited Skye and Jura around the same time, and collectively the three trips gave me a view of nature I’d never experienced before.

At heart I’m a city boy, and though I now live in a rural area, I’ve always had a distaste for what seemed to me as a primitive blood lust among country folk. Hunting for pleasure, in particular seems a cruel and unjustifiable way to pass the time.

But I have met scores of people in Scotland recently who have introduced me to another side of the countryside. People who love and respect the wildlife they deal with, and immerse themselves in nature.

This includes hunting it for food, but this is as it should be. And these people care far more for the land and the animals on it than city folk like me who are happy to eat processed meat from a major exploitative supermarket chain.

Shortly before I watched those birds of prey I had seen a golden eagle close up at, appropriately, Gleneagles, and was fortunate enough to have a falconry lesson there. That experience is featured in this issue, and on the wildlife pages we look at the golden eagle’s cousin, the sea eagle.

That such magnificent birds are alive and well and living in Scotland should be the source of great joy to any lover of nature. But my travels have made me more aware of a more disturbing aspect to the land, one we should all address.

Talk to the fishermen and they’ll tell you how few fish there are these days. Look at the mountains in early winter and wonder where the snow is. Did anyone else feel concerned when Scotland had temperatures in double figures in January?

Nature and the people who rely on it are under threat like never before and if the policies of our world leaders don’t finish the countryside off, our indifference will.

We are at a crossroads and we still have time to preserve the natural beauty that is so abundant in the Highlands and beyond.

But if my boys are to have a chance of witnessing a sight like a golden eagle in conflict with buzzards, I know I have a duty to do something to preserve nature now.

Anybody who loves Scotland must surely feel the same. Let’s act to make sure we don’t lose this beauty forever.