Sacred Sites

April 1st, 2009

The Caledonian Forest – Scotland

This month for Sacred Sites I’d like to appeal to those of you who might consider taking a different kind of trip, one certainly not found in any guidebook. What I propose might not be for everyone, and I will warn you, there are no amusement park rides, no sandy beaches, and no wait staff serving you drinks with little umbrellas in them.

This destination is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. It’s called eco-tourism and it might just be one of the best things you could ever do.

Here is a little story for you…

Once upon a time… The ancient Caledonian forest covered the Scottish Highlands. These woodlands were direct descendents of the trees that first colonized the area after the last Ice Age 8-10,000 years ago. However, centuries of destruction from primitive tribes and farmers cleared the land of most of the trees, not to mention the Vikings that burned down large areas of the forest, which now have been reduced to less than 1% of the original area. But there is a happy ending to this story.

The Caledonian Forest is being reforested by volunteers, like yourself.

In 1989 a conservation charity called Trees for Life purchased land in the Highlands as part of an effort to restore Scotland’s Caledonian forests. Their organization has planted more than 750,000 trees and has helped to restore 11,250 acres of land.

National Geographic writer James Owens, states that “For the first time in 2,000 years, Scots pine, alder, birch, hazel, holly, and mountain ash are set to reclaim a large swath of the Scottish Highlands. The effort marks a nationwide move to restore the country’s lost woodland.”

With an ambitious goal of planting 250,000 new trees by the end of 2009, the organization is playing its part in the “Quarter of a Million Trees Appeal”, that supports the United Nations’ Billion Tree Campaign, which encourages people
to tackle climate change by planting seven billion trees worldwide.

In February 2009 BBC Wildlife Magazine selected the Conservation Volunteer Week Program as one of the Top 10 Conservation Holidays in the world.

The Volunteer Weeks run from February 28th to May 30th 2009, with the autumn season running from August 29th to November 14th 2009.

According to Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Executive Director “Every year, people of all ages and backgrounds from across the UK and beyond see our Conservation Volunteer Weeks as an opportunity to help restore the natural environment. This year we’re running more weeks than ever before, so we’re keen to hear from more people who would like to help.”

“Spending a week among the forest, rivers and mountains of the Highlands often touches people in a profound way. It is also an educational experience, in which volunteers learn about ecological restoration and observe nature close up.”

There are many opportunities out there for the traveler who is willing to stray from the well-worn path. Years ago on one of my first trips to Ireland, I was lucky to encounter a wise man through a completely serendipitous opportunity that was afforded me through the not so seemingly unfortunate occurrence of a flat tire.  In other words, we had a flat and pulled off the road.

The wise man told me that what we were seeking was not to be found on the highways and the main roads, he explained that we needed to take the back roads (which is by the way how we got a flat tire) and meet the land, meet its people and spend the time listening to what both had to tell us.

So for those travelers who consciously wander the world with the goal of meeting other people and trying to leave the world a better place than they found it, I encourage you to take the back roads and listen to the land. There are opportunities out there for you. I recall an offer once made by the steward at Charleville Forest Castle in Tullamore Ireland,….. If you’d like to come stay the summer, there is a room waiting for you, provided you lend a hand and help with the castle restoration. Seems like a decent offer.

So instead of leaving a trail of debris behind us on our next trip, why not give something back?

Individuals and companies can also support Trees for Life by having dedicated trees or groves planted for themselves or as gifts.

Details about the Conservation Volunteer Weeks are available at www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.ww.html

Resources:

www.Ecotourism.org

http://www.tflvolunteer.org/

http://www.caithness-business.co.uk/article.php?id=1136

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0207_030207_scotforest.html


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