The marking of territory is as instinctive as it is practical. Elephants do it by ripping out trees, certain dragonflies by flying in repetitive circles. When I first surveyed a population of Shoveler ducks on the North Kent marshes, their predictable orbit round their breeding territory caused me an affectionate amusement. Otters leave smelly packages, (spraints), while lions leave savage claw marks in the bark. Most higher-creatures advertise the location of the boundaries to their property. Thus we surmise that “ownership” is essential to their management of resources and successful procreation. For us farmers it is no different, and we have a legacy of territory marking that determines our most familiar landscapes. Stone walls in the Lake District, hedges in lowland England. Lines of trees, ditches, fences and ornamented gates. Many large and small differences in all of the above serve to identify owners and to record long histories of territorial intrigues. It is ongoing.
The densest pattern of territory marking will occur in fertile and heavily inhabited areas, but the converse occurs in wilder and open environments. How we feel in these natural places is determined by powerful and delicate emotional reactions. Not in control and not controlled, beauty, fear, freedom and alertness must combine to carry us in these nature rich places. The sense of wonder and release is critical to a corresponding attachment to our earth.
These thoughts were brought on during a discussion with friends while walking near the mouth of the Endrick River on beautiful Loch Lomond. The RSPB have recently purchased this complex of wood and extensive marsh, and on the gate into their patch hung a large blue sign, complete with several conservation-bodie’s logos. It was welcoming in part, but also assertive and controlling, a feeling contrary to the uninhibited woodland, flooded meadows and rising mountains. A leaflet gave a brief eulogy of the nature to be seen, and further enquiry elicited tentative proposals for access roads, paths, hides and visitor centre. Conversation about returning beavers turned iconoclastic as we intuitively rebelled against this corporatisation of such a special and wild place. The lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Taxi came to mind, “They paved paradise And put up a parking lot….”
On the following day I canoed with my Godson out to the mouth of the river, some 6 or 7 mile down the Endrick and then out into the middle of the great Loch. Here we were far from man and no sort of corporatisation was able to interrupt our spectacular location. Large numbers of Pink-footed geese flew over us, a band of lapwing called from the waterside marsh. Misty sun lit the giant hills all round, and we paddled the kayaks a mile or so off shore. Such euphoric moments have a distilled purity. We celebrated with a tunnock caramel cake.