I am from Drumnadrochit, born and bred. I’m fortunate to still be living in the same house from birth, which happens to be opposite of the Borlum North facing side.
Over a lifetime, now of six decades! I have witnessed with dismay notable changes to the village and its surroundings. What has always been considered a picturesque “rural” village attracting many tourists, but its unique “sense of place” is being gradually eroded by homogenised identikit developments in danger of turning it into another stereotyped dormitory town.
I am not opposed to new housing, I know the argument for repopulating the Highlands and the desperate need for affordable housing by a younger generation etc. But what I find really objectionable is the lack of imagination towards building, planning layout and design aesthetics that should be of concern to those who rely on tourism.
After all when most of us travel to villages and towns anywhere, we tend to gravitate to the historic parts, charmed by the higgledy-piggledy approach to building, we do not seek out the areas of soulless anonymous boxes.
To ensure the “affordability” bit, why not avoid repetitive standardised boxes by integrating the opportunity for individual self builds, contrasting styles, or perhaps a Makar eco-design to break the suburban monotony, which in rural areas especially is truly inappropriate.
The worst aspect of this quick build/minimum thought/maximum profit development is inevitably the appalling ecological and environmental impact that goes with it, overloaded infrastructure, light and noise pollution, landscape and road management hindering bio-diversity. Is that the best we can do to keep a younger generation from fleeing?
Shortly we will be witnessing yet another of these abominable developments spread out across what is becoming the last of our patchwork green fields in the glen. Like mushrooms, there are another 93 houses set to spring up - Springfields.
“Bunloit" offers a diametrically different model. None the less I empathise with the trepidation that comes with change. I feel for the concerns of fellow local residents across the glen in respect of the “Bunloit” project, and indeed as has been mentioned in this forum, the greatest concern of all, the high gradient single track road. We know from experience how these roads snaking up the sides of the glen are inadequate for the amount of building that has taken place on the tops with the weight of traffic that invariably goes with it.
The greatest dilemma of course will be with heavy plant movement and logging lorries during construction. Paradoxically if the Bunloit proposal meets all of its aspirations, in part success will be measured by in coming new residents and footfall to the area. That means wheels.
The ideas so far of electric cars, scooters and certainly a shuttle bus fleet in the future could help offset the carbon burden of growing numbers coming up to the areas in question; also we should not forget that Drum has always attracted fit people, who will no doubt take it in their stride mindful of their carbon footprint and walk to whatever happens to be going on.
There is also the possibility of car sharing once we no longer contaminate each other.
Putting certain misgivings aside, I would like to enter this debate from a slightly different perspective. I am an artist and activist who has dedicated most of my life and work to human rights activism.
After much retrospection this past year, I have decided to focus the attention of my art primarily on the most fundamental human right of all – the right to live on a habitable planet.
I have never met Jeremy Leggett or any member of his team but I must admit my heart sank when I first heard mutterings of yet another development in Drum. Having done much research that indeed relates to my own work, Dr Leggett’s profile appears exemplary. Any notion of “greenwashing,” “or acquiring the land purely as a financial venture seems absurd.
Not only has he received wide acclaim and plaudits from across the climate science world, but through sustainable energy innovation has made a demonstrable impact challenging one of the most pernicious, domineering and corrupt industries, the fossil fuel industry, that has held humanity to ransom for over a century -truly the criminals behind the cataclysmic climate events that we are witnessing today.
I feel the concept behind “Bunloit” has the potential to offer more than carbon sequestration, land and species restoration and regeneration, which will of course take time. Most importantly it offers an opportunity to inject fresh blood, new life and hope for not only the younger local community, but through education and skills development, could lead the way as a radical “lifestyle” blueprint obtaining as close to a carbon free existence as possible.
I particularly like the idea of providing facilities for education, research and cultural activities as well as an outdoor space which can be used by visiting school children perhaps linking up with students from the University of the Highlands and Islands which is now at the forefront of research into climate change in Scotland.
If the Bunloit vision is successful, I envisage a community attracting artists, writers and film makers, as well as climate specialists, leaders, and educationalists and an enlightened project giving the younger generation agency to cope with what is undoubtedly a bleak future. Their future.
By offering a blueprint for similar initiatives not only across the Highlands but Scotland and beyond, this could confirm Scotland’s role leading the vanguard to counteract climate change.
As we blink our way out of the Covid pandemic into the blinding light of an uncertain future, many have had time to absorb the gravity of our vulnerability as a species. Change is already coming to the Highlands with an awareness that further destruction of the natural environment comes at our peril. There is going to be a radical shift in tourism and the way people travel, and a surge in eco-tourism. Drumnadrochit should be at the forefront to capitalise on this.
I understand all sides of the argument, so I hope that the Bunloit team will be able come to some sort of compromise with those whose present lives will be affected to a degree. However nothing that happens to us up here in the Highlands in the near future is comparable to what is going to happen to all of us, essentially our children and grandchildren from here and across the globe as humanity heads towards 2050.
Sir David Attenborough has famously warned us all: “What humans do over the next 50 years will determine the fate of all life on the planet.” The Bunloit scheme and concept is a contribution towards mitigating some of the damage so far, aiming at least towards a safer future.