In my book I elaborate on what I call a ‘conservation sense of place’, generally referring to activities, ideas and emotions that value non-human nature. Mike Tomkies’ book A Last Wild Place: Seasons in the Wilderness is an excellent example of this sense of place. He spent years living in remote areas on his own in order to get to know and spend time with what he calls wilderness, including many years in the Highlands of Scotland. There is debate about whether such a thing as wilderness can actually exist given humans’ history of modification of the Scottish landscape, but nevertheless, there is a difference between the place Tomkies writes about in his book and other landscapes that have been much more visibly affected by human presence such as urban areas and agricultural land.
His book recounts his years living by Loch Shiel in cottage only accessible by boat and how he has thoroughly immersed himself in the land. The final paragraphs of the book evoke what this means and is a call for all of us to appreciate and protect what is left of these wild places.
“All seems at peace at Wildernesse (the name of his cottage); forgotten yet again are the dark cold days of winter for now the whole world is aflame with light and warmth. Quite suddenly I feel almost overcome by the beauty around me, the sweet scents, the gentle swaying of the trees, the murmur of the breeze, the soft lap of waves against the shore, the orchestra of bird song, the humming of bees and tiny insect wings, the tinkling of the burn etching its way over clean washed stones. Over all there is a pervading harmony, a glimpse perhaps of a world of balanced beauty in which what we, in our varying ways, call God meant man and all wild creatures to dwell, a glimpse indeed of paradise on earth.
In nature’s teeming world the animals and birds are working hard to fulfil their destinies. The feeling came strongly upon me that we, who evolved from original creation to become the dominant species, with unique gifts of intelligence, foresight and the ability to love spiritually beyond ourselves, have an inherent and inescapable duty to act as responsible custodians of the whole inspiring natural world. We are the late-comers, it can only be ours on trust.
If we let it down we also let down its Creator; and even if we don’t believe in God, conservation of the natural world and its ability to inspire finer thoughts- for only thought can change the world- is without doubt whatever a necessary ethic of our survival. The kingdoms of the wild evolved in creation not for man to plunder, to satisfy greed under the guise of progress, and finally to destroy, but both to enjoy and enhance. If we fail to learn from the last wild places, we may yet create a hell on earth before we pass on the road to extinction, the fate of all dominant species before us. Spiritual unease has long been manifest. The lessons will not take forever to learn”.