Strathspey local resident
‘Bonnie’s time of research coincided with a key time in the way so many members of the community had the Cairngorms placed so clearly in their conscience – either through the discussions on the designating of the National Park or through the building of the Funicular Railway. These topics would shape the future of the area for the people who live here, and how people from outside would view it and many people were passionate to see their view represented. Taking the time to read this, review, and reflect on my own thoughts and experiences from that time challenged my views on the many groups represented in this book but also allowed me to understand more deeply my sense of place when flitting between one user group and the other. I found this to be thought provoking as well as compassionate and understanding to a wide range of our varied communities.’
I met Bonnie Vandesteeg when she stayed in my self-catering cottage in September 2021. We got chatting and she revealed that she had literally just published a book and kindly gave me a copy. I was very interested to read it and, knowing that Bonnie was returning in January 2022, it went straight to the top of my reading pile.
Land for what? Land for whom? is a really interesting read for anyone who lives in, works in, visits or loves Scotland. Bonnie is an anthropologist and her book is the result of a research project. It is therefore written in a particular style and it comes from a scientific background.
Bonnie addresses the issue of conflict around land use but unlike many other authors she is recording deeply held viewpoints from a diverse range of groups and individuals. It is so interesting to read about how people from different groups relate to the landscape; farmers, mountaineers, bird watchers, stalkers, conservationists, they are all deeply involved, hold the Scottish landscape dear and fundamentally have the same love and appreciation of the natural world.
Is it inevitable that people with different priorities will end up in situations of conflict? Perhaps a lack of understanding or deeply ingrained prejudice or intolerance are part of the reason but somehow, we all have to share and work alongside each other (if not together) within the natural environment. Permeant[JH1] residents, part time residents, visitors, landowners, conservationists, business owners, environmentalists, representatives of the Scottish Government, there are many, many people with interests in Scotland’s future. Bonnie Vandesteeg’s book sets out these issues and conflicting viewpoints in a clear and insightful way. Having read the book, I look at the countryside and contemporary issues in a different light.
Amazon Review: January 2022
I bought this book because it investigates a problem bubbling away all over the UK, whether rural, suburban or urban. The book shines with the author’s intimate love and knowledge of the Cairngorms and mountains climbing and will appeal to people sharing those interests. It also gives an illuminating case study of change and the polarized interests of groups experiencing it with different perspectives. Does change, and notably gentrification, rob existing populations when it hits or create new opportunities for them? Can the tensions between anglers and paddlers on the river or walkers and mountain bikers in woodland be resolved? Similarly, my concerns are about tensions between anglers and boaters on the canal or walkers and cyclists on the towpath. This book is both thought provoking and insightful in dissecting the reasons behind tensions. In the process, the author shows interests can be in common and grounds for hope. Land for What? Land for Whom? Is well written and I recommend it, with one reservation: the content is based on a dissertation therefore very thorough. However, sensible sub-headings assist navigation. Well worth the purchase.
For many, many decades anthropology, as a humanistic science, has been providing us with insightful and absorbing accounts of people’s relationship to the natural world, in all its diversity. Such studies, based on detailed ethnographic (empirical) research have been undertaken in a wide variety of contexts, but especially among indigenous (tribal) people and peasant communities throughout the world.
The present book, explicitly situated within an anthropological tradition that combined hermeneutics, history and sociological analysis, offers an absorbing and very readable account of the people of the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands and their relationship to the landscape. Based on detailed ethnographic research over several years, and an expansion of her Ph.D. thesis in environmental anthropology, Bonnie Vandesteeg’s book provides us with an illuminating account of the people of the Cairngorms. Long a political activist involved in issues relating to land rights, housing and local livelihood (in London), Vandesteeg is also an avid mountain walker and rock climber. Both of these activities illuminate the present text.
Well researched, and, unlike many academic texts, well-illustrated and engagingly written, the book is essentially in two parts.
The first part of the book is focussed on giving an insightful account of what Vandesteeg describes as the “sense of place” of the three identifiable interest groups associated with the Cairngorms. These are, respectively: those people focussed on recreational pursuits, such as hill walking, rock climbing and skiing; those whose principal concern is the conservation of the region for its biodiversity and wildlife, especially those involved in bird watching (the RSPB) and wildlife tourism; and, finally, those people and interest groups who depend on the Cairngorms for their basic livelihood, the various sporting estates involved in the commercial shooting of grouse and red deer, and the local farming communities. As a committed anthropologist Vandesteeg became deeply and intimately involved in all these three spheres of activity. Her descriptions of her own experiences and of the local people she closely engaged with enliven the text throughout the book.
The second part of the book is focussed on the protracted disputes and conflicts between these three interest groups, each with their own sense of place. Such political disputes emerged especially around two issues: the establishment in 2003 of the Cairngorms as a National Park (it has to be recognized that almost two million people visit the Cairngorms each year), and the construction of the funicular (mountain railway) to facilitate skiing activities. This later project involved a storm of local protest. Vandesteeg discusses these conflicting attitudes to land use in the Cairngorms with insight and equanimity, and offers suggestions as to how the competing interests of recreation, conservation and development (livelihood) may to some extent become reconciled.
Besides being an excellent ethnography and offering insightful reflections on the recent environmental history of the Cairngorms, Vandesteeg’s book constitutes an important contribution to anthropology.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in land issues/’ownership ‘.Not a dry academic read but one articulating ordinary people’s experiences and viewpoints. A fine and important piece of descriptive research.