This is the first installment of the Cairngorms Ecosystem Service Social Assessments in Extreme Environments (Eco-Sae) research team blog. Because we were as much tourists as we were researchers, so the blog will reflect experiences as well as actual research. Hope you enjoy.
What are we doing here?
I was granted a small, but respectable, amount of money to collaborate with Dr. Jan Dick in studying ecosystem services in the Cairngorms using a social science approach that we are developing in Israel, and now, thanks to INTERACT, also in Scotland and Russia. (I believe this project has been the most economically efficient that I have ever been involved in, considering the amount of money invested relative to the amount of work accomplished thus far – but more on that later!) Basically, by conducting social research, we mean to say that we are using surveys and interviews to query local residents and tourists about their natural environment; what they like, what they dislike, what they need for their economic livelihood, etc. We want to define what people know and how they know it, and what people feel and why they feel it – all with regards to the ecosystem services they receive from their environment.
The British drive on the left side of the road. I don’t. Yet, despite the overall dyslexic feeling, getting a manual car (which I hadn’t driven for years, and for which the shift is to the left of the steering wheel), the intermittent rain and the narrow country roads, I returned the car without a scratch. My only advantage was my worldly co-pilot, Roy (also my graduate student). In the spirit of the Olympics: Daniel – 1, British transportation system – 0.
Roy and I arrived in Scotland from Israel. We left a hot and dry environment with 40°+ weather for the past three weeks, where we sweat all day and all night. I read with caution the weather reports from the Cairngorms – the predicted temperatures were close to zero. Half of my suitcase was filled with thermal underclothes… in retrospect I didn’t need it.
We arrived gleefully in the Cairngorms where the weather was a comfortable 10-15° with intermittent rain showers. A wonderful opportunity to cool down and see precipitation and lush green vegetation again. But the locals complained. And complained. We repeatedly heard the rhetorical question “Where is our summer?” and the apologetic “Sorry you had to visit during such terrible weather.” I thought to myself on the first and second days, “they don’t know how good they have it” as my wife in Haifa reported that she and the kids were sweating through another 40+ day. On our fourth day in the Cairngorms, rain fell the entire day – and we began to understand what the locals were complaining about.
But it wasn’t until we met with Alistair of Balliefurth Farms that I really understood what bad weather meant. Alistair and his wife, Ann, raise cattle and sheep on his farm. The constant rain has turned several of his fields to mud. Although the vegetation is growing, the plants will rot on the ground if the soil doesn’t start draining and drying. This will cut down the amount of their land they can use for grazing and increase the amount of silage they’ll need to buy from other places. The tourists can put on a raincoat; the rain didn’t stop the heartiest of Cairngorms runners, bikers, golfers and canoe-ers. Our research will go on. But weather is everything to Cairngorm farmers.
Glancing through our survey results – I see that summer weather scores rather poorly among the things liked by the locals and the tourists… Perhaps no surprises there.