Was Unna right ? –

Gleann Laoigh Beag – 28th July 2010

Before I read the Deeside Field article What future for the Cairngorms by Fred Gordon (df 20, 1988, p54-55) I hadn’t heard of Percy Unna nor his Unna Principles, and I was unaware that there were any conflicting points of view relating to conservation and access.  It hadn’t occurred to me that there was any conflict between improving access to the Cairngorms, and protecting their wildness.

Reading What future for the Cairngorms made me think about issues that I hadn’t known existed – and I suppose that’s why the author wrote the article ; to put the issues before people, and to get them thinking about them for themselves.

To me the article appears to have three key points.  The 1st is the size of the ‘wild’ area in the Cairngorms.  The 2nd is the ‘wild quality’ of the landscape, and that’s a measure of how wild the landscape is.  The 3rd is that harm is done when either the size, or the ‘wild’ quality is diminished. 

In What future for the Cairngorms the author draws attention to the fact that the size of the ‘wild’ area of the Cairngorms had recently been reduced by the public road into Coire Cas of An Carn Gorm.  That construction had not only diminished the size of the ‘wild’ area in the Cairngorms, but that it had also diminished the ‘wild quality’ of the Cairngorms as a whole. 

Like many other hill goers, I considered myself ‘environmentally sensitive’ long before it became a common expression – I didn’t do intentional damage, and I carried out what I carried in.  Like many other ‘environmentally sensitive’ hill goers, I’ve parked at the head of that road when I’ve climbed An Carn Gorm, and I’m conscious of that irony.  But, the public road into Coire Cas of An Carn Gorm is only among the more obvious examples of how we’ve diminished the ‘wild quality’ of the Cairngorms.  The less obvious examples of how we’ve diminished the ‘wild quality’ of the Cairngorms is by building tracks, bridges, and mountain shelters.  There are always arguments for their construction, but their construction always diminished the ‘wild quality’ of the Cairngorms.

I hadn’t thought about these issues before reading What future for the Cairngorms, but it seems obvious now that any obviously human intervention in the landscape diminishes its ‘wild quality’.  I used to think that access was good – that bridges, mountain shelters, and anything else that made access to the hills easier, and safer must be a good-thing. 

In What future for the Cairngorms the author lays out a convincing argument that made me think.  Was it possible that improved access, the bridges, and mountain shelters could be bad-things ?  I didn’t think he was right, but he had me asking the questions. 

In What future for the Cairngorms the author also introduced me to the name Percy Unna, and the Unna Principles – writing :

[that] Unna’s ‘Rules’ would ensure that the wild or wilderness quality of the Cairngorms would be maintained

– Fred Gordon (DF 20, 1988, p55)

That lead me to read the Unna Principles, which at first sight are hard to swallow – was he really serious about not building bridges and mountain shelters ?  I didn’t think he was right either, but the Unna Principles gave me a lot to think about.

So – I’ve thought a lot about what Fred Gordon, and Percy Unna wrote, and I’ve reduced what they wrote to this :

If we value the ‘wild’ area of the Cairngorms – value the size of the ‘wild’ area equally with the ‘wild’ quality of it – then anything that diminishes either must be a bad-thing

The reduction helped me understand the issue, and as unconvinced as I was when I first read What future for the Cairngorms, and the Unna Principles – I’m now as equally convinced.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the Unna Principles.  If you think about them as I have done, think about what I’ve written, I think that you’ll agree that Percy Unna was right – that he knew that any human intervention in the ‘wild’ landscape diminishes it.  That the building of tracks, bridges, and mountain shelters in the Cairngorms turned out to be the very-thin edge, of a very-long development wedge that has allowed the construction of the funicular up An Carn Gorm, and other landscape vandalism in the Cairngorms.

So – do you think Percy Unna was right ?

I recommend this blog, its packed with all sorts of interesting information.
Joe Blogs – the local history project researching the history and geography of the upland of Mar

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