Conservationist John Muir’s legacy to sell Scotland across world

ONE of the key figures of the global conservation movement is to take centre stage in a year-long tourism campaign – almost 100 years after his death.

ONE of the key figures of the global conservation movement is to take centre stage in a year-long tourism campaign – almost 100 years after his death.

John Muir Day is to be held across Scotland in April to mark the 175th anniversary of the birth in East Lothian of the man credited with founding America’s national parks.

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The Scotsman has learned that at least £5 million is being ploughed into the Year of Natural Scotland, which will deploy the legacy of Muir – whose family moved from Dunbar to the United States when he was just 11 – to persuade visitors to flock to his homeland from around the world.

One-off grants are being made available to groups and organisations the length and breadth of the country for initiatives to persuade people to discover the great outdoors and explore Scotland’s vast wilderness areas.

A coast-to-coast John Muir Trail is also being developed over the next year to celebrate the naturalist and author, who is best known for securing protected status for the Yosemite Valley national park in the US.

He was the founder and first president of the Sierra Club, the conservation group which was to be the forerunner of bodies like Friends of the Earth. By the time of his death, the US government had designated 230 million acres of land as protected national parks.

Both Creative Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have each allocated £1m from their budgets for the initiative, which is intended to build momentum towards the next Year of Homecoming in 2014.

VisitScotland has pledged a further £2.6m, some of which will be allocated through sister agency EventScotland, while other backers include Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland.

A spokesman for SNH said John Muir was renowned as the founding father of “national parks” around the world and was being recognised because his work had “inspired people all over the world”.

He added: “We will celebrate his life and work and encourage locals and visitors to connect with Scotland’s outdoors – its nature and landscapes – by experiencing it, exploring it and helping look after it.”

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Initial plans for the Year of Natural Scotland, which will be launched officially next week, also include celebrating Scotland’s “big five” animals, which are yet to be announced, and highlighting the best places to spot them.

Special nature-themed events are to be held at some of Scotland’s best-known events and festivals, including the Celtic Connections music festival which is about to kick off in Glasgow, and the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh in June.

Scot who lived for the wilderness

JOHN Muir is considered as the founder of the modern conservation movement, widely credited with being the first person to call for effective actions to safeguard the world’s wilderness.

He was born on 21 April, 1838 in Dunbar, East Lothian, and his family emigrated to Wisconsin when he was 11. He ventured on a wilderness pilgrimage through America, by himself, from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico – which he wrote of in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.

Between 1870 and 1890, Muir explored the High Sierra and Alaska and it was here that he became aware of the threats posed to natural environments. He began work on campaigns for the protection of natural areas such as Yosemite and the Sierra – seeing them as beautiful lands that needed to be maintained.

Muir established the Sierra Club in 1892, in order to “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” It now boasts more than 750,000 members.

Claire Wheelans

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