Interview with Pete Cairns

The founder of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture and leader of the team behind our Wild North East video talks to us about inspiration, personal highlights and the need to protect our wild spaces.

We’ve had a fantastic response to the video, Pete. There are some stunning shots in there. How did you approach the project?

There’s always a balance to be struck between the aspiration to make as good a film as you can and the restrictions of time and budget. In this case, we targeted the priority subjects and locations, such as the River Dee, and then filled in the holes that were necessary to tell a compelling story. It’s fair to say that we did a lot more filming than was allowed for, but that’s because we wanted the film to impact on people, especially folk who live in the north-east who may not know what lies beyond the horizons of Aberdeen or Peterhead. There’s no point in making a film like this if it doesn’t touch people on an emotional level. Built into that is the knowledge that pride leads to care. If you feel part of something, you’re more likely to look after it.

What about the biodiversity and habitats of the north east inspires you? Any favourite species?

The team I’m part of work exclusively in Scotland so much of what we filmed is familiar territory really. We all love the old pine forests and the woodland restoration work that’s going on at Mar Lodge is something that should be more widely celebrated.

©SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

The backdrop to the north-east – the mountains – they’re special places and of course, the bottlenose dolphins we filmed in Aberdeen harbour – as the film says, where else can you be on an arctic-like plateau in the morning and watching dolphins in the sea just a few hours later?

Have you always been interested in nature?

My grandad was a big influence on my early childhood, and he was into his birds. So yes, I’ve always had an interest in wildlife. These days, most of the stories we tell, whether it’s in a film, book, magazine feature or at a presentation, revolve around the desperate need to restore nature across large parts of Scotland. This film showcases some of the best bits and from a certain perspective, Scotland is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife in Europe. Conversely however, we’ve lost 97% of our natural woodland and eliminated many species that once lived here. Ecologically speaking then, Scotland is a massively depleted nation. So whilst there is a case for celebration, we’ve a long way to go before our ecosystems function as they need to – not only to sustain wildlife populations, but to sustain people too.

©SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

In your experience do you think it is important for younger generations to get exposure to the natural world?

It’s ironic that environmental education is more developed today than at any time in history and yet, most young people have very little knowledge of, or connection with, the natural world. There is a growing body of evidence that links a physical detachment from nature to all manner of social and medical conditions from depression to obesity. Actually then, immersing younger generations in wild nature is an investment in a healthier society. This is a social issue and not one that belongs in the environmental conversation. Fundamentally, I believe that healthy nature means healthy people. There are a few fantastic forest schools and nurseries in the north-east. Spend a morning with these kids as they climb trees and get covered in mud and you’ll see they’re having a great time and learning life skills into the bargain. It’s a win-win.

©SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

“Immersing younger generations in wild nature is an investment in a healthier society. This is a social issue and not one that belongs in the environmental conversation. Fundamentally, I believe that healthy nature means healthy people”

Paul Anderson

Biodiversity Partnership Assistant

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