Thoughts from influential nature conservationists…

Jenny Barlow

Career Highlights

I’ve been lucky to do some really interesting jobs in the environmental and sustainability field but working on the development of the community owned Tarras Valley Nature Reserve has been the biggest highlight so far. Being part of one of the largest community buy-outs in South Scotland has been such a rollercoaster journey the past two years. It’s been both personally and professionally so challenging at times but one of the most rewarding things I have done and it has only just begun!

This this job allows me to do something I really believe in; it feels like I’m making positive impact, I meet so many brilliant people and I have learned so much along the way. There is so much to learn about land, who owns it and who has access to it that links so closely with nature and its recovery.

How do you define nature conservation?

I think for too long it’s been about looking at our landscapes and ecosystems through the lens of a few species or isolating a few specific management outcomes and then trying to control all interactions only with those in mind.

My definition would be that it’s about letting nature lead our restoration of the land with a helping human hand where it’s needed, in order to catalyse dynamic natural processes to restore abundance and rich diversity on planet earth.

It can’t be denied that we are one of the most nature depleted countries on the planet. A narrow focus which does not take into account how complex and dynamic our natural systems are, one which tries to preserve things in a depleted and static state, needs to change.

We need to think big and think whole system – what about our soils, our plants, the self-willed natural processes that we are so disconnected from, all the missing links in those once complex webs of life? How we can work together across society to give nature a helping hand where it’s needed, to rebuild our broken ecological foundations and play our shared part in a landscape scale nature led recovery?

I’d like to see more of a shift in focus in land management for nature to be less about trying to conserve and control and towards restoration, regeneration and in ways that enable hope, open doors to more people and inspire them to involved.

Jenny and company surveying peat

What’s the good news about wildlife and nature at present?

Well, the good news is that the above is already starting to happen across the UK and it’s such an inspiring time if we look in the right places. There are initiatives springing up everywhere that are already proving that another way is possible and highlighting that nature has the power for incredible recovery when given the chance.

I’m really excited about what we are doing in Langholm to develop a community-led approach to nature restoration that has people at its heart. Bringing people together to learn, share, connect and help restore our land together to be a rich resource for the current and future generations that live here is something I’m super passionate about. I hope we can be a model for other communities who are aspiring to restore nature where they live.

Beyond the obvious of habitat loss and species decline, what’s your greatest concern in UK nature conservation at present?

Disconnection with and access to nature is such a huge issue which is so closely linked with its loss. If we don’t collectively know what’s disappearing and can’t see it for ourselves, how can we be motivated or empowered to do anything about it?

For example, I grew up in Sunderland and I genuinely had no idea until recently that such a huge amount of land in England is off limits for public access and that is really uneven across the country depending on where you live. How can we have an empowered population that can come together and take decisive action for our natural world if they can’t actually have access to it to know what’s at stake? Asides from that, we know so well now that contact with nature has such fundamental benefits for mental health and wellbeing.

The Right to Roam campaign are doing some amazing work in this area to illustrate the link between human connection with nature and open air access to land, they are worth a look!

Veterans volunteering at Langholm

If you had a limited budget on nature conservation in Britain, what would you prioritise and why?

My focus would be about enabling more communities across the UK to be able to purchase land for nature and providing wider social and economic benefits. Seeing the number of enquiries that have come to our team in the last few years from across the UK from communities wanting to tackle environmental and social issues through land purchase shows the need for it.

Communities own just 3% of land in Scotland and there is a growing movement to increase equity and diversity in land ownership. Land ownership is not the silver bullet and it’s not always the right solution for every community but is a powerful route for communities to shape their own futures and restoring nature can be a huge part of this.

I think too often people are left out of conversations on nature. Opening the doors for so many more to experience its wonders is one of the most important things we can do to turn things around.

How do you feel about your input to the subject – what if anything has it achieved and would you do it differently if starting again today?

I certainly hope with what we are doing with the Tarras Valley shows that we are acting as an example of what grassroots community-led action for nature can look like. I hope that we can show that we can achieve the impossible if we work together.

When we started the buy-out journey we had no idea we’d here now being one of the largest projects of its kind in the country. We have become part of a growing network of community landowners across Scotland that are doing progressive things for the places that they live not just for nature but people too. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes along the way, but those mistakes will be part of the learning we can share.

Hope is so much more infectious than apathy and I hope we can get more people inspired, engaged and enthused than ever and most of all excited about the future. Hope is definitely there if we look for it.

A walk along the Tarras Valley at dawn


Grierson, Edward “ECOS Interviews: JENNY BARLOW” ECOS vol. 2023 , British Association of Nature Conservationists,

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