IT’s a view that means a lot to Francesca Osowska. The chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage is standing on the treelined brow of a steep green bank of grass, a corner of the nation’s newest park, Fernbrae Meadows.

From here she looks over the grey boxes of one of Glasgow’s neglected peripheral schemes, Castlemilk. Beyond, on the horizon, the dark summit and shoulders of Ben Lomond edge in and out of low cloud.

“I have been thinking,” she says, gazing through a light drizzle. “Isn’t this brilliant? When the mist is not quite descended we can see the Ben and the Loch.

“So here we are, amid nature in what is effectively an urban setting, and we have a view of something natural we are also passionate about.”

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Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is 1,865 square kilometres of world-class scenery, much of it a pristine wilderness, a globally significant ecosystem.

Fernbrae Meadows is just 20 hectares of green, of wetlands, woods and walkways. Until just a few months ago it was just scrub left by an abandoned private golf course called Blairbeth, a place for flytipping, for dumped cars and for fires.

Yet Ms Osowska reckons Scots need to start thinking as much about Fernbraes as they do about Loch Lomonds. Because our climate and our planet will not survive if we think nature is something that only happens on remote or rural reservations.


Fernbrae Meadows. Pic: Jamie Simpson

Our towns and cities need to change too. They need to be greener, literally. That is good for the climate, she reckons, and good for people too.

More nature, more plants to consume carbon, can help limit climate change. But smart, natured-based solutions can also help mitigate against the damage brought by global heating. Take flooding. Just letting burns run their natural courses, where possible, can create bogs that can soak up extra water. That is the plan for Fernbrae, where a stream has been taken out of a concrete culvert and now protects, rather than threatens, local housing.


Wildflowers and grasses returning to Fernbrae Meadows. Pic: Jamie Simpson

 This week Ms Osowska used a landmark lecture to the Royal Society of Edinburgh to spell out her vision for putting places like Fernbrae on the frontline of the climate emergency.

“We need to be nurtured by places around us, and not cooped up and seeing nature ‘out there’ unconnected with us,” she said.

Fernbrae was created by South Lanarkshire Council – a line of trees marks the frontier with Glasgow – with help and advice from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

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Some of its funding, £348,000 or so out of more than £871,00, came from a £38 million European Union seven-year project for what is called Green Infrastructure. As she walks through the park, past joggers and dog-walkers, Ms Osowska expands on her thinking. “In the past when we thought about nature we thought about protected areas and drawing lines on maps and saying ‘This is where you will go and experience nature’, places such as Loch Lomond.

“What the Green Infrastructure programme recognises is that we want all people in Scotland to benefit and enjoy nature. There is as much potential in urban areas as there is in more rural areas. It might sound trite, but our mantra is bringing nature to the people.”

Parks like Fernbrae are designed with the help of locals. And they are designed to be maintained by them too. Because most of the features are natural, running costs are low. A Friends of Fernbrae group has been set up. Local schools have access to outdoor learning spaces. SNH and the council want the community to feel ownership.

Iain Rennick, one of Ms Osowska’s colleagues, thinks this is both physically – and politically – healthy. “By creating a site like this you are engaging people with nature. They are seeing the changes that are happening. They are therefore more active in making sure politicians and others are taking action against climate change. They can see on their doorstep how important climate change is. How does as park like this change carbon in the atmosphere? It is about tree planting, which helps air pollution too.”


Dogwalker at Fernbrae Meadows. Pic: Jamie Simpson

Mr Rennick likes the word “infrastructure” for what he does. People might think of roads and bridges when they hear the term, he says, but increasingly we should all think of trees, and peatlands, and wetlands too, he reckons.

His colleague Elana Bader, who worked on Fernbraes, admits “green infrastructure” is a new and complex idea. “It is one of the most difficult things about our job to explain what it means,” she admits. “It’s a technical term and if you ask most people, they will not know what it is. Another term that is used is nature-based solutions. It is using what nature does to provide solutions to some of the issues we face, whether it be climate change or flooding or health and wellbeing. It is all the physical things around us that help is to lead healthy, happy lives.”


Elana Bader at Fernbrae. Pic: Jamie Simpson

In her lecture, Ms Osowska was essentially telling Scots their landscape will change, with more woodland, more peatland, and more farmland returned to nature. Her message as she walks around Fernbrae? Urban Scots will see their environment adjust to the climate emergency as much as rural ones.

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It is not just at Fernbrae that Ms Osowska likes the view. She believes Scots rarely have to travel far to find beauty. Last year, after coming into her post, Ms Osowska decided to visit every one of her organisation’s offices, up and down Scotland.

So she got on her bike. For 32 days between March and October she cycled around the country, getting a handlebar-eye view of its nature.

On her second day she rode through what she called the “deepest Central Belt”. “It was just after the Beast from the East and there was still some snow,” she says. “I just came around a corner and there was the this glimmer of a river, this pocket of nature, and a memory which always sticks with me.” Where was she? Airdrie.