“Interesting things happen on the edge of the sea”

Combining a passion for sailing with expertise in ecology and marine planning, Graham Russell of the Royal Yachting Association Scotland wants to see stronger connections between everyone who supports a sustainable Forth.

· Recreation,Partnerships,Yachts,Sustainability

When the Commonwealth Games was hosted by Glasgow in 2015, celebrations included the largest flotilla ever seen on the River Clyde. As 250 small ships, yachts and clippers proceeded from Greenock to Pacific Quay, Graham Russell watched on from the deck of a CalMac ferry, which was taking part, and marvelled at the thousands of people who had gathered on the riverbanks to enjoy the spectacle. “It was extraordinary,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s something to do with harking back to old times and memories, but people really do like to see boats on the water.”

But as well as his passion for the sea, Graham brings an unusual mix of expertise to the Forth Estuary Forum’s Management Group. With degrees in ecological science and environmental physics, he went on to a long career as a lecturer, initially in agriculture before specialising in ecosystems and sustainability with an emphasis on coastal and marine issues.

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Let’s build the social capital
After being introduced to sailing by his brother, he got involved with RYA Scotland in 2001, and has been in his current role for 13 years. His responsibilities involve providing input to the Scottish Government and other consultations, as well as planning and marine licence applications relating to marine renewables, marine conservation, non-native invasive species and aquaculture.

I feel that most things on the Forth are well under control, partly because Forth Ports covers a large part of it,” he says. “My view is that we probably don’t need much more planning but we do need to build and keep building the social capital. That means connecting people with an interest in the Forth.”

Broader role for the Forum?
Graham would like to see the Forth Estuary Forum rebuild its strength in bringing people together to share knowledge and ideas for a sustainable future for the Forth, environmentally, economically and in terms of the area’s recreational value. “The Forum could act once more as sort of honest broker,” he adds. “We ran various workshops in the past dealing with contentious issues, which were very useful.” Graham also believes that the Forum could have a role collating and sharing consultation exercises relating to the Forth, while acknowledging that developing the resources to manage that would be dependent on funding.

“The other thing about the Forth Estuary Forum is that it's a coastal forum,” adds Graham. “And a lot of the really interesting things happen on the edge of the sea – such as sea defences, flood defences, migratory fish and so on. But because of the way planning is organised, there's a disconnect between the terrestrial and what they call the marine regimes, and you can't manage things well on that basis. You have to look at the whole picture.”

To carry out its mission to protect the rights of recreational sailors, while encouraging responsible and sustainable sailing, RYA Scotland relies on a team of volunteers, many (like Graham) with professional expertise. And as well as responding to consultations, RYA Scotland runs a wide range of activities to support sailing and sailing clubs throughout Scotland. “We’re also working hard to increase the accessibility of the sport and encourage diversity across sailing, particularly among groups who are currently not well represented,” he says.

Vulnerability to storm damage
As we emerge from winter, most people with yachts along the Forth will have had them ashore or tied up in recent months However, that doesn’t mean the community hasn’t been busy. “At my own club at Granton, and having taken good engineering advice, we’ve been busy re-laying all the moorings after the damage caused by Storm Babet,” says Graham. “The vulnerability to storm damage of some of the historic harbours around the Forth does concern me. For example, the harbour wall at North Berwick was damaged again during that storm. These may be listed structures because of their historic importance and may be under private ownership. Moreover, local authorities may struggle to find the money for preventative maintenance due to pressures on their budgets. Nevertheless, the consequences of storm damage can be very serious.”

One of Graham’s most enjoyable sailing adventures was a voyage with a friend up to and around Shetland. “I have forbears from Shetland so it felt like returning to my roots,” he says. “My big interest is in coastal sailing. I don't have any aspirations to sail across the Atlantic or anything like that. I like arriving in interesting places by boat, and there are no shortage of those along the Forth.”



The volunteer team at RYA Scotland plans and delivers programmes of activity covering narrow boating, powerboating and motorcruising, dinghy, keelboat and yacht sailing; volunteer, coach and club development; elite athlete development and racing; environmental awareness; advice to government, local authorities and coastal developers; and a multitude of other activities to protect the rights and promote the interests of the boating community in Scotland.In addition, some of the association’s specific initiatives in Scotland include:

Volunteer Development Framework
Helping clubs and other organisations to review and strengthen their volunteering practices.

Club Development Framework
Six practical guides to help clubs, centres and other organisations to grow and prosper.

Working with several partners to enhance the sports accessibility for all.

The Pioneer project
A collaborative volunteer project to increase the activity of women within the sailing community.

Youth participation
Supporting Scottish Student Sailing and Junior and Youth Windsurfing.

Hey Girls
Partnering the Hey Girls initiative to raise awareness about the barriers women and girls face through the menstrual cycle.