Unfamiliar Wickerman outreach warns of drug consequences

As July marks the height of music festival season - and the usual concerns are raised regarding the safety of unwitting revellers - an unexpected proponent of drugs awareness is gearing-up for its own contribution to the popular Wickerman Festival this weekend. Revellers heading for Dumfries & Galloway, over July 27 and 28, are to be targeted through a new drugs awareness initiative by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in partnership with Police Scotland. In addition to standard drugs awareness advice to keep festival-goers safe, the two organisations will be highlighting the environmental and social devastation caused by the cocaine trade across Columbia: by creating their own “chill” zone

With Primal Scream, Amy Macdonald and a host of other headline acts preparing to take to the stage, a small team of RBGE scientists, students and educationists are packing their pop-up chill out tent, polishing their maracas and preparing tasty Colombian delicacies. Yet, while it might sound a wheeze, this adventurous public outreach project aims to spread the message about the relationship between drugs, crime and conservation in Colombia.

“It takes a massive four square metres of rainforest to produce just one gram of cocaine and this is having huge impact both on the landscape of Colombia and on its indigenous people”, explained RBGE Head of Events and Exhibitions Dr Ian Edwards. “That is why our Talking Science team, working in conjunction with Police Scotland, will be on hand to meet festival goers throughout the two days of the Wickerman.

“It’s no secret that drugs – both prohibited and ‘legal highs’ – are an issue at festivals”, he added. “However, our role is not to lecture on the pros and cons of drug taking. The RBGE team aims to provide a comfortable chill out area where revellers can relax, listen to live music and enjoy some tasty snacks. What we can also do is talk about what we witness first-hand working in Colombia: the way in which drugs, such as cocaine, have a direct link with crime, poverty and environmental devastation in the countries where they are grown.

“The fruition of this project is thanks to the Scottish Government which, through its Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor, has been in the forefront of public engagement with scientists by supporting imaginative and innovative events that draw in new audiences and deal with issues that are relevant to all of us. I never thought RBGE would find itself presenting science at rock festivals but we have discovered there are a large number of inquisitive and interested festival goers who share our concern for environmental issues”.

Inspector Alan Dron, of Police Scotland added: “For Police Scotland, our focus is on keeping people safe.  One example of how we try and do this is to divert individuals, particularly young people, from engaging in or using the products of serious organised crime. For over two years, partnership working has developed with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh promoting a diversionary initiative called Shared Responsibility.

“Shared Responsibility is a joint initiative between the Colombian Government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which was introduced to raise awareness about cocaine’s ecocide in Colombia – but from an environmental perspective.

“Education coupled with raising awareness about physical and social interdependencies is key when trying to influence a sustainable change in culture, as is bringing the harsh truth of cocaine production and the resulting ecological damage to a new and wider audience. Over 2.2 million hectares of rainforest have already been destroyed for production of the coca plant. Why is this relevant to Scotland?  According to the UNODC World Drugs Reports, Scotland (per head of population) is one of the largest consumers of cocaine in the world.

“Adopting an approach which complements traditional strategies must be tried and what the RBGE are doing this weekend is yet another excellent example of how regardless of demographic and/or geographic location, we are getting important messages out there.”

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)