NOBODY who witnessed the fires that engulfed our Highland communities will forget them in a hurry.

From April through to June, over the course of two weeks, we saw brutal wildfires burning through our woods. Some of the fires could be seen and smelt for miles. In their wake they left hundreds of thousands of charred trees, decades of lost conservation work and thousands of hectares of destruction.

Foresters, land managers and emergency service workers bravely put themselves in harm’s way for all of us, working around the clock to protect us.

They heroically went into the darkness to face the walls of flames, all too aware of the severe risks they faced and not knowing what lay ahead.

The fires were eventually suppressed, but we all know that won’t be the last of them.

They are becoming increasingly common here in Scotland and beyond. Over recent weeks we have seen similar scenes playing out across Europe.

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Like many of those countries, the Highlands and islands are blessed with some of Scotland’s most beautiful and iconic landscapes. There are so many wonderful places that many of us are very proud to call home. But they are also on the frontline of our climate emergency.

Yet amid a worsening climate crisis, it is a natural beauty that brings very real dangers. As the fires revealed, conditions are such that even the smallest of things can have a massive impact.

It’s not just wildfires that pose a growing risk, it is also the prospect of extreme weather events and flooding. The environment around us is changing, and – whether we like it or not – we are going to have to adapt our societies to prepare for it.

Part of that means ensuring our emergency services have the people and equipment they need to respond to changes, but it also means future-proofing our homes, public services and more.

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The need for change has been at the forefront of my mind over the summer when I’ve had the privilege of meeting with the Highland and Island communities that I represent.

I have spoken to the fishers who can see the damage being done to our seas and want better marine protection in place to help in restoring fish stocks. I met with coastal villagers who are worried about the preparations they may need to make and with the farmers and crofters who are concerned about the impact of the climate crisis on biodiversity and ultimately on food security.

They know that inaction is not an option. They also know that our geography, our dispersed populations, our diverse habitats and land use make us particularly vulnerable.

During my visits and conversations, it quickly became apparent that a lot of families and communities are excited about the work we are doing on things like retrofitting housing and heat pump installation. But they don’t always trust that it will reach them.

Whether it is labour shortages or years of underinvestment in vital infrastructure, there is often a feeling that our rural communities are often an afterthought.

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Particularly when it comes to future-proofing our communities, there are a lot of practical challenges ahead in terms of ensuring there are enough local people with the skills to do the work.

As I drove from village to township to town (in my hybrid car), I listened to an excellent audiobook by a New York-based climate activist, Andrew Boyd, called I Want A Better Catastrophe. It focuses on the need for a better tomorrow and identifies a lot of the same issues that people were raising with me.

Andrew argues that climate adaptation has to be about engagement, local democracy and delivering real social and environmental justice.

He rightly argues that communities should lead the way with local leadership and solutions rather than allowing climate change to be a bonanza for big business with a one-size-fits-all approach.

A people-focused transition can focus on upskilling local communities and businesses and ensure it is they who are installing the heat pumps and insulating homes, restoring our peatlands and preparing our coasts for rising seas.

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It can also focus on locally grown food and making the most of the abundance of land and resources around us. Many of our rural communities are dependent on deliveries from remote supermarkets, but that often means a lot of those orders can be delayed by one big fallen tree across a road, one particularly bad weather day or one cancelled ferry.

There are plenty of positive green shoots, with partnership projects taking root and bringing local people and groups together to talk about the land around them and how we can move forward together and make better use of it for local resilience in food and other products.

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Every day I hear inspiring stories of great grassroots initiatives and activists working from the ground up. If done properly, climate adaptation can bring opportunities as well as improve our resilience. It can be a vehicle to rejuvenate our local economies, bringing good quality jobs and supporting local businesses.

Adaptation is vital, but it must not be a substitute for reducing emissions. The weeks of wildfires show exactly why it is so crucial that we invest in public transport and change the way we heat our homes.

Communities must be active participants in these discussions and in identifying the changes and opportunities on their doorsteps.

If we want to have a cleaner, greener and better future then we need to build it from the ground up – together.