John King


Having a lifelong love of walking and climbing in the mountains and, in recent years, living and working in the Scottish Highlands as a freelance mountain leader, this course felt like an ideal opportunity to ground my knowledge of these mountain environments in contemporary research contexts. I wanted to learn more about the theoretical side of land management policies and decisions that I had experienced and have a greater understanding of the issues that affected the areas and communities that I visited and worked in. I certainly came away with a greater insight into these topics and learned a great deal more.

The course has helped develop my understanding of a wide range of subjects affecting mountain areas through a mix of disciplines including policy, social science and environmental science. Throughout the course there were plenty of options to focus in on particular areas and I was able to direct my studies towards my own interests in biodiversity management and the socio-ecological interactions in mountain areas where conservation practices and climate change research converge.

Studying the course also opened up opportunities to explore issues relating to mountain development overseas, with an international focus to many aspects of the course material. Additionally, at the Integrated Land Use Conference, an annual conference led by the UHI bringing together students and industry representatives from a wide-range of land management and conservation disciplines, I was awarded the Dick Balharry Prize which provided financial support to travel to Norway and investigate efforts there to establish landscape-scale protective designations in the mountains of the Lofoten Islands and the nearby mainland.

I studied the course over two years and the mode of study was ideal for me as I was able to maintain a high degree of flexibility to balance my studies with my freelance work. Distance learning allowed me to complete the course while living in a location that suited my work. The course team were very supportive throughout and I felt a part of a wider community despite learning from afar, thanks to the online discussion boards and events like the Integrated Land Use Conference.

Following on from this Masters I am now beginning an environmental science PhD at the UHI’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso researching peatland habitats, their role in global carbon budgets and how carbon storage in these environments is influenced by climate change and land management practices. The Masters has been instrumental in allowing me to move into this field of research and it has given me a thorough contextual background heading into my research project.

I’d definitely recommend the course to anyone who is interested in mountains and sustainable practices!


John graduated with the MSc Sustainable Mountain Development with Distinction in September 2020