Rewilding as a concept gives us an opportunity to take a principled approach to land management in the wider public interest, but the support of a range of stakeholders is needed.
Scotland is known for its wide open spaces, moorlands and mountains, and these are much valued places for recreation. But many of our uplands lack the rich biodiversity we should expect to see while out walking. In many cases this is mainly the result of over-grazing from unnaturally high densities of deer, while elsewhere the grazing of sheep and the management of extensive grouse moors for shooting have also led to denuded landscapes. The concept of rewilding gives a positive vision for restoring our ecosystems to the benefit of our native flora and fauna, and to build resilience in the face of climate change, but the debate around species reintroductions is particularly sensitive and needs support from land management interests.
One of our charitable objectives is to protect the outdoor environment in the public interest and to maintain its health and sustainability for future generations to enjoy. We are supportive of the principle of rewilding, especially with regard to the regeneration of our native woodlands, but only support the reintroductions of native species on a case-by-case basis.
Walkers in Scotland will be used to upland landscapes where the only trees to be seen are a few gnarled rowans clinging grimly to the edge of gullies, or enclosures of newly planted trees behind high fences. The lack of natural regeneration tells us that most of our uplands are denuded and out of balance with nature. Some existing land management practices are leading to a decline in biodiversity and are not sustainable over the long term. In principle, the concept of Rewilding gives us a positive vision for restoring our ecosystems and helping to mitigate against the effects of climate change, but this needs to be done through collaboration with land management interests to be successful.
We can already see a few inspirational examples of estates carrying out aspects of rewilding such as Glen Feshie, Corrour, Creag Meagaidh and Mar Lodge. Here deer numbers have been reduced to enable woodland to regenerate without the need for fencing or planting. High deer fences are a restriction on public access and a blot on the landscape – and also bad for deer welfare.
In other areas, grazing by sheep may need to be restricted by low stock fencing to help woodland spread from where it already exists, while for the restoration of grouse moors, it may be necessary to use planting to re-start the processes of rewilding.
If a restored ecosystem also leads to discussions around the reintroductions of native species, again this is something we would support as long as it is done on a scientific basis, under the auspices of Scottish Natural Heritage. The natural wonders of a restored environment supporting a wide range of native flora and fauna would be an inspiration to all walkers in Scotland.
Link to our Animal Reintroductions webpage
Page updated February 2019