Way back in 2007 I wrote a series of blog posts about the proposals by landowner Paul Lister for a huge electrified fence round his Alladale estate in northern Scotland, inside which he planned on releasing wolves and other large animals. People would then be charged large sums to be taken on guided trips to see the wildlife. The proposals received a great deal of publicity - releasing wolves caught the media's attention and Lister had good PR people - but came to nothing other than a few small enclosures for moose and boars. Then in 2010 it was announced that the plans to release wolves had been abandoned and everyone concerned with this threat to access breathed a sigh of relief.
The last few days however have seen a sudden media blitz about the same proposal, mostly on BBC radio but also in newspapers and on TV. There doesn't seem to be anything different in the scheme other than Lister offering to talk to organisations like Ramblers Scotland and the John Muir Trust but he obviously feels it's worth reviving. I wasn't totally surprised to hear Lister promote the scheme again as he'd popped up with a question about releasing wolves at the talk by George Monbiot at the Edinburgh Book Festival I attended in August (see this blog post). Monbiot responded that he was in favour of wolf reintroduction. However in response to a later question Monbiot also said he was very opposed to any restrictions on access.
Unsurprisingly Lister's PR push has had a big response on the internet with much discussion on social networking sites. The best piece I've seen, which outlines the history of this story, is Cameron McNeish's on the Walk Highlands website, which I recommend.
My own view hasn't changed since 2007 when I said that the fence would be an eyesore and an insult to nature as well as breaching our hard-won access rights. I also wrote ' Lister says “it would not be practical to have people walking around Alladale while wolves roam". In fact there is no reason why people and wolves couldn’t coexist as they do in many other parts of the world. I’ve walked 1,000s of miles in wolf terrain in North America and seen wild wolves and heard them howling at night, which are wonderful experiences. I’d love to do so in the Highlands. Reintroducing wolves to the Highlands is a great idea but would only work with public support and in areas where the habitat is suitable. I’d like to see more wildness in the Highlands but not a safari park.'
That all these arguments have to be restated is disappointing but if Lister persists in promoting his ideas it's necessary to do so. No-one can be allowed to override access rights, whatever the reason. At the same time opposing Lister's fence does not mean opposing rewilding or the reintroduction of missing wildlife.