|Tree regeneration in Glen Feshie|
Since the launch of Rewilding Britain earlier in the year the topic has become quite controversial, especially as the mass media tend to identify it purely with the reintroduction of wolves. As well as criticism of this idea rewilding has been attacked for apparently wanting to drive people out of the hills and replace them with some sort of pristine untouchable wilderness. Now there are some proponents of rewilding who would like some areas to be off-limits to people (or at least only accessible to those who pay for safari-type tours) but this isn’t my vision of rewilding or even in the spirit of rewilding at all. Rewilding should be for the whole of nature, and that includes people.
There’s also a tendency to see rewilding as only applying to vast areas, as all or nothing. ‘Rewilding isn’t possible’, people say. I don’t think this is correct either. Rewilding is a process. It’s not absolute. It means becoming wilder. And that is happening in many places and has been for many years. In Scotland it can be traced back to the first experiments in forest regeneration on the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in the 1950s. In recent years forest restoration whether in terms of natural regeneration or by planting has been spreading quite rapidly. This is rewilding. The reintroduction of sea eagles and beavers is rewilding. The spread of ospreys, which returned of their own accord in the 1950s, pine martins and red squirrels is rewilding. It is happening now.
|Young and old Scots Pines, Ryvoan Pass, Cairngorms|
Rewilding is tied up of course with land ownership. Big stalking and shooting estates generally want plenty of deer and grouse. Many deer means no tree regeneration, many grouse means heather burning and predator control. Estates want quick access to their prey too, which means building roads into wild places. Not all the private estates are like this – some are a mixture and have some forest regeneration and protect some wildlife, others are run mainly to do this – Glen Feshie and Coignafearn being two examples. Estates owned by conservation bodies like the John Muir Trust, RSPB, Trees for Life and the National Trust for Scotland and government bodies like Scottish Natural Heritage and Forest Enterprise do rewilding work too, though sometimes not as much as they could or should.
What happens to land ownership will be decided by the Scottish Government, which is looking at proposals for reform now. Whatever happens I think estates should be encouraged to work towards rewilding with more forest regeneration and wildlife protection.
Any proposals to keep nature away from people, or to restrict access to the paying few, are anathema to me. One of the points of rewilding should be to make a better world for all of us. I also think that rewilding on a larger scale will only occur when enough people want it. Turning them away will not achieve that. I don’t seen any contradiction between people living and working in wild places and rewilding either. What matter is not that they are there but what they do. I think any change will be slow but wildlife watching, conservation work, and outdoor pursuits are all growth areas. There will still be estate workers too and livestock farming in the glens. To say it again, rewilding is not all or nothing. I can imagine now empty, treeless glens with forests and houses. They would be wilder and with people.
|Natural forest & rough grazing in Strathspey|
The results of rewilding, on whatever scale, will surprise us. Some wildlife will flourish, some will not. Forests will spread in some places, fail in others. Any imagined past won’t be recreated. As I’ve written before we can’t do that and shouldn’t try. Starting rewilding by removing grazing pressure, introducing once native wildlife and, if necessary, planting and fencing trees is the most management that should be done. Once the process is underway, leave it be.
How far rewilding will spread and how long it will take it’s impossible to say. But every little sign of it should be encouraged. We need nature. Nature needs us.
For a somewhat different take on the current rewilding debate see this excellent piece by Cameron McNeish on the Walk Highlands site.