A LEADING conservation organisation has backed the reintroduction of wolves to Scotland.
The John Muir Trust has claimed there is “no ecological reason” why the species should not return to the Highlands.
Wolves were hunted to extinction in the 1700s and their reintroduction has sparked a controversial debate in recent years.
In particular, landowner Paul Lister has proposed introducing up to a dozen wolves on his Alladale Estate in Sutherland.
Mike Daniels, the trust’s head of land and science, gave the conservation body’s support to the idea in the latest edition of the charity’s journal which discusses the wider issue of rewilding in Scotland.
He said: “The most potent symbol of rewilding is undoubtedly the wolf. There’s no ecological reason why wolves couldn’t come back – we have the climate, the habitat and the food.
“The weight of evidence suggests that the absence of the wolf has had a profound effect, impoverishing our ecosystems.
“Culturally, though, we have distanced ourselves from the wolf, demonising it beyond rational or logical argument. Many are afraid of the ‘big bad wolf’ even though they are far more likely to be harmed by their pet dogs (or indeed their horses) than by any wolf, if it were present.
He added that in most of the rest of Europe, where the wolf is returning, the majority of people seem pleased or proud to have it back.
He said: “From Poland to Portugal, wolf ecotourism is growing as rural communities cash in on the appeal that this wildest of carnivores has for many people.
“Of course, not everyone is enamoured. In Sweden, when the courts recently overturned a proposal to cull 30 wolves, farmers and hunters claimed that their way of life was threatened to such an extent that civil unrest was possible.
“Our relationship with the wolf runs deep in our ancestral make up, and there’s no doubt our natural history and our wild land is profoundly entwined with this key predator. What the future holds though is much less certain.”
Wolves were driven to extinction by persecution and hunting. Chieftains and royalty led some of the hunting parties.
One attended by Queen Mary in 1563 employed 2,000 Highlanders and ended in the deaths of five wolves and 360 deer.
The remains of a wolf trap have also been found at Moy, near Inverness, dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Animals killed near Brora, in Sutherland, in 1700 and another at Findhorn, in Moray, in 1743 were among Scotland’s last.
JMT said that over the next few months it hoped to stimulate debate on returning areas to more natural states.
Chief executive Stuart Brooks said the charity wanted to help develop a practical vision on rewilding.
Rewilding includes controlling grazing by domestic and wild animals so native trees and plants can flourish.