WOLVES and lynx should be reintroduced to the Highlands as a tourist attraction, according to one of the area’s biggest private landowners.
Paul van Vlissingen, the Dutch businessman who owns the 80,000-acre Letterewe Estate in Wester Ross, said bringing back the wild animals would make Scotland more exciting for visitors and help the country cash in on the booming eco-tourism industry.
Mr Van Vlissingen suggests wolves and lynx could be brought back to deer forests as part of a plan to manage Scotland’s 350,000-strong deer herd more effectively.
Yesterday he published the results of a three-year study costing 300,000, on red deer management which claims traditional culling of deer has failed to properly control their numbers. He recommends creating deer-free zones to help the re-generation of trees and other areas where the animals can roam on wild land.
The landowner, who has lived in Scotland for 25 years, called for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) to re-think their deer strategies for Scotland as a result of the study findings. He said a deer policy should be developed in conjunction with a sheep and land policy as a drop in sheep will increase deer numbers and vice versa.
The distribution of red deer in Scotland has been spreading and numbers rising since the end of the Second World War. Climate changes, a decline in hill sheep numbers, under- culling and changes in habitats have been cited as reasons for the increase.
Mr Van Vlissingen said deer have little impact on most plants, but, "if you want to grow trees you really have no option but to eliminate deer as they cannot co-exist".
He recommends that Scotland is divided into voluntary zones, some with deer and others without: "There will be areas where you want to see re-generation of forests and other areas where you manage deer as part of a concept of wild land.
"In that concept I think wolves and lynx could fit very well - in the last 100 years there are no known cases of anybody being eaten by wolves in Europe and thousands of people live among wolves in Canada and Alaska."
He said the wolves and lynx could be tracked by satellite technology to monitor their movements and a compensation scheme could be set up for any farmers whose sheep are killed by the animals.
He said while wolves and lynx would have little impact on deer numbers, they could boost tourism: "Scotland is losing tourism business to the outside world. There are so many places in the world where you can get a cheap airline ticket to and they are so much more exciting.
"Scotland has to create more excitement than a monster in Loch Ness. There is an enormous eco-tourism industry building up in the world and Scotland is losing out.
"Wolves and lynx would take only five or ten per cent of the deer population, but they would create tremendous excitement for people to come and stalk where there is a good chance to see wolves hunt. That would be wonderful. If you had wolves and lynx you would have excitement."
The move, had it come from another landowner, may have provoked cynicism and suggestions that the introduction of wild animals may be a tactic to stop people gaining access to estates under new proposals.
However Mr Van Vlissingen is well-regarded among access bodies after signing the historic Letterewe Accord ten years ago which outlined guidelines for responsible access to the countryside.
The wolf, which once numbered several thousand in Britain, was hunted to extinction by the middle of the 18th century, while the lynx has not been seen in the country for thousands of years.
But Ro Scott, an advisory officer for SNH, said: "Wolves and lynx are not on our agenda at all."
She said the European Union has been asking member states about the possible re-introduction of long-lost species but only after public consultation. "Given the likely public antipathy towards the introduction of these sort of predators it’s not something we are considering at the moment."
She added: "In terms of deer management there is no substitute for humans being the main predator because we modify the habitats and make the countryside the way it is. It therefore falls on us to control the deer population where it is having an adverse effect."