Scotland’s rewilding policies have left many people terrified they would be savaged to death by wolves if they were reintroduced in the Scottish Highlands, a leading Scottish wildlife campaigner has said.
Award-winning wildlife photographer and film-maker Peter Cairns, said the Scottish Government and some conservation bodies’ rewilding polices are limited and lack a coherent overall policy.
Whilst rewilding is largely thought of as bringing back species which humans have eradicated from Scotland – such as sea eagles and beavers – it also includes restoring ecosystems like native woodland, wetlands and seashores to allow wildlife and communities to thrive.
Cairns, director of Scotland: The Big Picture, a network of wildlife photographers, filmmakers and writers, will set out the principles for rewilding in a talk tomorrow night for the Fringe By the Sea Festival at North Berwick.
“Rewilding has become synonymous with the return of large carnivores and farmers being kicked off their land as their livestock have been killed.
“Wolves, bears and lynx are spreading across mainland Europe, including the Netherlands and Belgium. They will prosper if left alone, but culturally they get a bad name. Wolves in particular are associated with stories such as Little Red Riding Hood. But most wild animals avoid us.
“The obstacle to bringing them back in Scotland is people, and the scare stories they have been fed in the media, not the animals themselves.”
Cairns has spent three years working with other wildlife film- makers, photographers and writers on a project to inform and change people’s perceptions of rewilding.
“If are going to rewild anything at all we need to move away from the ridiculous approach we have now,” he says.
“Look at how ridiculous the approach to reintroducing beavers, essentially an overgrown water rat, has been.
“There is conservatism and a disjointed approach both at the political level and in some parts of the wildlife sector so that for the past 50 years we’ve tended to save nature bit by bit, selecting some species such as red squirrels, capercaillie or wild cats almost at the exclusion of everything else. Instead we need to take a holistic view involving all species rather than the current system which has patches of protected nature.
“If we want a fully functioning landscape we need all the bits of the jigsaw in place.”
Conservationist Paul Lister, who plans to reintroduce wolves in a 20-acre fenced-in area of his 23,000-acre Alladale wilderness reserve in Sutherland, said: “Wolves are social animals who live in family groups. They’re very nervous and keep their distance.
“They are, for me, the most important carnivore we have. They are in every country in Europe except the UK. The UK has way too many livestock to bring them back unless we want to change our meat-eating habits.”
Andy Wightman MSP, Scottish Greens’ land reform spokesman, said: “Peter Cairns makes an interesting point. It is well recognised that to address climate change Scotland needs to be bold about restoring our ecosystems.
“This can’t be about tokenistic announcements from government. It must be about radical change of the way land is used for the benefit of all and to maximise carbon capture.”
Peter Cairns will give his talk on rewilding at 7:30pm tomorrow night at the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick. See www.fringebythesea.com.