FARMERS have warned of the potential harm that repopulating Scotland with species such as bears, wolves, bison and lynx could cause the industry – including the loss of livestock.
A new campaign charity, called Rewilding Scotland, was launched last week to promote the return of 20 large-scale predators to the land.
But the National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland is concerned that new species will prey on livestock.
Officials are to meet Scotland’s environment minister, Aileen McLeod, in the coming weeks to discuss species management. She is currently deciding on the reintroduction of beavers – something which NFU Scotland has consistently opposed, claiming they are destructive to the landscape.
The union says the Scottish landscape has changed since the days when most of these species roamed the countryside.
Vice-president Andrew McCornick said: “Recent history has taught us that any species introduction can have an impact on the many benefits that the Scottish countryside currently delivers.
“There are now farmers and crofters in some of Scotland’s more remote areas losing lambs on a regular basis to sea eagles.
“There are farmers on Tayside producing food on some of Scotland’s most productive land but seeing their efforts literally undermined by beaver damage to long-established drainage systems and waterways.”
NFU Scotland now wants the Scottish Government and its environment agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), “to step out of the shadows on this debate” and give a clear indication of their stance.
McCornick said: “Farmers are justifiably concerned at what the introduction of predators could mean for their livestock, particularly the sheep kept on Scotland’s hills and uplands. New species will also affect Scotland’s existing biodiversity and ecosystems.
“Scotland’s focus must be on integrating land use and the environment in a balanced way through the conservation of the species that we have. That message must not be lost in headline-grabbing calls to create an imaginary Scottish landscape that hasn’t properly existed for many centuries.
“Such moves could be very damaging – economically and ecologically – to Scotland’s already flourishing environment.”
Susan Wright of Rewilding Scotland said: “These are important keystone species which actually drive ecological processes.”
Des Thompson, from SNH, said a wide range of rewilding projects have already proved successful. He said: “We’re learning from these. It all depends on what you want to do with the landscape. The challenge is having a proper conversation with everyone who has a stake in the countryside.”