Pioneering Scottish rewilding project among global nominees for recognition by United Nations

A ground-breaking rewilding project stretching across more than 500,000 acres of the Highlands has been earmarked by Scottish and UK ministers for United Nations recognition as a world-leading showcase of work that benefits nature, people and the climate.

Affric Highlands, launched last year, is an ambitious community-focused initiative that intends to create a vast nature recovery area on land stretching from Loch Ness to Glen Shiel, on Scotland’s west coast, over the next three decades.

The biggest project of its kind in the UK, it will involve restoration of forests, peatlands and riverside habitats across the landscape to help save indigenous wildlife from extinction, boost biodiversity, create and sustain new nature-based jobs and support re-peopling of the region.

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Now both the UK and Scottish governments have recommended the scheme should be considered for UN World Restoration Flagship status.

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Competition for the globally prestigious designation is fierce.

Affric Highlands will be competing against more than 400 nominees expected from around the world, with a final shortlist of ten due to be announced later this month.

Led by conservation charity Trees for Life – which is in the process of setting up the world’s first rewilding centre at its conservation estate at Dundreggan, near Glenmoriston – the Affric scheme brings together a wide range of partners to create a bold new vision for the area.

Affric Highlands is an ambitious project that aims to restore nature and habitats across more than 500,000 acres of the Scottish landscape, from Loch Ness to Glen Shiel on the west coast, with wellbeing and economic benefits for local communities, native wildlife and the planet. Picture: Trees for Life

It aims to demonstrate how large-scale nature recovery can improve people’s lives, create new jobs and benefit local communities.

The team has welcomed the move by Scottish and UK leaders.

Steve Micklewright, chief executive of Trees for Life, said: “The huge environmental challenges of the coming decade need to be met with huge ambition.

“Affric Highlands is about scaling up ecological restoration, working collaboratively, and seeing nature as a key ally in tackling climate breakdown.

Native species including the critically endangered Scottish wildcat are set to benefit from the Affric Highlands project, which is being nominated by the Scottish and UK governments as a contender for UN World Restoration Flagship status. Picture: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

“We want to show how nature, local communities and livelihoods can help each other thrive.

“We’re delighted that both the Scottish and UK governments have given Affric Highlands their endorsement for flagship status.

“It’s increasingly clear that rewilding offers hope for nature, climate and people.”

Competition for the globally prestigious UN World Restoration Flagship status is fierce -- Affric Highlands, led by charity Trees for Life, will be competing against more than 400 nominees expected from around the world, with a final shortlist of 10 due to be announced later this month. Picture: Trees for Life

The initiative will include work to regenerate Scotland’s ancient Caledonian forest.

Scottish wildcats, golden eagles, red squirrels, mountain hares, trout, ospreys and otter are among the iconic native wildlife species set to benefit.

Trees for Life is also working with schools, community groups and health and youth services in the area to help shape the direction of Affric Highlands.

Broad community engagement is one of the UN’s key principles for nature recovery.

Stephanie Kiel, Affric Highlands team leader, said: “We are working closely with a range of different landowners and land managers to develop and link up nature restoration projects across the Affric Highlands area, which encompasses Glens Affric, Cannich, Moriston and Shiel.

“People are a central part of this vision, and more resilient ecosystems will support a greater diversity of job opportunities that can help sustain rural communities.

“We are providing the expertise to help restore native woodlands, including through natural regeneration, while returning much-needed trees to the banks of upland streams and rivers to provide vital shade, nutrients and shelter for Scotland’s struggling Atlantic salmon.”

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