A pack of human ‘wolves’ is being let loose at night in an ancient woodland in the Highlands as part of an innovative new conservation scheme.
Project Wolf is being trialled at Dundreggan estate in Glenmoriston, near Loch Ness. It involves teams of volunteers taking frequent walks through the forest between dusk and dawn and creating enough noise to keep hungry deer on the move.
The unique initiative, launched by conservation charity Trees for Life, aims to mimic the natural disturbance effects of Scotland’s extinct predators.
It is hoped the nighttime activities will stop deer feasting on delicate saplings and allow the forest, a remnant of Scotland’s native Caledonian Pinewood, to regenerate.
“Grazing pressure on young trees by too many deer, today undisturbed by natural predators, is the major threat to Scotland’s native forests,” said charity founder Alan Watson Featherstone.
“This is starkly apparent in the surviving Caledonian Forest, where many remnants consist only of old and dying trees because young trees cannot survive the relentless browsing.
“By walking through Dundreggan’s woodlands at unpredictable times, the volunteers mimic the effect of wolves in keeping deer on their toes and less likely to spend time leisurely eating seedlings and young trees.
“This will encourage new trees to flourish – giving them the chance to form the next generation of forest giants that are desperately needed if the Caledonian Forest is to survive.”
Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life operations manager, added: “Project Wolf is backed by a growing body of research which shows that predators have a much wider impact on their prey than just the animals they manage to hunt and kill.
“In many ways, the fear that the presence of predators generates in prey animals is just as important as their direct impacts.”
As a pay-off for their sleepless nights, wolves have been enjoying the chance to encounter some of the other nocturnal creatures living in the forest, including badgers, pine martens, foxes, owls and bats.
Project Wolf is part-supported by funding the charity received after winning a global conservation competition in March.
Trees For Life’s broader Rewilding the Highlands project, which also involves planting 50,000 native trees and the creation of habitats to offer a lifeline to rare wildlife, won the Alpine category of the 2016 European Outdoor Conservation Association scheme, securing £23,000 as a result of an online public vote.