New centre will act as gateway to the wild outdoors - Doug Gilbert

Rewilding has become one of the most talked about initiatives over the past few years. Often trending on social media, it is one of the most searched for words online when it comes to saving nature in the UK, particularly in Scotland.

Trees for Life trainees Angus Crawley and Grymmsy Robinson (right) plant a Rowan tree during the official breaking of ground to mark the beginning of the construction of the world’s first rewilding centre at Trees for Life’s 10,000-acre Dundreggan estate near Loch Ness.

But rewilding – large-scale nature restoration – has way more substance than a trend. With huge potential for tackling the overlapping nature and climate emergencies, it benefits people in all sorts of ways.

So fortunately for all of us, rewilding is here to stay. The UK, one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, is increasingly embracing exciting rewilding projects. These range from expanding native woodlands and protecting peatlands to growing wild gardens and developing greener cities.

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Trees for Life officially broke ground to mark the start of construction of the world’s first rewilding centre at the 10,000-acre Dundreggan estate near Loch Ness back in summer 2021. This free-to-access centre will act as the gateway to a 10,000-acre forest and wild outdoors, where there will be accessible trails, child-friendly forest adventures and more adventurous routes for the avid hillwalker.

The Juniper walk at Dundreggan.

Guests will be welcomed into the Centre to experience rewilding for themselves, whether this is from a casual visit while passing through, to immersive experiences. We have been working with nature and rewilding at Dundreggan since 2008. We can’t wait to share this stunning part of the Highlands with the public in 2023 when we officially open.

Rewilding offers hope and the opportunity to give nature (and us) a fighting chance, bringing it back to life, saving wildlife, tackling climate breakdown, and offering new opportunities for rural communities. It’s about moving from nature protection to recovery and restoration.

But what are the fundamental secrets to rewilding success? And why is it so important to our future?

Put simply, rewilding involves giving more space and time to nature. It reverses environmental decline by providing wildlife with the freedom to flourish and allows habitats to regenerate naturally. This is why one of the most important tasks to undertake when considering rewilding is analysing the ecosystem. Only when we have a thorough understanding of the land and space we want to rewild can we start to ensure our natural heritage is safeguarded for generations to come.

The second secret? It’s us, people. Ensuring that projects are locally led, with the local community and farmers being as engaged and involved as possible, is key.

People are at the heart of rewilding, to make it happen and to enjoy its benefits. So we want to enthuse, inspire and inform people of all ages and from all walks of life. Rewilding brings nature back to life in a way that should excite people, helping connect us with nature – to find peace or adventure, relax or re-energise, explore or rest. Numerous studies show the power of nature in boosting people’s health and wellbeing. It should be a fundamental part of children’s growing up.

Our team at Dundreggan are all locally based. They are constantly organising tours and welcoming school visits. We include our local community at every stage of our project to develop their relationship with nature, encouraging respect for all species and fostering an environment where we can all learn from the natural world.

And finally, it may sound obvious, but when in the middle of a rewilding project, don’t forget to constantly look ahead to the future. You must look forward in order to assess what challenges nature will face. Only then can we ensure the optimum natural habitats and landscapes for wildlife populations to be rebuilt.

Visitors to Dundreggan Rewilding Centre will journey through a space which will have the feel of a forest throughout, and the entire space has been developed with its Gaelic heritage at its heart.

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. Its volunteers have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites – encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive. You can play your part too, wherever you may be.

Doug Gilbert, Dundreggan Conservation Manager

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