Rewilding and Repeopling Event

Dave Windle

David Lintern wrote an excellent summary of this conference hosted by the park authority at Boat of Garten in May - see conference summary I am writing about it here to alert people to a possible new threat to our mountain environment. If you have time, please read David's article first.

You will all know about various proposals for rewilding, ranging from Paul Lister's proposal to reintroduce wolves to the more benign reintroduction of beavers in Argyll. I won't elaborate here. My concern is the repeopling.

"Land abandonment is a real and growing issue in Scotland. Overall, there's a consistent move away from agricultural and grazing land use, a decline in crofting and a move towards urbanisation. If the current trajectory continues, there's a 'demographic time-bomb' waiting in the Highlands and Islands, with the number of dependents increased and people of working age down." The growth of places like Inverness and Lochaber disguises the fact that depopulation is ongoing in many villages.

We have all seen abandoned settlements in the Highlands, often the result of the clearances. People belong in the landscape and I would fully support efforts to repopulate some former settlements. However, I can think of many beautiful glens that were formerly inhabited but appear now as unspoilt, where I would not like to see housing estates.

Community Land Scotland has called for a new map of previously inhabited areas, powers to designate and purchase land for settlement and a duty on ministers to consider repopulation of rural areas.

However, community land ownership is not a panacea. The conflict between the Assynt Foundation and SNH and JMT on deer numbers is a good example. This was reported in BBC News and The Herald.

The issue has now been resolved but centred on the Foundation's need to maximise income from deer stalking and the SNH / JMT position on getting deer numbers down to enable regeneration to take place. Communities owning land will have a number of priorities, not just conservation.

David Lintern concludes with "I think we need to approach the subject of rewilding and repeopling with the same sensitivity, the same listening skills, the same empathy. And we need to act and demonstrate by good practice, to help those not convinced by the semantics and those with vested interests see that change is not as frightening as it seems." He’s right.

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