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How this charity is ‘rewilding’ Scotland

In the last few years, the term ‘rewilding’ has been discussed more frequently. So what exactly does it mean? And why’s it so important in the fight against climate change?

“Rewilding is anything that counteracts more de-wilding,” says Peter Cairns. Peter is the Executive Director at Scotland: The Big Picture, a charity using rewilding as a tool for climate action. “Anything … that joins up and enriches habitat rather than further fragment and degrades them, and anything that leads to more nature.”

Scotland: The Big Picture has been using rewilding to fight climate change for a number of years by freeing up the Scottish landscape for nature to thrive.

Flowering heather moor and scattered pine and birch, Tulloch Moor, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

But, contrary to popular belief, creating room for nature to do its thing in no way means pushing out people. In fact, creating rewilding sites across Scotland has resulted in more jobs for people in local communities, helping people, as well as our planet.

“If you look at Scotland in particular, that land use pattern for the last 200 years has been farming, forestry, fishing and field sports. It’s the four Fs,” says Peter. “I understand that they have cultural significance, they have some economic significance. But … that model is not sustainable in the long term.

“We’ve got to reinvent the rural economy, or at least allow it to adapt to changing circumstances. And those circumstances include climate breakdown and global nature loss.”

So what do we need to do to create a more sustainable model of living? Well, that’s where Scotland: The Big Picture is making waves. 

Rewilding isn’t about cordoning off a plot of land and leaving it be – there’s much work that needs to be done before we can get to that point. The way to think about it, is as though the world we live in is one, big living organism.

“And … we’ve damaged that living organism. So at the moment we have to intervene – to patch it up as it were,” explains Peter, of the overall rewilding process. “But once that living organism is capable of living of its own accord, so to speak, you let it do it. And letting go … letting nature have its head as it were, is quite challenging for a lot of people.” 

Early morning mist over Rothiemurchus forest in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

As part of the process of patching up our world, Scotland: The Big Picture is working to right the wrongs that humans committed centuries ago. One of the steps they are taking to do this is reintroducing native species that were once driven to extinction in Scotland.

Scotland: The Big Picture are working to bring these species back to life within the Scottish countryside, including putting out feelers to bring home the Eurasian Lynx. Headway was made on reintroducing Cairngorms Cranes – though sadly, due to the outbreak of avian flu across the UK, their return has been delayed.

As to the question of what rewilding ‘looks’ like – now, and in the future? That’s a complicated question to answer. The truth is, there isn’t an answer because rewilding is not a process with an end.

Like a wind up toy, rewilding is something that we, as humans, can get started, but at a certain point we must learn to let it go. The whole point of rewilding, says Scotland: The Big Picture, is to let nature take its course, and bring new, ungoverned life back into the world

“We’re trained to in our heads to kind of design an ideal landscape,” says Peter. “But the point about rewilding [is] … you’re intervening in the early years to capitalise on the natural process which will shape the landscape. In other words, it’s not what I envisage to be an ideal landscape. It’s what nature will do.”

He adds: “If not rewilding, then what? And if not, now, then when? Because change does have to happen.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

Image credit: Scotland: The Big Picture