Two Global Rewilding Alliance members work together to restore the Scottish Highlands

Oct 5, 2021

Affric Highlands initiative to restore nature will work with local communities in new ways connecting wildlife habitats and building a nature-based economy.

After three years of conversations between local communities and Trees for Life, a local charity and member of the Global Rewilding Alliance, a vast area of the Scottish Highlands stretching between the west coast and Loch Ness is to be rewilded as part of a 30-year project to restore nature.

The Affric Highlands initiative aims to increase connected habitats and species diversity over an area of 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres). Plans include supporting natural reforestation, enhancing river corridors and restoring peat bogs while considering the economic benefits to the community.

Trees for Life is supported by fellow Alliance member, Rewilding Europe, who through their partnership has invested €300,000 ($348,000) and jointly developed a work plan to rewild the area. This is Rewilding Europe’s first UK large-scale rewilded area, one of nine across the continent.

‘The idea of doing it at scale is that you get a much bigger natural response’ – Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life. Photograph: Chris Aldridge/Trees for Life

Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe, said in an article with The Guardian: “Our decision to accept Affric Highlands as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees for Life, its volunteers and its partners. Including this landscape in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.”

“This was once a much more peopled landscape that was rich with wildlife and we think we can find new ways to establish that connection again, today,” said Alan McDonnell, a conservation manager at Trees for Life, and the project leader, in an article feature with The Guardian. “The idea of doing it at scale is that you get a much bigger natural response because you’ve got room for change and dynamism in that landscape.”

The mountain hare (Lepus timidus) is one of the species set to benefit from the rewilding project. Photograph: Mark Hamblin

One of the challenges has been bringing together people reliant on traditional land management practices to work on large-scale landscape restoration. McDonnell has had meetings with around 50 local stakeholders and has been working to break down barriers and communicate with people who might feel skeptical, and to allay the fears of damage to livelihoods that have accompanied other rewilding projects in the UK. In addition to the recovery of the natural landscape, a focus on creating a coexistence corridor for wildlife and people and promoting a nature-based economy have been essential. Our alliance members have worked extensively to understand and support local communities in this restoration project.

“Rewilding is a word that people define differently. For Trees for Life, it’s about the land, and what it can support,” he said. “We’re primarily motivated by the nature that will come with that, but that’s not to say that we don’t value everything that comes with it, so whether it’s opportunities for businesses and job creation, or natural capital and the ability to monetise that, there are a lot of ways we can use land better and increase what it can offer.”

A recent report from Rewilding Britain found rewilding 5% of England could create nearly 20,000 rural jobs, increasing employment by 50% compared with intensive farming.

Similar rewilding projects have failed in the past due to a lack of communication between groups with different interests. Funders backing the £3.4m Welsh Summit to Sea rewilding project withdrew because of insufficient focus on the interests of local people. Rewilding Britain then pulled out, saying there should have been better communication about it being “community led and owned”.

Project leaders believe this restoration effort will be different because it is working with communities in new ways.

 

Read the full article features in The Guardian below:

Planting a vision: why the secret to rewilding success is about people, not trees

Vast area of Scottish Highlands to be rewilded in ambitious 30-year project

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