Could wolves return to the Highlands?

Major conservation body John Muir Trust backs plans to bring wolves back to Scotland 


The John Muir Trust has stated there is ‘no ecological reason’ why wolves could not return to the Scottish Highlands, and is backing re-wilding projects that could one day see a return of the predators.

Wolves have not been present in the UK since they were hunted to extinction in the 1700s, but their range is expanding elsewhere in Europe, and rural communities are benefiting from ecotourism brought by the wolf’s presence. Mike Daniels, head of land and science at the John Muir Trust, wrote in the organisation’s latest journal that, “There’s no ecological reason why wolves couldn’t come back – we have the climate, the habitat and the food. The weight of evidence suggests that the absence of the wolf has had a profound effect, impoverishing our ecosystems. Culturally, though, we have distanced ourselves from the wolf, demonising it beyond rational or logical argument.”

David Hetherington, ecology advisor at the Cairngorms National Park, added that, “If we adopt a bigger, more ambitious approach then we’re saying we want something better for our landscapes than keeping them in their degraded state. We can transform them into more vibrant places for both nature and people.”

However, since there are currently no native populations, the presence of wolves in the Highlands would have to be through a re-introduction project, which would mean creating enough suitable habitat to sustain a population. Paul Lister, owner of the Alladale Estate, has proposed to introduce up to 12 of the animals on his land.

Mike Daniels also referred to research done by a joint group of scientists from the US, Europe and Australia that suggested the loss of top predators caused ‘an environmental three similar to climate change.’ Since the re-introduction of wolves to the Yellowstone National Park in the USA, the ‘trophic cascade‘ – that is, the impact of one species on the whole ecosystem – has been shown to affect both vegetation and waterways.


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