A herd of red deer stags stand amongst the orange heather and grass in autumn

Rewilding Scotland

A herd of red deer stags stand amongst the orange heather and grass in autumn

Rewilding Scotland

In today's world, you'll have a hard time finding true wilderness. Many of the places that look wild are actually severely altered and eroded underneath the surface. Scotland is a good example. It’s been voted the world's most beautiful country in a number of polls. There's no denying its beauty, with its crystal clear lochs and sweeping mountain vistas. But, look deeper and you'll find degraded landscapes and fragile ecosystems. Today, pioneering projects across Scotland are working to heal these ecological wounds and restore wilderness to these impressive landscapes. With some of the finest examples in Europe, Scotland is the perfect place to explore the wonderful world of rewilding.

1. An Ancient Wilderness

2. Restoring Ecosystems

3. Reintroducing Species

4. A Wilder Future

In today's world, you'll have a hard time finding true wilderness. Many of the places that look wild are actually severely altered and eroded underneath the surface. Scotland is a good example. It’s been voted the world's most beautiful country in a number of polls. There's no denying its beauty, with its crystal clear lochs and sweeping mountain vistas. But, look deeper and you'll find degraded landscapes and fragile ecosystems. Today, pioneering projects across Scotland are working to heal these ecological wounds and restore wilderness to these impressive landscapes. With some of the finest examples in Europe, Scotland is the perfect place to explore the wonderful world of rewilding.

1. An Ancient Wilderness

2. Restoring Ecosystems

3. Reintroducing Species

4. A Wilder Future

An Ancient Wilderness

Historically, much of Scotland was covered in forest. The Romans even gave it the name Caledonia, meaning 'wooded heights'. Swathes of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen and juniper covered the landscape and gave life to the vast Caledonian pinewood. The Celtic rainforest on the west coast was home to spectacular oak and birch trees that grew from a rich green carpet of mosses, ferns and lichens. Lush meadows, thriving wetlands and peat bogs, and vibrant dunes and coastal habitats flourished. Scotland's most iconic and rare wildlife, like the capercaillie and wildcat, were widespread and they lived alongside a diversity of species no longer found here. Lynx, wolves and wild boar once roamed this wild landscape. Since then, a combination of deforestation, overgrazing, persecution and climate change has transformed Scotland into a shadow of its former self. It has lost huge expanses of forest and many species have disappeared altogether.  

The black water of forest loch  surrounded by Scots pine and broadleaf trees

An Ancient Wilderness

Historically, much of Scotland was covered in forest. The Romans even gave it the name Caledonia, meaning 'wooded heights'. Swathes of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen and juniper covered the landscape and gave life to the vast Caledonian pinewood. The Celtic rainforest on the west coast was home to spectacular oak and birch trees that grew from a rich green carpet of mosses, ferns and lichens. Lush meadows, thriving wetlands and peat bogs, and vibrant dunes and coastal habitats flourished. Scotland's most iconic and rare wildlife, like the capercaillie and wildcat, were widespread and they lived alongside a diversity of species no longer found here. Lynx, wolves and wild boar once roamed this wild landscape. Since then, a combination of deforestation, overgrazing, persecution and climate change has transformed Scotland into a shadow of its former self. It has lost huge expanses of forest and many species have disappeared altogether.  

The black water of forest loch  surrounded by Scots pine and broadleaf trees

Restoring Ecosystems

Today, things are beginning to change once again, this time for the better. Baby Scots pine are recolonizing ecological deserts, red squirrels and pine martens are moving back into lost territory, and rare wildflowers and blaeberry are growing strong in patches of relict pinewood. These changes are being brought about by pioneering rewilding projects across Scotland. Initiatives like Trees for Life and Cairngorms Connect are some of the finest examples of habitat restoration in the UK. Private estates like Alladale Wilderness Reserve and Glenfeshie are rejecting traditional deer management, aimed at maximising deer numbers for sport hunting, choosing to dramatically reduce deers numbers in the name of habitat restoration. With extra help from protective fencing and active planting, tree seedlings now carpet these glens once more.

Stands of Scots pine surround an opening of clear, still lochs
Stands of Scots pine surround an opening of clear, still lochs

Restoring Ecosystems

Today, things are beginning to change once again, this time for the better. Baby Scots pine are recolonizing ecological deserts, red squirrels and pine martens are moving back into lost territory, and rare wildflowers and blaeberry are growing strong in patches of relict pinewood. These changes are being brought about by pioneering rewilding projects across Scotland. Initiatives like Trees for Life and Cairngorms Connect are some of the finest examples of habitat restoration in the UK. Private estates like Alladale Wilderness Reserve and Glenfeshie are rejecting traditional deer management, aimed at maximising deer numbers for sport hunting, choosing to dramatically reduce deers numbers in the name of habitat restoration. With extra help from protective fencing and active planting, tree seedlings now carpet these glens once more.

Reintroducing Species

Habitat restoration is a huge part of the rewilding movement in Scotland, but it's not all. Considerable efforts are being made to conserve existing populations of wildcats, pine martens and other rare species. Through reintroductions, previously absent species, like the sea eagle, are making a comeback. Now, we must embrace a new way of thinking about apex predators, like lynx and wolves, and ecosystem engineers, like the beaver. To restore full ecosystem health, we must be open to the possibility of living alongside these species once again.

A beaver sits in a pond and munches on vegetation

Restoring Ecosystems

Habitat restoration is a huge part of the rewilding movement in Scotland, but it's not all. Considerable efforts are being made to conserve existing populations of wildcats, pine martens and other rare species. Through reintroductions, previously absent species, like the sea eagle, are making a comeback. Now, we must embrace a new way of thinking about apex predators, like lynx and wolves, and ecosystem engineers, like the beaver. To restore full ecosystem health, we must be open to the possibility of living alongside these species once again.

A beaver sits in a pond and munches on vegetation

A Wilder Future

Today, Scotland's land and ocean habitats are already a little bit wilder and that's worth celebrating. But, we must do more. With such wonderful changes already happening, there really is no better time to join the movement than now. If you’d like to see beavers back in Scotland’s rivers, wildcats denning in pine forests and ospreys patrolling the skies, you’re in good company. A wilder future for Scotland is entirely possible and, together, we can make it happen.

A wildcat peers at the camera among the green grass and yellow flowers

A Wilder Future

Today, Scotland's land and ocean habitats are already a little bit wilder and that's worth celebrating. But, we must do more. With such wonderful changes already happening, there really is no better time to join the movement than now. If you’d like to see beavers back in Scotland’s rivers, wildcats denning in pine forests and ospreys patrolling the skies, you’re in good company. A wilder future for Scotland is entirely possible and, together, we can make it happen.

A wildcat peers at the camera among the green grass and yellow flowers

Sources & further reading

  1. ✅ for peer reviewed research
  2.  
  3. 1. “Rewilding–a new paradigm for nature conservation in Scotland?” – C Brown, R McMorran, MF Price 2011 – Scottish Geographical Journal – Vol. 127, Issue 4 – tandfonline.com 
  4.  
  5. 2. “Rooting for Rewilding: Quantifying Wild Boar’s Sus scrofa Rooting Rate in the Scottish Highlands” – CJ Sandom, J Hughes, DW Macdonald 2013 – Restoration Ecology – Vol. 21, Issue 3 –  Wiley Online Library
  6.  
  7. 3. “Divergent visions of wildness and naturalness in a storied landscape: Practices and discourses of rewilding in Scotland’s wild places” – H Deary, CR Warren 2017 – Journal of Rural Studies – Vol. 54 –  Science Direct 
  8.  
  9. 4. “The Guardian view on rewilding Scotland: an immodest proposal” The Guardian 2019 – theguardian.com
  10.  
  11. 5. Scottish beavers spur debate on ‘rewilding’ of British landscapes” – The Financial Times 2015 – ft.com

✅ for peer reviewed research

      1. 1. “Rewilding–a new paradigm for nature conservation in Scotland?” – C Brown, R McMorran, MF Price 2011 – Scottish Geographical Journal – Vol. 127, Issue 4 – tandfonline.com 
      2.  
      3. 2. “Rooting for Rewilding: Quantifying Wild Boar’s Sus scrofa Rooting Rate in the Scottish Highlands” – CJ Sandom, J Hughes, DW Macdonald 2013 – Restoration Ecology – Vol. 21, Issue 3 –  Wiley Online Library
      4.  
      5. 3. “Divergent visions of wildness and naturalness in a storied landscape: Practices and discourses of rewilding in Scotland’s wild places” – H Deary, CR Warren 2017 – Journal of Rural Studies – Vol. 54 –  Science Direct 
      6.  
      7. 4. “The Guardian view on rewilding Scotland: an immodest proposal” The Guardian 2019 – theguardian.com
      8.  
      9. 5. Scottish beavers spur debate on ‘rewilding’ of British landscapes” – The Financial Times 2015 – ft.com