ECOLOGIST www.fenton.scot James H C Fenton
* NEW * Note: My website address has changed to www.fenton.scot This is because after Brexit the .eu domain name will no longer be valid. The old address was www.james-hc-fenton.eu
The liberation of rewilding In my New Paradigm publication of 2011 I said the following of ‘rewilding’:  “Rewilding is about letting natural processes determine the direction of ecological change and, before the evolution of humans, was the only option available to the planet! It is the antithesis of the prescriptive ‘compartment approach’ to landscape management. Ecological outcomes are left undefined (dependent on the whims of nature). What happens, happens! “Owing to the perception that the Highlands are an anthropogenically damaged landscape, and ‘should be wooded’, it is also used in many quarters to mean ‘putting back trees in the landscape’. However, if trees would not naturally be part of the landscape, then adding trees, together with associated woodland species, is not rewilding. If woodland declined naturally, then so would the associated obligate woodland species (e.g. red squirrels, capercailzie) – some to extinction – a natural process. “Rewilding is about ensuring that all the naturally occurring species are present, so reintroduction of species lost through human action is a key part of the concept. Without doubt wolves died out in Scotland through persecution, so reintroduction of these is a key part of rewilding (but only where they would naturally be present, which is not everywhere, e.g. islands).” If the Scottish Highlands are mostly ‘wild’ already, they cannot be ‘rewilded’. In some places, and some periods since 1750, introduced sheep have replaced the indigenous red deer: however this is unlikely to have made much difference to the overall vegetation pattern as the grazing impact of sheep and red deer are similar: in any case, the main pattern of vegetation was laid down pre-1750, in the era before sheep were introduced and before we started to manage the Highlands. I find ‘rewilding’ a very liberating concept, if taken to mean the way the Scottish Highlands were managed pre-1750 (i.e. not managed!). Before 1750 no-one worried about whether the mountain landscape was ‘overgrazed’ or ‘undergrazed’, whether there were ‘too few trees’ or ‘too many’, whether heather was common or rare in a given location, whether peat was eroding or not, whether a given species was declining or expanding. And look what we have inherited from this approach: one of the most natural areas remaining in Europe! Why does it suddenly now need managing, except to fulfil our own human wishes? If we can let go of our desired outcomes, or to use modern parlance, the desire for a given habitat to be in a given condition, and not worry whether grazing is high or low – in other words just let it truly be wild, with nature deciding –  then this is both relaxing and liberating! In the Highlands all we then have to concentrate on is the minimisation of the impact of introduced species (although this is not very relaxing!) and the ever-increasing encroachment of human infrastructure into our cherished hills. If only all the current ‘rewilding’ effort in the Highlands were concentrated in the Lowlands, then wildlife might be better-off…
A View from Argyll James Fenton’s perspective on current conservation issues Click here for previous blogs
* NEW * LOSS OF WILDNESS 250 years of encroachment into the Scottish hills I have an article in the current issue of Wild Land News (issue 94) analysing the long term attrition of the wildness of the hills. You can access the article here.  Wild Land News is the newsletter of the Scottish Wild Land Group.