An urbanite goes rewilding: What to expect from a Conservation Week: 3rd June 2015, by Stuart Rodger


Last week, I took a break from from the never-ending whirr of modern life and replaced digital tweets with real ones: taking a trip up to Glen Moriston, west of Loch Ness, to participate in a Trees for Life Conservation Week.

With a 250 year time-span, Trees for Life aims to restore the ancient Caledonian Forest, rewilding 1000 square miles and restoring vast tracts of the Scottish Highland’s to its former ecological glory.

I came across this organization by reading George Monbiot on the subject of rewilding. It has fundamentally changed the way I see the Scottish and British countryside. Before, I had assumed that its cragged, rugged barreness was its natural state. Far from it. Left untouched, it would be as rich and ecologically vibrant as anything else around the world. And I say around the world deliberately: Monbiot argues that every continent on earth has had a mega-fauna. When Trafalgar Square was excavated, it was found to contain the bones of everything from lions to hippos.

But there is a fundamental problem in the Scottish Highlands (and I should point out that I am new to the politics of the countryside: anything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt). Deer numbers are kept artificially high by human-feeding through the winter, for the purposes of deer-hunting throughout the rest of the year. The problem is, deer feed on the seedling trees, meaning that, over time, forests cannot regenerate and grow. To compound the problem, moors are burned – literally burned! – to keep the area clear for hunting. And nor does it help that 50% of Scotland’s land is owned by 432 people, many of whom will receive subsidies from the EU, on the condition that the land is kept clear of ‘unwanted vegetation’.

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