Should we reminisce about the past or recreate it?

Do those who yearn for the reintroduction of top predator species to Scotland really believe it will benefit conservation efforts? Alternatively, are they just hoping to live in their nostalgic, idealised dream of an historic Scotland? Rewilding is a concept that is gaining traction across Scotland, where there have been calls for the reintroduction of wolves and lynx. It is a hugely contentious topic around the world, following successful reintroductions of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA, where wolves have regulated elk populations. They have also allowed the reintegration of beavers, by stopping elk from churning up streams and riverbanks.

Advocates of rewilding in Scotland argue that wolves and lynx could help regulate populations of red deer, which have been running rampant in recent times, leading to calls for massive culls. The argument has even extended to the reestablishment of extinct species, such as the Woolly Mammoth and the Dodo, but that is a discussion for another blog post. At the Conservation Science Poster Conference fourth year Ecological and Environmental Science student Chris gave us his thoughts on rewilding.

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Only 1600s kids will understand the beauty of a wolf on a Highland landscape

Chris used the white tailed eagle’s reintroduction in Western Scotland as an example of a mainly successful local reintroduction of a top predator. Haliaeetus albicilla, also known as the British sea eagle, was first released on the Isle of Rum between 1975 and 1985 (after two failed small introductions in the 1950s and 60s). There have since been two other release phases (1993-98 and 2007-2012). Once released, most eagles departed Rum and many have taken up residence on the Isle of Mull, attracting numerous bird-watching tourists. There has been some human-wildlife conflict, particularly amongst sheep farmers, who claim the eagles have been attacking lambs, but on the whole their return has been received well. Some sheep farmers have even reported injuries to eagles found on their land.

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A soaring white-tailed sea eagle – Image courtesy of Yathin S Krishnappa

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The results of using a poisoned lamb carcass as bait – Image courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland

The take home message from Chris’ presentation was that, whilst rewilding is a form of conservation that is exciting and captures the imagination of the general public, more transparent discourse should be used by rewilding organisations to prevent misunderstandings upon the reintroduction of certain species. Whilst the white-tailed sea eagle was billed as “a scavenger with importance for Scotland’s tourism” which would have a minimal impact on Scottish sheep faming, sheep farmers have been compensated for significant economic losses. There should also be more community involvement in rewilding schemes, as local stakeholders can be key to the success of reintroduction schemes, as they can either sabotage conservation efforts (as shown by Raptor Persecution Scotland’s photo above) or be a key factor in a scheme’s success. It is therefore vital that we treat local stakeholders with the importance and respect that they deserve.

Further reading:

Arts, K., Fischer, A. and van der Wal, R. (2012). Common stories of reintroduction: A discourse analysis of documents supporting animal reintroductions to Scotland. Land Use Policy, 29(4), pp.911-920.

 

By Nick

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