Time to See the Bigger Picture TGO?

I’ve particularly enjoyed the current issue of TGO (October). I’ve found the contents of the last few a bit thin, but this is a definite return to form. But I’m really not sure about Cameron’s editorial.

Cameron is concerned about a new venture by multi millionaire Paul Lister who is seeking to re-introduce a number of once native animals back into Scotland on his 23,000 acre Highland estate. Lister has a reputation for this kind of work and his efforts through this project are to be followed, closely, by the BBC. The project will see the re-introduction of some controversial animals, namely, wolves and bears. A security fence will be installed around the outskirts of the estate and it is this fence that Cameron takes offence to. Cameron is worried that this runs against the spirit of Scotland’s Land Access legislation and, of course, he may have a point. But there is an even bigger issue – and point of principle – at issue here that, I believe, the outdoor world should be more sympathetic to.

Back when Scotland was a natural wilderness – before it was cleared of both wildlife and local residents – it was a very different place to now. The animals that Lister is to work with were naturally at home in Scotland: beavers, wild boar, elk, bears, wolves and lynx all roamed this Highlands quite freely. Man has eliminated them, defoliated the landscape and has left us with not much except a few sheep and far too many dear. Anyone who doubts this should look at the fauna section of Hostile Habitats – there’s not really much listed here at all!

This isn’t, of course, simply a problem for Scotland and the UK. Similar animals have been cleared in a similar way throughout much of the world, especially in Europe. But across Europe there are now well established initiatives to re-set the balance and to re-introduce these animals back into their old habitats. In Scotland we’ve seen a similar move in relation to the Caledonian Forests. A number of wonderful folk are working hard to re-establish the traditional forests that were needlessly cleared to make way for sheep which – mostly – didn’t adapt properly to the hill, or which turned out to be a no too economic proposition for farming.

Re-introducing animals is not without controversy wherever it is done. For example, brown bears from eastern Europe are being released into the French Pyrenees against much opposition from local farmers. Every now and then this programme is highlighted as a group of local farmers manage to kill on of the bears. But the re-settlement programme goes on. Gaining the trust of local people is as much about part of the project as is managing the wildlife. In our press we tend to hear more about this confrontation and the resulting disasters but, for example, the bears seem to be doing better on the Spanish side of the border with far less fuss. And of course, you can see similar exercises throughout the world, not least in Africa where Lister gained his inspiration.

The UK of course – even including Scotland – is a difficult proposition. Land owners are often wealthier and more powerful; they are certainly more conservative. And although the question of the re-introduction of wolves comes around reasonably regularly, local farmers and landowners have proven to be difficult to convince.

The re-introduction of these animals will change things. Beavers, while offering a lot in terms of flood prevention, create large lake systems that change the look and feel of the land. Wolves will occasionally take farm animals.

But wouldn’t it be great to see beavers at work in the Highlands? Wouldn’t a TGO Challenge be made all the better for hearing a wolf crying out in the dead of night? These are some of the great experiences to be had in walking in wilderness all over the world. But they’re just as natural to us as they are to the US, for example.

In reality it is going to be far more difficult to construct similar re-introduction schemes in Scotland, simply because of the power and prejudice of humans again.

And so, it may well be the initiatives like those of Lister are going to be critical in convincing people that it is both safe and practical to re-introduce these species back to Scotland. A fence is a necessity otherwise nothing would ever get off the ground.

I admit, there is something a bit un-nerving about this being done by a multi-millionnaire. But then philanthropy does give much to the world – think of the Rowntrees and the Cadburys and – in modern day – the work that Bill and Melissa Gates do throughout the world.

Cameron writes “.. Lister chooses to ignore Scotland’s traditions of open access”.


Scotland’s “traditions” represent no more than a a blink in the eye on the timeline of the Highlands. In trying to restore a truer, natural balance – one which reflects genuine wilderness – there is a place for experiments like this.

This experiment may be a great success or it may fail. But to condemn it outright seems to me to be an act of selfishness.

Hillwalkers must be champions of the natural wilderness and natural wildlife. And in the great scheme of things maybe we should see such a fence as a natural sacrifice.

I doubt that we are suddenly going to see a rush of such schemes, devilishly created to keep us walkers out!

I shall be watching this experiment closely and with a great deal of interest. In the UK – and in Scotland – it seems that such an experiment has an important role to play in establishing the viability of re-introduction programmes.

I’m not an animal rights nutter. But we humans were the problem. We should be more tolerant of those who seek solutions.


  1. I agree with Cameron – only I’d have put it more strongly. I am completely in favour of the reintroduction of once native animals, including wolves. I am completely opposed to fenced safari parks in the Highlands. if Lister’s fence is built it should be torn down immediately. If he tries to restrict access I for one will not accept this and will continue to climb Seana Bhraigh and walk on the estate. There is no reason why land cannot be restored and wildlife reintroduced without restricting access.

    The area Lister wants to turn into a safari park is badly over-grazed and needs much forest regeneration, which can be done without fencing or restricting access.

  2. This is not a straightforward issue and there are arguments on each side. I would argue Scotland clearly does have a tradition of access and a long record of challenging landowners when they try to restrict that.

    The present government in Scotland are compromised because they are in hoc to Souter and his riches. Hence the reluctance of the SNP to take action in the face of recent court decision. The sooner this lame duck administration is brought down the sooner access in Scotland in accordance with the parliament’s wishes will be restored.

  3. Hi Andy

    I too would love to see the reintroduction of Britain’s original native wild animals, but the idea that a large fence around the estate is required to do this is too big a step for me to take.

    When you take a look at the Alladale website, it seems to me that the people who will benefit from the re-introduction will be the ‘ideal 12’ who rent the upmarket shooting lodge for their corporate or very well-off family events. Everyone else will be excluded.

    I take this to mean that this is not so much a wonderful piece of altruism, rather it is a wonderful piece of selfish business interests masquerading as altruism.

    Should this opportunistic maveric continue with his plans for a super fence syrrounding his fiefdom, I for one shall plan my next Land’s End to John O’Groats, walking through his fences with my wire cutters.

  4. I don’t think it’s altuism – but I think it’s a littel more complicated than you all suggest if we take this subject seriously.

    I for one will wait and see a little.

    This is a scientific project – just how good we shall see.

    Thats all 🙂

    Woke you all up though 🙂

  5. Humphrey Weightman says

    Back in the early ’90’s Yellowstone Park ran a successful programme to re-introduce wolves. They had the advantage of having a diverse native food-chain in situ, and succesfully countered the understandable concerns of ranchers on the park environs. The programme initially constrained the animals within a ten-acre fenced area, but as soon as the pack structure was established the barriers were removed. There was no long-term impact on visitors to the National Park, and no access restrictions.

    I was brought up in country, I live in a region that recognises the value of activities that may not sit well with urban dwellers. I ride. I’ve hunted foxes. I’ve had numerous conversations with ghillies, gamekeepers and factors, many of whom have suggested, without prompting, that the re-introduction of wolves north of the Great Glen would benefit the health of the deer herd. None of these men and women, however, have voiced the slightest support for enclosures. All have recognised that free access to the hills works to the benefit of all, and that there is a communality amongst all of us who benefit from this mighty resource.

    Many of us who have, for example, passed through the Modadliath in recent years, or further west, in the region of Roshven or the western reaches of Glen Affric, will have noticed the substantial increase in the deer herd. Many of these animals are in poor health, surving only on account of mild winters.

    Possibly the re-introduction of predators might address the health of the herd. But this line of thought is long way from a posited safari park.

    I am entirely with Alan and Chris Townsend on this matter. In Scotland we have a people’s right of access which scarcely obtains in any other country.

    I’ll give out a howl for that….

  6. I don’t think it’s a scientific project, I think it’s a badly thought-out arrogant project by someone who thinks their wealth means they can do what they like. The chance of him actually getting permission to build his fence is remote. The proposal has been around for a few years now. I wrote about it in my blog on August 15 and said of Seana Bhraigh that “A fence up here would be an insult to nature”.

  7. I’m with Chris/Cameron on this one. From what I understand you would have to pay for access to this land which for me is totally unacceptable.

  8. You’ll note that I started my piece with the words, “I’m really not sure …”.

    And I’m still not sure despite your thoughtful arguments.

    To do this kind of re-settlement will mean a change in the order of things to some extent and for some time. Disruption would be inevitable.

    Do we condemn someone because he is a millionaire or because he has a PR machine? I’d like to think we should really but perhaps that’s just a bit silly!

    I’m just thinking things are not as straight forward and as simple as we think.

    But maybe a better place to start is with principle.

    Do we think that the re-settlement of place with traditional species is something to aim for?

    If the answer is yes then there should be a debate about methodology.

    Chris, is this really not scientific? Is this just the work of pure ego?

    And if there is no chance of this ever happening what was the editorial all about?

    Bad and silly schemes are of no interest to me. And I don’t care about the whims and fancies of the rich. But I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss things upfront and outright.

    I shall have to go off and do some research of my own. The editorial – I felt – was quick to condemn and didn’t seek to address the scientific or philosophical issues.

    That’s why I say I’m still not sure ….

  9. R Webb says

    It looks as if the pessimists above were right. Jurassic Park is to generate a side effect – a huge no go zone which will generate a lot of income. Hats off to a genius at work – this is good business. Now our task, as guardians of freedom and the law is to stop Lister getting away with this grab.

  10. Here we go again!

    Lister has to go through proper legal channels and no doubt his ideas will be scrutinised very thoroughly. His scheme does not break the law – but he needs permission under it.

    I met a guy last week – a South African – who was very involved in re-wilding. He was ranting about the opposition to the scheme. I raised the usual objections. He told me that you could still have access through the site via, a deer fence type arrangement. Does anyone know if this is true?


  1. […] I read Cameron McNeish’s editorial in TGO a while ago about the Alladale Wilderness Reserve that’s being proposed by a millionaire landowner in the northern highlands. Then I read Andy Howell’s thoughts on the matter. […]

Write in the box and the login details will suddenly appear!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.