By Donald Scott
Scottish landowner plans to bring back wolves and bears
A millionaire landowner is drawing up plans to introduce bears and wolves to his sprawling Scottish estate.
Paul Lister, heir to the MFI furniture fortune, is pushing ahead with his plan to create the unusual wildlife reserve on his 23,000 of land in Sutherland. The animal enthusiast introduced elk and wild boar to the Alladale Estate on a temporary trial basis before reverting to less unusual stock such as Highland cattle. But he has faced opposition from farmers, walkers and legal experts over his new plan of bringing in wolves and bears.
Since buying the estate ten years ago, Mr Lister has overseen the planting of more than 800,000 native trees and has launched conservation schemes to protect native species which are under threat such as the Scottish wildcat and red squirrel.
He has now pledged to carry out his more ambitious wildlife plans by building a massive fence enclosing a 50,000-acre plot where the predators would be free to roam. Speaking to BBC Scotland, he said:
“We’re going to do a feasibility study on the big vision and the vision is to have a minimum area of 50,000 acres, have a fence around it, and bring back wolves and bears into that area. We’ll assess the socio-economic impact that will have and also the environmental impact. The presence of these large predators really changes the landscape for the benefit of nature. We’re talking about maybe two packs of 10 wolves, maybe a dozen bears. These animals create the environment. It’s not humans who create the environment, it’s nature.”
Mr Lister will either need to buy more land or enlist the support of other local landowners to make his dream of creating the massive enclosure a reality. Drew McFarlane-Slack, of Scottish Land and Estates landowners’ organisation, urged caution over the plans. He said:
“We would support what Mr Lister is doing in terms of peatland restoration, work with red squirrels and Scottish wildcats, which are native animals. But the reintroduction of big carnivores would require great care and it’ll be many years before we can get to a point where there could be a general release of these.”
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States in 1995. Wildlife expert, Roy Dennis, who is based in the Highlands believes Scotland could follow suit. He said:
"Many of us now go on holiday to Italy, Spain and France and what have they got there? They’ve got wolves and they’ve got lynx and they’ve got bears. But you don’t feel frightened walking in the Pyrenees. It’s just something we’ve got in our heads and that’s why we don’t want it to happen."
Mr Lister could also face legal challenges over the plans. Malcolm Combe, of the Rural Law Research Group at the University of Aberdeen, said the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gives everyone a right of responsible access over most of the land and inland water in Scotland, which could create issues for the reintroduction of dangerous predators. Mr Combe said:
"Although landowners have a certain margin of appreciation as to how to manage their land, management activities cannot unreasonably interfere with access takers exercising their rights responsibly. Given the large area involved, it seems possible that any scheme at Alladale that has the effect of restricting access to the whole area could be subjected to a legal challenge."
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