Rising number of landowners uniting to save Scotland’s wildlife

Increasing numbers of Scottish landowners are joining a chain of rewilding projects to tackle the nature and climate emergencies, and creating new economic opportunities for rural communities.

The Northwoods Rewilding Network is bringing together a diverse group of farms, estates, crofts and community lands, and has more than doubled in size to 28 land partners since its April launch.

The sites now cover more than 7,000 acres between them, and Northwoods aims to grow to at least 10,000 acres within two years.

Operated by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Northwoods was created in response to a growing number of enquiries from landowners keen to contribute to Scotland’s role in reversing global nature loss and tackling climate breakdown, but who needed more knowledge and resources.

One of the Northwoods core rewilding principles is the revitalisation of natural processes such as predator-prey interactions and nutrient cycling – processes that rely on healthy insect populations. (Pictured: Black darter, Sympetrum danae. Scotland Big Picture)

Partnering with small and medium-sized landholdings of 50-1,000 acres, Northwoods is creating a tapestry of nature recovery ‘stepping-stones’ across the landscape, with tailored support being offered to farmers, landowners and land managers.

Most rewilding activity in Scotland is presently limited to large estates and landscape-scale projects. Outside of these initiatives, the challenge of restoring nature and connecting habitats remains. 

“Northwoods is helping a much wider range of land managers play a bigger role in restoring and connecting nature-rich habitats,” said James Nairne, Northwoods’ Project Manager. 

“The levels of interest show that rewilding is increasingly seen as an important way of helping Scotland’s land and seas recover, and delivering a range of positive outcomes for nature and people.”

At several Northwoods sites, Highland cattle are used to replicate the actions of extinct herbivores such as elk and aurochs. They roam freely, helping to break up the ground for new seed growth and providing valuable food for insects with their dung. (Scotland Big Picture)

Research has estimated that only 29 countries out of 218 have lost more biodiversity than the UK, with Scotland faring only slightly better than the UK average.

Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of nature, and goes beyond protecting fragments of nature now left. It restores vibrant living systems across woodlands, peatlands, wetlands, rivers, and at sea, and offers new opportunities for farmers on marginal land. 

Some of the sites include:

Wester Tullochcurran in Perth & Kinross

Rewilding efforts here are being focused around the River Ardle. (Scotland Big Picture)

The owners are replacing conifer plantations and allowing broadleaf woodlands to develop, especially along the banks of the River Ardle, where the trees will provide food and shelter for salmon and trout.

Ardura­ Oak Woodland:

This community forest covers around 500 acres. (Scotland Big Picture)

Ardura is a community forest covering around 500 acres on the Isle of Mull. Remnants of Scotland’s once-vast rainforest hang on here and future plans are focused around extracting the non-native conifers on site and replacing them with holly, oak and other native species.

Children from the local school are each given a tree to plant in the forest, creating a life-long link with the site and engendering a sense of stewardship. 

Bamff Wildland

Beaver-shaped landscape, Bamff Wildland, Perth, Scotland. (Scotland Big Picture)

This area is well known for its long-standing population of beavers who have engineered new wetlands that now extend across much of the estate.

In 2019, the owners decided to reduce the area of farmland and convert to rewilding. In the coming years, a mosaic of new native woodland, wildflower meadows and wetlands shaped by beavers will characterise this Perthshire landscape.

Ballinlaggan Farm in the Cairngorms

Ballinlaggan has had a great transformation in such a short space of time. (Scotland Big Picture)

This site was a series of sheep-grazed fields with very little biodiversity. In a short space of time, wildflowers have established, and thousands of native trees have been planted. Plans are afoot to create a native tree nursery to supply saplings to other Northwoods land partners. 

Argaty Red Kites near Stirling

Red kite (Milvus milvus) in flight, Wales. (Scotland Big Picture)

Well known for its daily kite feeding sessions, up to 60 of these majestic raptors can gather to feed. Beyond this avian spectacle, Argaty is keen to demonstrate that the principles of rewilding can sit side by side with traditional food production.

Ballintean in the Cairngorms

Pine marten (Martes martes) in front of building at night, Cairngorms, Scotland. (Scotland Big Picture)

Some Northwoods partners already operate successful nature tourism enterprises. At Ballintean in the Cairngorms, visitors can enjoy watching wildlife right outside the door.

Little Drumquharn Farm near Stirling

Installation of an artificial nest platform. (Scotland Big Picture)

At Little Drumquharn Farm near Stirling, artificial nest platforms are being installed to attract breeding ospreys that often fish on the nearby Endrick Water.

River Feshie in Southern Cairngorns

Fallen deadwood along the channels of the river Feshie, Scotland. (Scotland Big Picture)

On the River Feshie, grazing pressure has been significantly reduced, allowing natural river processes to take hold.

The regeneration of native trees on previously exposed shingle bars has created a myriad of channels for young fish, reduced erosion by binding the gravelly riverbanks, and slowed the flow of water to minimise downstream flood risk. 

You can learn more about rewilding and Northwoods’ members on Scotland Big Picture’s website.

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