Staff blog: Rewilding and repeopling
Communications Editor Alan McCombes reports on an inspiring evening talk he caught at Cairngorms Nature’s Big Weekend
During the weekend of the recent Trust AGM, I attended a packed and enthusiastic meeting in the Boat of Garten Village Hall to hear four speakers from a range of backgrounds exploring the potential for rural regeneration via ‘rewilding’, the modern definition of large-scale nature restoration.
The tone for the evening was set by Frans Schepers of Rewilding Europe, whose inspirational presentation outlined the far-reaching economic and ecological improvements his organisation is spearheading in eight major projects across the continent from Lapland to Western Iberia. In collaboration with various partners at national and regional level, the movement has already begun to transform economically depressed areas by reclaiming abandoned land and creating new nature-based economies with community enterprises at their heart.
Rob McMorran of the Wild Land Research Institute – who recently served on our board of trustees – focused on rural Scotland, highlighting recent research that warns of severe depopulation of our most sparsely populated areas if current demographic trends continue unchecked. Rob gave a balanced, hard-headed assessment of the potential for reversing these trends through rewilding, pointing to the opportunities as well as the obstacles that will have to be overcome.
Calum MacLeod, the new Policy Director of Community Land Scotland, explained that most community landowners necessarily focus on addressing social, economic and cultural decline, but that in some areas, nature can be an ally in achieving these goals. Rewilding, he suggested, has to have the support and involvement of local communities.
Stuart Brooks of the National Trust for Scotland – and former chief executive of the John Muir Trust – pointed to successful examples of ecosystem restoration in Scotland, including at the Mar Lodge estate in the Cairngorms, which has long been managed for nature conservation.
The Q&A session that followed threw up a wide variety of challenging questions, from the place of agriculture in the landscape to the use of the term rewilding. Although there were some differences of nuance and priority, there was also a substantial degree of consensus among the panellists and the audience that any gap between conservation and community, rewilding and repeopling, can be bridged with goodwill on all sides.
Photos by Grant Moir show the audience and speakers for the Rewilding and Repeopling talk.
Rewilding and Repeopling was organised by the Cairngorms National Park Authority as part of its annual BIG Weekend event.