Scottish rewilding network grows to 50 sites in 18 months

A network of Scottish landholdings committed to rewilding has grown to 50 partners in its first 18 months, far outpacing expectations and revealing a strong appetite for nature restoration across the country.

The Northwoods Rewilding Network was launched in April 2021 by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, with an initial goal of signing up 20 landholdings in the first two years. But the network expanded rapidly and has recently welcomed its 50th partner: Glassie Farm in Aberfeldy, Perthshire.

Landholdings in the network range from farms and crofts to community woodlands and private estates, and the network’s partners are the owners, managers or trustees of the sites. When partners join the network, some are taking their first steps in rewilding, while others are building on longstanding commitments to nature restoration.

The size of partner sites ranges from 50 to 1,000 acres, and with the network’s 50th partner signed up, Northwoods now covers more than 13,000 acres.

James Nairne, Northwoods Project Lead at SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, says there is widespread recognition that the ecological health of some of Scotland’s landscapes needs to be restored.

“The thread that runs through the Northwoods Rewilding Network is a determination to be part of the solution to climate breakdown and biodiversity loss,” he says.

“What’s taken us by surprise is the strength of the appetite. From Sutherland to the Solway Firth, and from the East Neuk of Fife to the Ross of Mull, this is a landowner-driven aspiration – they’ve come to us more than the other way round.”

Each Northwoods partner makes rewilding commitments tailored to the site, which may include the expansion or enrichment of native woodlands, the restoration of carbon-storing wetlands or the creation of wildlife corridors to allow animals to roam freely across the landscape.

“Rewilding is ultimately about restoring dynamic natural processes, and Northwoods was established to help remove the barriers to taking action,” says Nairne. “We support our land partners with ecological knowledge, practical advice and funding opportunities.”

Gavin Drummond and Laura Hay are the owners of Harestone Moss, just north of Aberdeen, and joined the Northwoods Rewilding Network in May 2022. The 70-acre site was farmed conventionally for many decades, and rewilding commitments include reversing the effects of 1950s drainage by creating ponds and wetlands. This re-wetting will enable peatlands to resume carbon sequestration.

“We have an opportunity to create something amazing – a site where visitors can appreciate the restored landscape and the return of wildlife, and where we can earn a living in a way that doesn't harm the land,” says Hay.

The biggest site in the network, and the one that has been rewilding for longest, is Tireragan on the Isle of Mull. Cared for by volunteers of the Tireragan Trust, the site is home to a remnant of nationally important Atlantic rainforest, and has been a rewilding pioneer since 1997 when intensive grazing was curtailed.

Judy Gibson, a Tireragan trustee, says: “We are committed to enhancing the biodiversity of this special place but doing so in a way that maintains a human connection through recreation and education. Being part of Northwoods helps us drive our ambition forwards, to share our experiences and learn from others.”

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