Scottish farmers could find themselves at the heart of a land use battle over the coming years, with calls for the new Government to make Scotland the world’s first ‘rewilding nation’ gathering pace.
The Scottish Rewilding Alliance (SWA), made up of more than 20 conservation groups, is appealing to MSPs to support a project which would reintroduce ‘keystone species’ such as wolves and lynx and set aside a third of public land for nature.
As Farmers Guardian went to print, a Savanta Comres/The Scotsman poll indicated that the Scottish National Party would fall six seats short of winning a majority in the election this week, but the Green Party, which backs the SWA proposals, could win as many as nine – giving it the balance of power.
NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said there had been a ‘long line of brazen and presumptuous’ claims on rewilding over the past four years and the union was crystal clear that any proposals to reintroduce lynx, wolves or bears would be ‘wholly unacceptable’ to Scottish farmers and crofters.
“Farmers and crofters in Scotland can be confident that the union, as a member of the Scottish National Species Reintroduction Forum, will take all necessary steps to ensure their interests are protected were a formal application for release ever to be made,” he added.
Deer vet Dr John Fletcher, who is a director of the Venison Advisory Service, told FG the rewilding issue was ‘colossal’ and ‘not easily resolved’.
Previously, the reintroduction of wolves has been mooted as a way to cut deer numbers, with some claiming the current population is preventing tree regeneration.
But Dr Fletcher questioned whether this would work.
“The classic case study is Yellowstone, where an increase in wolves from almost nothing to quite high levels was designed to reduce the number of elk,” he said.
“What seems to have happened is the elk changed their habits, becoming much more alert and abandoning some places, but I do not think the numbers fell very dramatically.”
Farmers on the Western Isles are already battling sea eagle predation, with the population of the giant raptors continuing to increase.
Archie MacDonald, a crofter on Benbecula, recently found two of his Blackface ewes dead with the carcases showing the tell-tale signs of a sea eagle attack.
"The wool was torn off in shreds and the talon marks along the carcase are unmistakable," said Mr MacDonald.
"I have been told that the talons have more power behind them than the worst dog bite. It is the second ewe I have lost this way in just a few weeks, I am very upset about it."