Should wolves be reintroduced to the Scottish Highlands?
In the mid eighteenth century the wolf completely disappeared from the Scottish Highlands. In the 1960s came a proposal to bring them back. So why hasn’t it happened yet? The idea only gained wider publicity after the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone National Park in the USA in 1995 and since then has been debated and even nearly happened. The reintroduction of the wolf and also eventually bears and lynx would be greatly beneficial to the biodiversity and tourism of Scotland. All that needs to be done is to educate people and get rid of the ‘big, bad wolf’ persona.
The post ice-age Scottish environment evolved with large predators that kept the biodiversity in balance. The wolves, bears and lynx lived alongside herbivores such as deer, horses, cattle, wild boar and elk. These herbivores either ate tree seedlings, keeping open meadows from being forested, or foraged on the understory of trees, keeping it open for a wide variety of plants which in turn provided food for many species. When humans began to clear forests and hunt both herbivores and carnivores, they tipped the balance and wolves, bears and lynx along with wild boar and elk were lost from the Scottish Highlands. With no natural predators, red deer numbers drastically increased; this contributed to an already fast destruction of the forests as the deer ate the seedlings and therefore inhibited natural regeneration. Scotland has now lost over 90% of forest cover necessary for many endangered species.
Today, a lot of money is spent on deer culls and also putting up electric fences to stop deer from getting at saplings. Firstly these fences cause visual pollution, as the countryside is often littered with broken and inadequate fences; secondly some of these fences often cause the deaths of other, endangered species such as the capercaillie. Therefore the only option sometimes is to kill all the deer in the area. These culls are devastating and cruel yet completely necessary to protect both Scotland’s ecosystem and the deer themselves. If overpopulation was allowed to occur the deer would eventually run out of food and become extinct themselves. A recent cull in Glenfeshie to protect the regenerating forest caused a great amount of controversy when over 500 deer were killed and carcasses moved by helicopters. Locals were disgusted by the brutality of it and gamekeepers felt their jobs were being threatened. The re-introduction of wolves would provide a natural predator and reduce massive arguments and issues like this.
Biologists noticed that the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park had a huge impact. Robert Beschta, a professor in the College of Forestry at OSU, said that “Ultimately it became clear that wolves were the answer”. There was improved growth of willow, aspen and cottonwood which allowed beavers to re-colonise the area, creating a wetland habitat for several other species of plants and...