The contentious issue of wolves in Scotland is a topic that keeps re-surfacing.
The subject of species re-introductions is one that arouses polarised opinions. Wildlife expert and Wilderness Guide Jonathan Willet shares his insight into the main arguments for and against predatory species re-introduction in Scotland.
The Big Debate: Should we Reintroduce Wild Predatory Species?
There is a moral argument for reintroduction in that we exterminated these species so we should bring them back, but then again it could be argued we exterminated them for a reason, so perhaps things should stay as they are.
There is a legal side to it involving UN conservation body the IUCN, which requires members states to consider re-introducing species that have become extinct. But the factors that made them extinct in the first place e.g. habitat loss, hunting, need to have been dealt with before a re-introduction can take place.
Perhaps the most pragmatic reason for re-introduction is for conservation management. Our ecosystems are “broken”, as many natural process cannot take place as the drivers for them (key species) aren’t here. Bringing back the missing big mammals means habitats and species can be “managed” in a way we cannot afford to and also over an area we could not cover. For example watercourse management by Beavers, deer control by Lynx and Wolf and breaking up the surface vegetation layer for tree regeneration by Wild Boar.
What has happened elsewhere?
Check out this short video from environmentalist George Monbiot which highlights some of the benefits seen from Wolf re-introduction in Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
What about livestock?
However, predation of domestic livestock is a major issue when Wolf re-introduction is mentioned. Studies in Switzerland on Lynx show this species hardly ever took domestic livestock, but a study in Spain showed that 80% of domestic livestock mortality was due to Wolves.
There are ways round this which have been used in the area around Yellowstone National Park but they involve corralling sheep or having guard dogs/ Llamas (yes, honestly) and generally more intensive shepherding, which would probably be uneconomical here.
Sheep numbers have declined massively in the Highlands by 60% in some areas, so the predation problem of hill sheep may not be as big an issue as it was in the early 2000’s.
Unless the majority of farmers and shepherds are on board with the introduction of a predator, then it is unlikely to be successful in the long term. So issues like flock protection and compensation for predation need to be well thought out before any re-introduction can be considered.