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The Big Debate: Should we Reintroduce Wild Species?

Posted on Apr 17, 2014 by Jonathan Willet


The subject of species re-introductions is one that arouses polarised opinions. You seldom meet people who sit on the fence about it. The contentious issue of wolves in Scotland is a topic that keeps re-surfacing. Wildlife expert and Wilderness Guide Jonathan Willet shares his insight into the main arguments for and against wild species re-introduction in Scotland.

The Big Debate: Should we Reintroduce Wild 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.

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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.

However 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.

But why should we bother with re-introductions when plenty of our extant wildlife isn’t in a great state? e.g. Wildcat and Capercaillie.

There is a strong argument to make that says introductions should not divert existing conservation resources away from species already here, but if extra resources can be found through sponsorship etc. then that deals with that objection.

Perhaps one argument against, which is seldom considered, is feeling comfortable in the outdoors. How might you feel if you knew there were Lynx and Wolf roaming about the woods and hills? Bear in mind there have been no reported attacks on humans by either species in Europe in recent history. Notwithstanding that, do you want to have that much wildness back in a country where it has been eradicated?

Why not witness Scotland’s current wildlife on a Wilderness Walking adventure?

Scotland is home to a range of wonderfully diverse land and sea life.  On one of our Scottish Wildlife Holidays you can witness the absolute beauty of Scottish nature on an unforgettable journey. 

About the author

Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

Read more articles by Jonathan

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