Rewilding Nation: FAQs

1. What are you calling for?

We’re urging the Scottish Government to declare Scotland the world’s first Rewilding Nation, committing to rewilding 30% of land and sea. Rewilding – large-scale nature restoration – offers hope for tackling the nature and climate emergencies, and delivers a cascade of benefits for people and communities.

This declaration would be a powerful statement of intent – setting Scotland on a path that leads the way on large-scale nature recovery, and towards creating a greener, fairer country we can all be proud of. 

We’re calling on everyone who shares our hopes and sense of urgency to make their voices heard by signing the Rewilding Nation Charter – urging our political leaders to make this declaration to benefit us all and future generations. The nature and climate crises can feel overwhelming, but we can all make a difference by uniting behind a clear message.

2. Why a Rewilding Nation Charter?

A Rewilding Nation Charter represents the huge support for rewilding across Scotland, and the hopes of people from all walks of life who want to see ambitious action for tackling the nature and climate emergencies, and ensuring thriving communities.

The Charter also demonstrates an agreement. As a nation, we have the wealth, space and experience to rewild – and a responsibility to ourselves and future generations, and to other countries suffering the devastating impacts of nature loss and climate breakdown.

Rewilding has been surging in Scotland in recent years, thanks to communities, charities, farmers, landowners and others – but is still only happening on 2% of Scotland’s land (160,000 hectares). And this rapid growth has mostly been without significant financial or political support from our political leaders. We want to see the Scottish Government fully on board, acting with bold ambition and leadership to ensure rewilding happens at the scale and speed needed.

We will present the Charter to the Scottish Government in autumn 2024 to demonstrate that our vision for rewilding and re-peopling is supported by huge numbers of people from all walks of life, and we will also provide ministers with a clear route map for creating a Rewilding Nation.

3. Why does this matter?

The nature and climate emergencies are an unprecedented threat to our way of life and our children’s future. Nature – our life-support system, and best ally for tackling climate breakdown – is in serious trouble, and Scotland is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries.

Intensive management, over-exploitation, neglect and pollution have stripped our landscapes and seas of their richness of life. This has left natural processes broken, habitats wrecked, and wildlife in a dire state. Our landscapes now support less people than they did and could again. 

This crisis is eroding the living systems on which we depend – undermining our access to food, fresh water and clean air; hindering our ability to lock away carbon and cope with climate breakdown’s floods, wildlife die-offs, droughts and crop failures; harming health and wellbeing; and depriving communities of jobs and economic opportunities. 

But it’s not too late. It doesn’t have to be this way. Rewilding offers our best hope of restoring the natural world to health. We now have the opportunity and choice to lead the way as a Rewilding Nation – revitalising natural processes, restoring missing species, enriching communities, and building resilience against challenges we know the future holds.

Nature loss facts and figures

  • Scotland is ranked 212 out of 240 countries and territories for the state of its nature.
  • Intensive agriculture and climate breakdown are having the biggest impacts on biodiversity, according to the State of Nature 2023 report. Other threats include non-native forestry, pollution, and introduced species.
  • Half of Scotland’s species are declining. One-in-nine species face extinction. Insects, bird and amphibian populations have crashed.
  • Scotland has lost most of its large herbivores, and people have driven all of the country’s large carnivores to extinction.
  • Things were already grim in the 1990s, following centuries of nature loss. But since then, average species abundance in Scotland has fallen by another quarter.

4. How would the Scottish Government declare a Rewilding Nation?

We are calling on the Scottish Government to declare Scotland a Rewilding Nation, and commit to creating a pathway for 30% of its land and seas to be managed according to rewilding principles. This would be a world first. Such a positive, forward-looking statement of intent would provide a bold vision and clear political commitment that as a nation we are going to protect and restore nature meaningfully. 

The Scottish Rewilding Alliance will provide the Scottish Government with a clear route map for creating a Rewilding Nation when we present it with our Rewilding Nation Charter in autumn 2024.

5. What would a Rewilding Nation mean? What would 30% nature recovery look like?

The vision is of a wilder, richer Scotland where nature and our communities can thrive together, with 30% of our land and seas enjoying nature recovery.

It would become a country rich in wildlife – with hills draped in a rich tapestry of native woodlands and healthy peatlands; grasslands blooming with wildflowers, and wetlands thrumming with life; with great, green seagrass meadows carpeting the ocean floor; and vast oyster beds buttressing our wild coasts.

It would be a Scotland full of vibrant communities, where nature’s restoration inspires and supports local enterprises, re-peopling, and community empowerment and wealth-building; people of all ages can find rewarding jobs; where rewilding goes hand-in-hand with sustainable, nature-led industries such as farming, fishing and forestry; and nature-rich landscapes are accessible to everyone – reawakening our connection with the wonders of the natural world. 

6. What is the new Why NOT Scotland? film about?

Why Not Scotland? is a feature-length film accompanying Flo Blackbourn, a young Scot from Glasgow, on a personal journey to seek out inspiring examples of nature recovery around Europe. Like many of her generation, Flo is concerned by the state of nature and fearful about an uncertain future. But during her travels, she discovers places where nature is making a spectacular comeback – breathing life back into the landscape and revitalising communities. Encouraged by these stories of hope and renewal, she is prompted to wonder: Why Not Scotland?

Produced by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, the documentary is being shown on a nationwide screening tour including Oban, Peebles, Dundee, and Inverness, following an Edinburgh premiere. There will also be community screenings across the country.

7. Is rewilding 30% of Scotland possible?

It’s more than possible: it’s essential, and entirely achievable. We know that 2.1% of Scotland’s land is now rewilding, with more than 150 projects covering at least 160,000 hectares, from community woodlands to landscape-scale partnerships. This is remarkable progress – but we need to do much more, and we can. The opportunity and choice is there if we want to take action for nature, climate and people.

For example:

  • 6% - 19% (0.5m hectares to 1.5m hectares) of Scotland is managed for grouse shooting, which can involve ecologically damaging land management techniques. Choosing less intensive approaches to managing this land can help nature recover.
  • 23% of Scotland (1.8m hectares) is covered by blanket peat bog. But 80% of Scotland’s peatlands are damaged, causing them to emit rather than absorb carbon dioxide, and damaging biodiversity; the scope for urgently needed restoration is huge.
  • Scotland’s Government bodies between them manage 10% of the country’s land. Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is Scotland’s biggest manager of public land, and alone manages more than 8% (640,000 hectares) of Scotland; FLS should be properly resourced and politically backed to restore nature on a vast scale – from increasing native forest cover to welcoming back vital native species such as beavers. Meanwhile, Scottish Water owns 22,500 hectares, while Crown Estate Scotland owns 35,565 hectares.
  • Our national parks need to be leading the way. Cairngorms National Park is the largest in the UK, at 452,00 hectares. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park covers around 186,500 hectares. Scotland’s promised third national park should have nature recovery as its core aim when it is established in 2026.

There are also significant areas, not currently included in our figures, where positive nature recovery is underway, with scope for much more rewilding. For example, major charities own and manage large areas: the National Trust for Scotland more than 76,000 hectares; RSPB more than 72,000 hectares; Scottish Wildlife Trust more than 17,000 hectares.

Ongoing collaborative initiatives, and their future potential, are a major source of hope. For example, Affric Highlands, the UK’s largest rewilding landscape, is a 30-year initiative restoring nature across more than 200,000 hectares of the central Scottish Highlands. Led by Trees for Life and Rewilding Europe, it is bringing together a coalition of communities and landowners. 

None of this includes smaller-scale rewilding and nature recovery in towns and cities; gardens; and in community spaces and road verges – all of which are crucial for boosting local biodiversity, bringing nature into more people’s lives, and creating nature connectivity across the country. 

Neither do these land-based statistics include the vast potential for marine rewilding, which we will also be focusing on in our Rewilding Nation campaign.

Saving, expanding and connecting native woodlands

There is an urgent need to save, expand and connect native woodlands. Scotland has 19% woodland cover (much of this being non-native conifer plantations), with only 4% native woodland cover. This compares to 37% average woodland cover in Europe.
There is huge potential for woodland creation by natural regeneration from Scotland’s ecologically and culturally important ancient woodlands, like our Caledonian Pinewoods and temperate rainforest – which currently cover less than 2% of Scotland.
Scotland’s Caledonian pinewoods, now reduced to just 17,000 hectares, form a rich habitat found nowhere else on Earth. A Trees for Life study into the health of 72 of the 84 known fragments of native wild pinewoods concluded many are on a ‘knife-edge’. High deer numbers, non-native conifers, lack of long-term management, and climate breakdown are major threats to their survival.

8. How would 30% rewilding be achieved?

Rewilding is about choice. We want more landowners to choose to rewild, for the benefit of nature, climate and people. For public bodies, who manage land on our behalf, the path is simple: we need to see the Scottish Government commit to rewilding principles and support those organisations already rewilding. For some third sector organisations or community bodies already managing land for nature, choosing to commit to rewilding principles will involve a mindset shift towards natural process-led land management. For private landowners, we need the Scottish Government to lead by example, to incentivise land management practices that benefit ecosystem restoration, and ensure that we are all working towards the same, shared vision of a Rewilding Nation. That means working to the four principles of the Rewilding Nation Charter – particularly 'Rewilding for People', which recognises that everyone needs to be included in the transformational journey ahead.

9. What about our national parks?

On major nature restoration, Scotland’s national parks are in many ways notional parks. Despite some superb conservation initiatives, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs are far from making the contribution they should be doing, and are not even holding the line on halting biodiversity loss.

Scotland urgently needs national parks in more than name only: wilder national parks that can be the jewels in the crown of its nature recovery. The Scottish Government should make large-scale nature restoration the overarching purpose of the parks. Ministers have promised a new national park by 2026 – this new park must have nature as its priority from day one.

Our national parks should be beacons of hope in Scotland’s journey towards becoming a Rewilding Nation – nature-rich places where wildlife can thrive, carbon is locked away, and people can benefit from wild nature and nature-based economic opportunities. They could be places where the benefits of nature restoration serve us all, especially those who live and work in them, rather than a select few.

10. What do you mean by 2% of Scotland is rewilding? How have you calculated this?

To calculate the area covered by land-based rewilding projects in Scotland, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance used self-reported figures from rewilding initiatives, including data sourced from the Rewilding Network led by Rewilding Britain, the Northwoods Rewilding Network led by SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, and other projects which have restoration of natural processes as an aim.

Our calculations do not include traditional conservation projects, as these take different approaches to rewilding. Rewilding and traditional conservation are both needed, and go hand-in-hand. But while conservation has traditionally focused on saving isolated fragments of habitat, or specific species, rewilding aims to reverse biodiversity and bio-abundance loss, and allow nature to flourish across much larger, better connected, and more resilient areas.

11. Where is rewilding happening now? Which projects are especially successful?

Rewilding is already part of Scotland’s story. Communities, charities, farmers, landowners and others are restoring woodlands, peatlands, wetlands, rivers and seas – and saving wildlife from red squirrels to bumblebees to wildcats. We have the world’s first Rewilding Centre at Dundreggan;trailblazing oyster restoration efforts; stunning recovering landscapes; and rivers returning to their natural floodplains. Thousands of people are already helping build a Rewilding Nation.

Superb examples of this groundswell of hope includes members of Rewilding Britain’s UK-wide Rewilding Network, which now brings together more than 100 Scottish rewilding projects, which are inspiring in their ambition, scope and diversity; and the rapidly expanding Northwoods Rewilding Network launched in 2021 by charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture – and which already consists of almost 70 partners, including community sites, small farms, crofts, and small landholdings.

Rewilding is happening all over. Volunteers are mapping seagrass beds. Rangers and ecologists are helping others enjoy nature’s wonders. Stalkers are managing deer numbers and helping woodlands bounce back. Farmers, crofters and growers are working with nature to make a living. Public sector teams and charities are working to reintroduce or restore native species like wildcats and beavers. Communities are speaking out about how the land and seas around them are used.

12. How would rewilding 30% of Scotland affect farming for food and food security?

Rewilding 30% of Scotland can be achieved by restoring wild habitats including peatlands, native woodlands, wetlands, rivers and seas, with no loss of productive farmland. But more than that: we depend on nature, healthy ecosystems and a stable climate for the food we eat – so large-scale nature recovery is vital for our food security.

Farmers, crofters and growers are also increasingly finding themselves on the sharp edge of the climate and nature emergencies, which threaten their ability to make a living. Extreme weather is already costing Scotland’s farmers at least £160m a year. Autumn 2023’s unprecedented floods alone cost farmers millions of pounds.

So rewilding and food production need to go hand-in-hand. Many farmers are keen to restore nature, understanding the risks they face from nature loss and climate breakdown, and knowing that action here, alongside ensuring high standards, is important for marketing both farming and farming products. 

On land not easily traditionally managed for agriculture, because of poor-quality soils for example, rewilding can work well alongside food production by offering ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration, reduced flooding, improved air and water quality) and benefits like public access to nature. Those who work and manage the land can play a key role by delivering such public goods, as part of a mosaic of nature-based land uses that sustain thriving communities. They should be rewarded accordingly, just as farmers should receive fair prices for products.

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