The Affric Highlands initiative will involve planting trees, restoring peat bogs, connecting wildlife habitats and restoring river corridors over 500,000 acres as part of a 30-year project to restore nature to one of Scotland’s most iconic regions.
Affric Highlands launched to rewild half a million acres of Scottish Highlands
An ambitious 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative to link up a majestic sweep of the Scottish Highlands as one vast nature recovery area connecting Loch Ness to Scotland’s west coast has been launched by Trees for Life, and joins a select group of prestigious European rewilding areas.
The Affric Highlands initiative follows three years of consultation between Rewilding Europe, Trees for Life, and other local partners and stakeholders. It will restore nature across a network of landholdings potentially covering an area of over 500,000 acres (202,343 ha) stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.
practical action to connect areas of rewilding land due to begin in 2023
Trees for Life has brought together a broad coalition of landowners, communities and others to boost habitat connectivity, species diversity, and social and economic opportunities in the region, while tackling climate breakdown.
With community involvement and partnership working central to the project, a diverse group of 20 landowners covering at least 25% of the total area and six organisations are already on board, with hopes that more will join. Work is underway to further involve local people, with practical action to connect areas of rewilding land due to begin in 2023.
During a ceremony attended by partners and stakeholders at Glenurquhart Public Hall in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness on 23 September, Affric Highlands was officially welcomed by Rewilding Europe as the ninth member of its network of large pioneering rewilding areas – taking the organisation one step closer to its ultimate goal of 10 such areas in Europe.
Rewilding Europe’s eight other awe-inspiring rewilding areas are Portugal’s Greater Côa Valley; the Danube Delta in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova; Romania’s Southern Carpathians; Croatia’s Velebit Mountains; Italy’s Central Apennines; Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains; the Oder Delta in Germany and Poland; and Swedish Lapland.
Affric Highlands will bring people together to help nature recover
“With Scotland’s rewilding movement growing rapidly – and the Scottish Rewilding Alliance calling for Scotland to become the world’s first Rewilding Nation, with the rewilding of 30% of the country’s land and sea by 2030 – Affric Highlands will take large-scale nature recovery to a new level, providing a catalyst for the local economy at the same time,” said Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life.
“The Highlands have huge potential to help nature to come back and so help people to thrive, and to make a leading contribution to tackling the global climate and nature emergencies. We are delighted Affric Highlands is now one of Rewilding Europe’s large rewilding areas that are inspiring hundreds of other rewilding projects across the continent.”
Because engaging and involving stakeholders from the beginning is crucial to the success of any rewilding initiative, Rewilding Europe has been working with Trees for Life to lay the foundations for this over the past three years – including through meetings with over 50 local stakeholders, drawing on experience from other major rewilding sites across Europe, and a scoping study.
As well as connecting habitats, Affric Highlands will bring people together to help nature recover, and strengthen connections between communities and the wildlife on their doorsteps.
Forest rewilding has been at the root of Trees for Life’s work for three decades
The charity has so far established nearly two million native trees to restore the unique and globally important Caledonian Forest at its own 10,000 acre estate at Dundreggan in Glenmoriston, and at dozens of other sites in the Highlands, including Glen Affric.
In 2023, Dundreggan will become home to the world’s first Rewilding Centre – showcasing how large-scale nature recovery can give people amazing experiences, create jobs and benefit local communities.
Rewilding Europe says this work in the Highlands has been a beacon of hope for reversing declines in habitat and wildlife that have left vast swathes of Scotland overgrazed, treeless, denuded, drained and over-managed, to the point that little remains unmodified by humans.
The project will take a grassroots, community-driven approach that grows organically
“Affric Highlands is a bold, exciting and inspiring venture for nature’s recovery as Scotland moves up the biodiversity league table. Our decision to accept the project as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees for Life, its volunteers and its partners,” said Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe.
“Including Affric Highlands in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.”
The project will take a grassroots, community-driven approach that grows organically – harnessing an interdependence of nature, people and businesses to create a more resilient area for the future.
Rewilding Europe’s rewilding principles, best practices and wealth of Europe-wide practical experience will help to shape and guide Affric Highlands on its rewilding journey.
Affric Highlands has been made possible thanks to funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Find out more about Affric Highlands here. For details of Rewilding Europe’s rewilding areas, see here.
Nature enabling change
Experience here in Scotland, across Europe and the rest of the world has shown that improving habitat conditions and reconnecting natural processes at a large scale triggers a surge in wildlife and a growth in the availability of natural resources for sustainable economic use.
The physical landscape will change, but not suddenly and not unrecognisably. We are likely to see a gradual expansion of scattered trees, thickening in places to woodland, remaining open in others. As greater habitat diversity emerges, so will the range of food sources and shelter conditions for wildlife, allowing more species to arrive and contribute to the ecosystem.
Landowners can choose from a wide range of options to build on the achievements of traditional land management to date. The intent is not to replace today’s land uses but to sustain their practical, cultural and economic benefits and to add other beneficial uses to them. Peatland restoration, regenerative livestock grazing, tree planting, deer control and fencing are some of the main management techniques that can contribute to increasing the potential in the project.
We do not envisage a project-wide land management plan, rather each landowner continues to make their own decisions on how to manage the land and progresses at a pace they are comfortable with. Not everywhere needs to move at the same speed. Although change in land cover is a fundamental part of the proposal, how quickly the change happens and how far it goes can vary across the landscape. In fact, if we get it right, the resulting diversity will be ecologically beneficial.
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DONATE TO THIS PROJECT WITH TREES FOR LIFE
Trees for Life have made great progress in returning bleak landscapes of overgrazed grass back to wildlife-rich wild forest. But there is still much more to do – not just planting and enabling millions more trees to regenerate, but also ensuring that the wildlife can recover and people and communities are inspired to get involved.<br /> Generous support by donors is vital to help save the wild Caledonian Forest and all the wildlife which depends on it. Regular donations underpin all that we do – they help us to plan ahead and make the most of your contributions to deliver a real difference to the future of the forest.