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Rewilding notebook: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

On the first day of our summer trip, we met with Peter Cairns, executive director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, for one of the best introductions to Scottish rewilding we could have wished for. It started with a visual reminder of what a wilder Scotland already looks like as we drove down to our meeting spot through a long track forested with Scots pine and birch. Part of the Glenfeshie Estate in the Caingorms National Park, the area where we met is ecologically the best example of what nature restoration can achieve in Scotland.

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

Established in 2016 by executive directors Peter Cairn and Mark Hamblin, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture was one of the first organisations to not only put their name behind the term ‘rewilding’ but to actively champion its potential. As Peter said during our meeting: “We know most of the practical stuff about rewilding. The challenge is telling compelling stories about the good that comes from rewilding”.

Communication - both visually and through storytelling - is therefore key and a clear and engaging vision for a wilder Scotland sits at the heart of the organisation. “Our business is not telling people what to do”, it says on their website, we “instead look for solutions within a shared vision of restoration and recovery.” As professional nature photographers and videographers, Peter and Mark ensure these solutions are visually stunning, such as this video of the spectacular Caingorms National Park filmed over several seasons.

Today, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture undertakes a mix of projects focused on communication and rewilding on the ground. These include Cairngorms Cranes, a project to expand the range of the Eurasian crane in Scotland; Lynx to Scotland, a lynx restoration programme; and, most recently, Northwoods which is working to create a chain of small to medium-sized ecologically productive nodes or ‘stepping stones’ in order to improve ecological connectivity across the Scottish landscape.

Rewilding in Scotland

Peter told us that opening the door to rewilding in Scotland requires grappling with two words: ‘change’ and ‘control’. Yes, the prospect of change is extremely daunting, but it doesn’t need to be a leap in the dark. With thanks to rewilding visionaries in Scotland (see our previous blog on WildLand), we now have real examples of what rewilding looks like. In order to get there, however, we must learn to let go of our control over nature. Land will always require a level of management, but we need to start significantly reducing our grip, following much less intensive land management practices and letting nature lead the way.

This is culturally very difficult in Scotland but it is not impossible. “Nobody disagrees that a vibrant, healthy landscape is a good thing” said Peter. There is common ground between the way land has been managed and how it could be in the future and, with thanks to organisations like Scotland: The Big Picture, we’re getting closer to understanding what that is.

Money, Money, Money

The challenge, of course, is how to make rewilding financially viable, which will be the subject of another blog!

One area of enormous potential is nature tourism, which has become more relevant during lockdown as we look with greater curiosity at nature that is only a short drive or train ride away. If you’re interested in the possibilities of nature tourism, we’d recommend having a look at the rewilding escapes offered by SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. From learning about the importance of large-scale ecosystems to holidaying in Cairngorms National Park, the ‘escapes’ on offer are nature tourism at its finest. We look forward to seeing your photographs from these trips soon enough…


Meetings in the age of covid-19!
Oscar with Peter's dog Finn

Beautiful view from our meeting spot

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