No Evolution Without Revolution

The political ecology of wolves, beavers, sheep and deer


'The green touchpaper has been lit, and the regeneration of the Great Wood is beginning. It is the most heady concept in conservation - the end of the beginning. The siege is over, the first determined sorties can begin. They are no longer fighting to Save the Trees: the new target is to have the wood stretch out and spread once again. If this project continues to work, we can no longer see conservation as a resistance movement. It is now about re - conquest." ('Forest on the March', Simon Barnes, Guardian 25/9/93.)


The Highlands of Scotland are now at the crossroads - the urgency of the present situation cannot be overemphasized. What happens now will determine whether the region faces an irreversible spiral of ecological decline, or a transformed future in which both biological and cultural diversity can flourish once more.

The great Scottish naturalist Frank Fraser Darling wrote ruefully of the "melancholy history"[1] of Scotland's forests. In his 'West Highland Survey' of the late 1940s, he observed that "the Highlands and Islands are largely a devastated terrain, and ... any policy which ignores this fact cannot hope to achieve a rehabilitation".[2] In 1997, it is even more impossible to ignore the stark truth of these words. The once mighty Great Wood of Caledon is now down to a tiny fraction of its former range, an atrocity which lies at the heart of Scotland's environmental crisis. Only the return of the forest - and the myriad biological functions that it sustains - will set right the abuse of centuries, and allow the long journey back to ecological health to begin. Only the trees can restore a fertility ravaged by centuries of soil erosion on Scotland's denuded terrain.

And yet, the dramatic potential for such a renaissance is held back; under an intense grazing onslaught from the Highlands' army of sheep and deer the forest simply cannot regenerate, and thus has steadily dwindled for the last 250 years. Behind these animals and their lethal impact on the forest - and on the Highlands as a whole - lurks the intransigence and profiteering of those social groups with a vested interest in the 'extractive economy' that the sheep and deer represent. Again, it is 'now or never' - the remnant trees have at most a scant few decades of seed - bearing life left to them - thus "we are probably the last generation with an opportunity to arrest and reverse this sad history of forest decline and loss."[3]

Who are these 'social groups' behind Scotland's misery? What are the patterns of land ownership and use that have led us to this predicament? Social health and cultural diversity are inseparable from ecological health - and if something is rotten in the state of human society, the corruption will leave its mark on the ecological fabric also. We must identify the social factors, or ills, at work if we are to remedy the ecological crisis.

According to Fraser Darling, it is "the English [who] have been the greatest agents of destruction in Scottish forests."[4] This intrusion of an alien force into Scottish affairs accelerated environmental destruction to unprecedented levels.

First, the remaining forests were stripped for charcoal and timber, and then the glens turned over to an increasingly profitable system of sheep production - meanwhile, as in Ireland, the native people starved on the margins. (As an aside, it is worth noting that the wolf "was responsible [indirectly] for a good deal of the later history of the destruction of the forests. Clearance of the forest by burning was doubtless the easiest way of restricting the wolf's range".[5])

This process culminated in the infamous Highland Clearances, with the people finally and fully dispossessed by the new landlords and their sheep, and driven into wage labour in the newly industrialised cities, or onto boats bound for the 'New World' (where they would help to dispossess others in turn). A tremendous haemorraging of natural and social wealth was underway - through the export of nutrients (in the form of sheep and timber), and of people, who took the accumulated wisdom of an ancient, more sustainable culture with them. Both the land and knowledge of how best to live on it, were under attack.

Then, when the bottom dropped out of the sheep market, tragedy turned to farce - sporting estates - the ultimate colonial indulgence, a status symbol and bizarre playground for the elite (and ONLY the elite) - began to predominate. By 1912, "an incredible 20% of Scotland's land area was given over more or less entirely to the hunting of red deer by a small fraction of the populace."[6] Hot on the heels of the sheep, these deer began to deliver the death blow to the Scottish forests.

While one could never claim that the indigenous Highland culture was perfect - for example, it too had presided over deforestation, and helped the eradication of such species as the wolf and beaver - its community - based subsistence economy differed from the colonial English model in one crucial respect.

In a nutshell, it is that the original 'social ecology' of the Highlands was, for all its feudal failings, what is now described as a 'commons' regime. "Traditionally, clan lands were not the private property of the chief but were invested in him on behalf of the clan. Membership of the clan ... gave clan members rights of use of land and water"[7] - from this tradition comes the Gaelic proverb that "everyone is entitled to a deer from the mountain, a tree from the wood and a fish from the river".[8] It was the English that brought the dynamic of enclosure to bear on this regime, having recently pioneered it upon their own people. After the defeat of the clans at Culloden in 1745, the imposition of enclosure meant "not only the removal of land from subsistence communities, but a profound step toward viewing the land and its people as tradable, exploitable commodities."[9] ("Labour too became a tradable commodity",[9] as those Highlanders exiled to Glasgow and elsewhere found to their cost.) By contrast, the commons regime had a deep - rooted sense of place - so deep, in fact, that "a farmer would often be referred to by the name of the farm rather than the family name."[10] Such an affiliation with, and reliance on, a place is in marked contrast to the 'cut and run' practice of enclosure - it is a crucial built - in safeguard against the temptation to 'externalise' the social and environmental consequences of your actions - to pass the costs on to someone else. The local people can afford no such luxury - they must remain 'in place' when the company has gone. This is why commons regimes can endure indefinitely, if left undisturbed.

For the Highlands, enclosure was a truly fundamental break with the past, as the "criterion for the best use of land ceased to be the number of people it could support, and became the amount of profit it could make".[11] This radical shift in social priorities - from a land ethic[12] to a land grab - is the overwhelming cause of the Highlands' subsequent malaise.

Of course, the changes described above are by no means unique to Scotland, as enclosure's dynamic now blights societies all around the world. The real colonisation is perhaps not that of one nation or ethnic group by another (although the virus is often transmitted this way), but of a community by the market, which ruptures the culture and the locale as it passes through. In a sense, the nationalities of the encloser and the enclosed are utterly immaterial - 'whoever you're enclosed by the market wins'. The clan chiefs were some of the most enthusiastic expropriators of their Highland kin - either to save their own skins (under the 1747 'Heritable Jurisdictions Act', they had a 'choice' of assimilating into the 'English model' or be dispossessed themselves), or in order to cut a well - heeled figure in English society by 'cashing in' their clan folk. More recently, in the Third World, the initial promise of the national liberation movements is being betrayed - as the new homegrown elites are reunited with the old global powers, in a transnational 'community of interest' against their own people.[13] The painful lesson is that 'it doesn't take a white skin to sell you out'.

Enclosure disempowers communities, deforming their capacity for self - governance, their beautiful but fragile social ecologies, and empowers narrow elites and the inhuman market imperatives that they stand for. Hence in the Highlands today, which boasts "the most concentrated pattern of private ownership in Europe ",[14] an incredible 608 individuals own 50% of the land[15] - bastards like John Kluge (Mar Lodge), Schellenberg (Eigg), Lord Dulverton (Glen Feshie), ad nauseam. Somewhere between one half and two - thirds of Highland estate owners can be classified as absentee landlords, spending less than four months a year on their estates.[16] Even though the only real claim such people have to membership of the local community is their title deeds, because "the majority of people who work directly on the land or in the rural environment are [their tenants] ... it can be said that land - use practice, the pattern of settlement, indeed much of the rural economy as a whole is in the control of this small group of landowners".[17] Therefore, it is this 'small group', this power external to the community, that must carry "a great part of the responsibility for the declines that have taken place in human populations, in agricultural productivity and in ecological balance.".[17]

Such are the iniquities of enclosed life; this is why the dam of power must be broken, and control diffused back to the communities, the locales, and to each and every one of us.

One of the problems with Deep Ecology, in its crudest form, is a staggering political naivety. It evokes a specifically human 'community of interest', one that preys on other species by virtue solely of some sort of 'anthropocentric closed shop'. It seems to suggests that horrors such as clearcutting or intensive meat production spring not from a warped economy, but from a moral vacuum on the part of humanity as a species - a failure to encompass other creatures in our 'circle of sympathy'. To put an end to such horrors, all we need do is simply extend the benefits of the 'anthropocentric franchise' to other creatures.

As leading American EF!er Mike Roselle puts it: "What deep ecology espouses is ecological egalitarianism. It's really a practical and logical extension of the civil rights movement! Are we really better than a wolf or a dolphin or a microorganism in the soil? Under the present - day legal system they have virtually no rights whatsoever, just like blacks and American Indians not so long ago ... if you felt it was important for people to struggle for their rights in the civil rights movement, then you'll also want to do that for other organisms."[18]

This presumes that the bitter conflicts within human society are now a thing of the past; either because demands have been properly met (eg. through the dispensation of 'rights') - thus permitting us to look outside our own species for unresolved injustices - or because any remaining conflicts must now be put on ice while we address the overriding issue of 'our' biospheric misdemeanours. It ignores the 'social deficit': the continuing powerlessness of most humans, the fact that the lives of many are gutted just as effectively as any natural habitat, but most importantly, that the crisis we all face now was created not by the conscious efforts of the many, but at the behest of the few.

Instead, I would argue that humanity is still riven by conflicts. At the Earth Summit in 1992, grassroots groups rejected the establishment vision of "a world where all humanity is united by a common interest in survival ... in which conflicts of race, class, gender and culture are characterised as of secondary importance to humanity's supposedly common goal."[19] The 'common interest' of humanity is an illusion, and will remain so until ordinary people can talk of the world as truly 'belonging' to them. Only then might the end of the crisis be in sight.

Deep ecology wishes to see all species treated more like humans. While it is true that humans generally treat animals far worse than their own kind (although as was pointed out during the 1984/5 famine, the average American pet was better fed than the average Ethiopian), ultimately we are all viewed as animals ('chattel') by humanity's elite. For them, the most pertinent question is which 'object' yields them the most value at a particular time. Considerations of profitability can outweigh any concern for human rights - for example, during the Clearances, landowners made a clear choice between people and sheep. On the Isle of Rhum, "300 people were cleared ... in 1826. The proprietor, MacLean of Coll, spent five pounds and fourteen shillings on each adult's passage to Canada. Vacated and let as a single sheep farm, it brought in an annual rent of £800, compared with just £300 previously."[20 ]More generally, Highlanders took to describing sheep as "the laird's 'four footed clansmen' ".[21]

For all species, the only choice allowed is one of servitude or extermination (sometimes both!). In a sense, we have more in common with other species than with the members of our own elites - we share the same subordinate position. Catherine McPhee of South Uist drew an explicit parallel in her account of the Clearances: "I have seen the big strong men, the champions of the countryside, the stalwarts of the world, being bound on Loch Boisdale quay and cast into the ship as would be done to a batch of horses or cattle in the boat, the bailiffs and the ground officers and the constables and the policemen gathered behind them in pursuit of them."[22]

Right now, there is a very real opportunity to return animals such as the wolf and beaver to their rightful place in the Highland ecosystem - the old dream is closer to being realised than it has been for decades, if not centuries.

Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive compels the British government to seriously consider reintroducing species that are threatened in Europe and extinct in the UK. While the existence of such a law in itself is neither here nor there, it has provided the impetus for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to launch a feasibility study into the potential for beaver reintroduction. This should be completed by the end of 1997, after which public consultation will take place. However, even though wolves are undoubtedly covered by Article 22, a similar study for them is out of the question - it appears that SNH is wary of getting its hands burnt by dealing with a far more controversial creature than the innocuous, herbivorous beaver. But all is not lost - with no action forthcoming from SNH, the newly - formed Highland Wolf Fund is attempting to raise the £40,000 required for such a study; its ultimate goal is to see a population of 2 - 400 wolves re - established in the Highlands.

As suggested earlier, it is the forest that holds the key to any hope for a vibrant future. It is the fulcrum of ecological and social wealth in the Highlands. Only when it is no longer at the mercy of the landlord economy and its sheep and deer, will the Highlands be able to flourish once more. But is there a place for the wolf and the beaver in this great project?

Many people - even those with a genuine interest in ecological restoration - favour the 'gradualist' approach. Aubrey Manning of the Scottish Wildlife Trust feels that any wolf reintroduction now would be premature, because "the Highlands are nowhere near ready for a top predator. A century of sustained work lies ahead to restore the habitat to a fair part of its former productivity. Plants, not animals, have to come first."[23] He also believes, with some justification, that it will take time to dispel the age - old 'bogeyman' associations of the wolf. Even Alan Watson of the wonderful Trees for Life says that "as it is the forest which provides the habitat for other species to live in, and which is the support system for so much of the rest of life, it is with the return of natural forest that restoration ecology must begin."[24]

While one can understand the thinking behind such arguments, in actual fact wolves could survive even in today's degraded Highlands - tree cover is not an essential prerequisite. As Robert Moss of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology points out, "there are no biological reasons why the wolf ... could not be introduced immediately"[25] - there is certainly a "super abundance of wild prey"[26] available. Likewise, suitable habitat already exists for the beaver as well.[27] More importantly, one can question the assumptions that underpin such views: restoration and reintroduction need not be seen as two distinct, sequential processes, but, potentially, as mutually reinforcing parts of the same process. The forest obviously nurtures those species that live within it, but the traffic is not all one way - its inhabitants can also nurture and regulate the forest. It is a reciprocal relationship. Hence wolves and beavers can help to create the conditions for their own existence - unlike the use of sheep or deer, they can enhance the forest rather than diminishing it.

For example, beavers "are a keystone species ... [playing] a pivotal role in maintaining and regulating aquatic ecosystems".[28] They could add significantly to the revitalisation of riparian (waterside) areas, which have so far often been overlooked by the Highland reforestation projects.

This becomes an even more exciting prospect when you consider the new model which is currently emerging in conservation. Rather than struggling to secure bio - diversity with the intensive management of beleagured small reserves, it aims to give 'natural processes' - eg. disturbance from windblow, fire or grazers - free rein once more. This opens the way for a dynamic landscape to develop, in which natural succession is "constantly being re - started and vegetation change [is] progressing in various different directions depending on the pressures acting upon it".[29] In this landscape of constant flux, a multiplicity of habitat configurations and their associated species are able to thrive, proliferate and interact.

Beaver behaviour triggers just such a 'natural process' - through tree - felling and dam building, beavers unleash "Successionary changes [which] ... involve a complex pattern of wet or seasonally flooded meadow, open water, marsh, bog and flooded forest formation".[30] This is a 'dynamic landscape', and one in which (in marked contrast to the present grazing by sheep and deer), soil fertility actually increases over time. Beavers also regulate water flows and significantly improve water quality (important, given the dire impact of soil erosion on river systems and watersheds generally.) It is hardly surprising therefore that beavers "directly [increase] faunal diversity by their very presence"[31] - otters, water voles, hares, trout and salmon all benefit, to name but a few.

All in all, beavers could be a force for a deepening of Caledonian forest regeneration, taking it in unpredictable directions and allowing a richer mosaic of habitat to develop.

Finally, in a nice piece of poetic symmetry, (and perhaps a hint of the potential for co - evolution to come), it has been suggested that in Mesolithic Britain, "beavers had at least as great an effect on the landscape as humans. Mesolithic human settlements near water, such as that at Thatcham, Berkshire [the site 'spared' by the western route of the Newbury Bypass!], may have taken advantage of areas already cleared by beavers, which have previously been misinterpreted as the result of human activity."[32]

Indeed, "there are at least two sites where humans had re - used timber or brushwood cut by beavers for their own purposes: the Mesolithic settlement at Star Carr [Yorkshire] had a shoreline platform incorporating beaver - cut timber ... and the Baker platform in the Somerset levels ... also incorporated beaver - cut brushwood".[33] In these examples, human societies were quite literally founded on the efforts of beavers. This synergy between human and beaver suggests that we too can be added to the list of species that profit from their presence.

The role of wolves is perhaps more straightforward. They could help to control that which holds forest recovery back: grazing pressure from the artificially inflated deer population. On a grander level, their return could herald a resumption of the saga of evolution for the deer of the Highlands: "Wolves were the most important predator of ungulates [hoofed animals] across the northern hemisphere and a primary factor in ungulate evolution".[34] Toffs with guns, and their lackeys, have allegedly tried to step into the shoes - or rather, paws - of wolves in this respect, with the result that Highland deer "are amongst the smallest, feeblest specimens in Europe".[35] According to Martin Mathers of WWF Scotland, "In Latvia ... the presence of wolves is one of the reasons why the red deer are almost one and a half times as big as their Scottish counterparts".[36]

But there is a catch. Because deer numbers are SO high - having "doubled in the past 25 years to almost 300,000 animals"[37] - and the situation in the forest so urgent, it is unlikely that wolf predation alone would make a sufficiently large dent in the problem. While there are disagreements as to exactly what wolves' impact might be, one estimate is that the 200 wolves that the Highlands could comfortably support "might ... kill 4,800 deer annually ... [which] represents [only] 1.6% of the present Red deer population".[38]

It is therefore with great reluctance that I say culling might be unavoidable - and that the role of wolves might be to regulate deer numbers after a cull. I invite a debate on this, and any suggestions as to how to achieve the desired effect - the reduction in numbers that is so desperately needed - without culling.

However, the problem has been created and maintained by us (or rather, the landlords) - it is the 'natural' symptom of a social sickness - and perhaps at this late stage only we are capable of resolving it.

Some might argue that it is not so much a 'technical' solution such as culling that is in order but a direct attack on the 'social sickness' - dismantling the great land holdings that exercise such a tyranny over space (physical AND cultural) and its potential.

One thing is for sure - the ultimate cruelty is to allow the present contrived situation to continue. The deer are now grazing even themselves out of existence, dragging other species down with them and wrecking any chance for the renewal of the Highlands in the process. Without predators, "red deer have poor mechanisms of population control and numbers become out of balance with their habitat ... they can quickly increase and then damage their habitat, and it is often starvation that reduces them in the end."[39] The annual death toll from winter starvation often runs into the thousands.

Some wolf advocates seem to forget that 'Conservation is 99% politics' - in the case of wolf reintroduction, "the barriers are sociological, not ecological".[40] They seem to lack a readiness to confront such 'sociological barriers', and a political sensibility which can illuminate the limitless potential for 'doing things differently'. Instead of envisaging a righting of the social ecology, there is an unspoken assumption that Scotland's social framework can remain largely unchanged, ('unamendable in all essentials'), and that wolves can simply be inserted - 'shrunk to fit' - into this framework that has brought Scotland to its knees.

Hence respected biologist Derek Yalden's proposal to establish an experimental wolf population on the Isle of Rhum, now a wholly - owned nature reserve and 'living laboratory'. Wolves must be segregated onto Rhum because of the threat they pose to a perceived 'human interest' on the mainland. Pandering to this interest, as Yalden's proposal does, could mean sacrificing Rhum's environmental interest, and even the study's supposed 'raison d'etre', the wolves themselves. Rhum is home to 130,000 ground - nesting Manx Shearwaters, which, together with colonies on Skomer and Skokholm, make up nearly 70% of the entire European population.[41] "Manx" Shearwaters are now almost unheard of on the Isle of Man after rats decimated a huge colony there in the late 18th century - wolves would have a similarly catastrophic impact on Rhum. Yalden seems to have an equally cavalier attitude towards the likely fate of the wolves: "computer simulations suggest ... that wolves would wipe out the deer [on Rhum] and then die out. I do not believe this myself but there is only one way to find out - try it."[42]

Such reintroduction proposals are jeopardised by their failure to acknowledge the social dimension - the possibility, let alone the desirability, of real, comprehensive social change. The old 'Jobs versus the Environment' debate epitomises this failure. While the phrase itself is an accurate description of the situation - wage labour's alienated economy IS incompatible with life - many environmentalists choose to interpret it differently. Rather than challenging the assumption that 'jobs' are the one true expression of the 'human interest', they earnestly affirm that yes, there ARE jobs 'in the environment', and if only the policy - makers would take their blueprints for a sustainable economy on board, we could reconcile the irreconcilable (cf. "Working Future - Jobs and the Environment", Tim Jenkins & Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth November 1995.) Hence it seems that reintroduction of wolves, or the refor estation of the Highlands, can often only be justified if there are jobs - or some other orthodox economic benefit - to be had, not because they replenish nature's 'capital'. Wolves have been hailed as a source of eco - tourist revenue; apparently they must 'pay their way' - but why should ANYTHING (humanity included) have to pay its way? Look at the evidence: whether from other cultures (eg.the indigenous groups beloved of the green movement), or in the millions of everyday transactions in our own society in which money has no place, or the voluntary labour upon which the big green organisations themselves absolutely depend, or just plain common sense. All of these tell us that people have no inescapable need of money and jobs if they are to provide for themselves - just the land and each other.

It must however be acknowledged that not all of the "sociological barriers" to wolf reintroduction originate in the entrenched interests of the large landowners. Hard - pressed small farmers are understandably apprehensive about the likely impact of wolves upon their livestock - since sheep "contribute to the livelihood of 55% of farmers in the central Highlands ... [and] 75% in the Islands and the far North and West."[43] Perhaps because of this reliance upon sheep, "The Scottish Crofter's Union will oppose any official proposal [to reintroduce wolves to the Scottish mainland] vigorously".[44] It is essential to avoid a repetition of experiences in Sweden and the US, where the hostility of local people towards wolves has culminated in a murderous 'direct action' campaign against them. In Sweden in the 1980s, this resulted in the near eradication of the first population of wolves to breed outside the Arctic Circle in almost a century.[45] While there are no easy answers here, what can be done to address the legitimate concerns of the small sheep farmers?

To begin with, there is some dispute as to the likelihood of wolves attacking livestock in the first place. According to Roger Panaman of the Highland Wolf Fund, they "have been observed in North America to walk right through herds of cattle without taking notice of them and go for wild prey instead. Biologists have tried to explain this: presumably the parents pass on their hunting ways to their young and if the parents hunt wild prey their young learn this habit."[46]

Livestock predation is insignificant in America, but is far more severe in Italy, Spain and Portugal, the only countries in Western Europe that still harbour wolf populations. However, (with the possible exception of Spain), this may well be because "nearly all large wild herbivores were killed off last century when forests were cleared for agriculture",[47] thereby forcing the wolves into the sheep pens. Obviously there is no such shortage of wild prey in the Highlands.

According to some sources, "Predators generally have no effect on livestock industries",[48] although others - eg. Aubrey Manning[49] and wolf opponent Michael MacNally[50] - strongly disagree, so the true picture remains unclear.

To return to the wider context in which today's sheep farming takes place, sheep played a very minor part in the original culture of the Highlands. Their widespread use today is largely a colonial innovation - in a sense, like crofts, they are crumbs from the colonialist table. Dependence on them is an adaptation to the ravaged landscape that is the legacy of deforestation - a landscape that has become 'fit for nothing but sheep'.

The Highland economy must be weaned off such a dependence. The real threat to hill farmers comes not from wolves, but from ecological instability - the sad truth is that today's deforested, exposed and overgrazed landscape is less and less able to support even sheep. Hill farming, as practised now, is a relatively unproductive, highly inefficient and increasingly tenuous land use. "Each sheep needs about two hectares of land on which to graze",[51] and half of the estimated two million upland lambs lost each year die from exposure - which helps to explain why the "Lambing percentage in many areas is now as low as 50%".[52]

More recent figures suggest an even higher toll, with "up to four million lambs [dying] annually, mainly because of poor husbandry".[53] This cycle must be broken - and compared to this, any danger from wolf predation pales into insignificance.

Sheep need not be purged from the Highlands - Bernard Planterose, in the hugely inspiring "Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", hints at ways in which 'less might be more', and sheep farming restored to a more secure footing. Confining the sheep to smaller pastures instead of the vast ranges utilised today, more intensive management, integrating farming into an 'agro - forestry' system - all could allow the sheep to take advantage of the milder micro - climate and increased soil fertility of a forest, meaning fewer deaths from exposure and higher productivity, on a fraction of the land area.[54] The bulk of the land is thus freed up for other purposes. The more robust and diverse community engendered by the 'wood economy' Planterose envisages would be a far cry from the unviable, subsidy - dependent sheep economy of today. It would also be able to absorb any 'wolf damage' far more easily and painlessly. Perhaps therefore the hysteria that greets talk of wolves can be seen partly as blaming an animal for what is really a social shortfall - another example of the syndrome of 'predator paranoia'[55]

However, there is one hitch. Even if the forest bounces back with great vigour once grazing pressure has been relieved, the benefits - eg. increased security - of the wood economy may take some time to truly make themselves felt. How would wolves fit in with hill farming in this transitional period?

Many questions remain unresolved, but the broad direction is clear - the necessity of a 'new settlement with nature', and of empowered human beings no longer alienated from themselves, one another and the land. The goal is not to resurrect some distorted, rose - tinted version of the pre - colonial past - but rather to take what is best from that tradition, whilst recognising that the sort of 'social ecology' we aspire to has no exact precedent.

The Highlands are indeed at the Crossroads, as are we all. Whether to march blindly on to the 'beginning of the end', throttled by landlord and sheep and deer, or to choose a less familiar course: into the country of the wolf and the beaver and the young Scots pine, of autonomous communities re - embedded in a resurgent nature - 'the end of the beginning' - taking back our planet.

The stirrings of such new life can already be found. Frank Fraser Darling conjured up a lyrical vision of "a forest country, a regenerating sylvan continuum which will be an abiding wealth".[56] Bernard Planterose has added loving practical substance to this vision, with the concept of a "forest matrix: an all - embracing web or network of forests, woods and shelterbelts within which lie sheltered areas of agriculture and horticulture. A forest of intricate design utilising natural regeneration, shelterwood and small coupe felling, multi - layered forest farming, novel and ancient forest and agro - forestry systems".[57] Vandana Shiva's experiences in India anticipate the close intermingling of social forms and natural processes which would be required - in a "community forestry [which] is not a technology: it is a process of social change that requires the continuous participation of whole communities in planning and problem solving".[58] She adds a cautionary note: "such a process of cooperative behavioural change, never easy to bring about anyway, is especially unlikely where grossly unequal land tenure and marketing systems ensure that a powerful minority will capture nearly all the benefits of any economic gains."[58]

Alan McRae, Chair of the Assynt Crofters' Trust, celebrates the sale of the North Lochinver Estate to 100 of its tenant crofters in December 1992. "This is an historic blow which we have struck for people on the land right throughout the Highlands and Islands" he said.

The spirit behind such thinking is already being translated into action - albeit in an as yet embryonic form - in a variety of exemplary projects. Some examples: in the work of Trees for Life, and the countless other reforestation efforts springing up all over Scotland. On the isle of Eigg, in the inexplicable (but hilarious) 'spontaneous combustion' of landlord Keith Schellenberg's Rolls Royce, and the community's determined struggle to buy the island for themselves. In the sinking of the half - million pound yacht of Sheikh Maktoum (ruler of Dubai and owner of 60,000 acres in Wester Ross), after he bulldozed much needed housing in 1993. (Unfortunately, two people are doing time for this - their case seems to be little known - more information would be appreciated, and solidarity invaluable.) Finally, there is the successful buy - out by the West Assynt Crofter's Trust in 1993 - they are now communally governed, and planning ecological restoration. Many believe that this will come to be seen as THE turning point in the history of the Highlands. Let us hope so, and let us make it so.


1. Reforesting Scotland - 21a Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AF. Tel: 0131 - 226 - 2496. E - mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. [ Updated 21 April 2002: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ]. World Wide Web: [ Updated 21 April 2002: ] (Probably the best organisation tackling the twin issues of environmental degradation and land ownership.)

2. Trees For Life - The Park, Findhorn Bay, Forres IV36 0TZ. Tel: 01309 - 691292. E - mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. WWW: for life. (Have a hand in the regeneration of the forest by taking part in one of their work weeks in Glen Affric!)

3. Highland Wolf Fund - 8(B) Corrour Road, Aviemore, Inverness - shire PH22 1SS. Tel/fax: 01479 - 811373. (Raising £40,000 for a wolf Environmental Impact Study - Cheques/POs payable to Carnivore Wildlife Trust.)

4. Isle Of Eigg Trust - Maggie Fyffe, Trust Secretary, Cruagach, Isle Of Eigg PH42 4RL. (After a succession of hopeless landlords, are trying to buy Eigg for the people who live on it - send a donation! Cheques payable to The Isle of Eigg Trust.)

5. Scottish Natural Heritage - Research and Advisory Services Directorate, 2 Anderson Place, Edinburgh EH6 5NP. (Carrying out beaver feasibility study - contact them for further information, and to ask why they're not doing the same for the wolf, as required by the Habitats Directive.)

6. Pressenman Woods: To the best of my knowledge, this is the first direct action camp to be set up in defence of one of the remaining fragments of the Caledonian forest - and is therefore a really exciting development. Most of this article has been about restoration - preservation is at least as important. For more information, ring: 0131 228 2193 or 01368 850630.


Stop Press 1: Bad News

The Highland Wolf Fund has folded. The centre piece of the project was to have been a Wolf Centre in Invernessshire, to raise money for the project and to break down the barriers of prejudice surrounding wolves. Unfortunately, the HWF was unable to obtain land for the Centre - it fell foul of bad publicity, and of Scotland's landownership problem: less than 200 people own 95% of Invernessshire. If any readers have any ideas on how to resucitate the project, sources of funding, or if you happen to 'own' any of the remaining 5%, get in touch with the HWF at: 35 Church St, Kidlington, Oxford OX5 2BA. (Tel: 01865 - 373241).

Good News!

Amazingly, the Eigg residents have finally won their long battle to buy the island! Hopefully this will mean a bright future for them, and a further nail in the coffin of the large landowners. We wish them luck.


1. "History of the Scottish Forests", Frank Fraser Darling, in Tree Planter's Guide to the Galaxy no.7, Reforesting Scotland.

2. Quoted in "Setting back the cause", Aubrey Manning, Natural World Autumn 1995, p. 50.

3. "Regeneration of the Caledonian Forest", Alan Watson/Trees for Life, undated manuscript.

4. "History of the Scottish Forests", op. cit. 1

5. "Natural History in the Highlands and Islands", Frank Fraser Darling, Collins 1947, p.66

6. "A Brief History of the Origins of the Scottish Wildlands", Drennan Watson, in " Wilderness - The Way Ahead ", Ed. Martin & Inglis, Findhorn/Lorian 1984.

7. "Reclaiming the Scottish Highlands", McIntosh et al, The Ecologist March/April 1994, p.64.

8. Ibid, p.66.

9. "Radical Environmentalism in Scotland", Hill et al, in "Ecological Resistance Movements ", Ed. Bron Taylor, SUNY 1995, p.247.

10. Ibid, p.246.

11. J. McGrath, (quoted) op. cit. 7, p.65.

12. A 'land ethic' is the belief that the people belong to the land, rather than vice versa - see (e.g.) "A Sand County Almanac", Aldo Leopold, 1949, or " The Gaia Atlas of First Peoples ", Ed. Julian Burger, Gaia Books 1990.

13. See: The Ecologist, July/August 1992, p.139, p.157 - 161.

14. "A pattern of land ownership in the Highlands", R.Callender, Haughend Publications 1987, quoted in "A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", The Highland Green party 1989, p.12.

15. "Who Owns Scotland", Andy Wightman, Canongate Press 1996. These are figures for the whole of Scotland - though it's unlikely that the picture in the Highlands is any different.

16. "Absentee landowners in the Highlands", A.Armstrong, Scottish Forestry Vol. 40, No.2 (1986), quoted in "A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", p.13.

17. "A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", p.13.

18. In "Pranks", Ed. Juno & Vale, Re/Search 1987, p.128.

19. The Ecologist, July/August 1992, p.122.

20. "Reclaiming the Scottish Highlands", p.65.

21. "The Highland Clearances", John Prebble, Penguin 1969, p.21.

22. From "The Making of the Crofting Community", J. Hunter, John Donald 1976, quoted in "Reclaiming the Scottish Highlands", p.66.

23. "Setting Back the Cause", Aubrey Manning, Natural World Autumn 1995, p.50.

24. "Regeneration of the Caledonian Forest ...", Alan Watson.

25. "Return to the wild", Oliver Tickell, Geographical Magazine February 1995, p.27.

26. "Wolves in the Scottish Highlands", Roger Panaman, Deer Vol.9, No.7 (undated), p.435.

27. See: "Reintroducing the European Beaver to Britain: nostalgic meddling or restoring biodiversity?", MacDonald et al, Mammal Review Vol.25, No.4 1995, p.184, and "Gone Swimmingly", Isla Jones, Reforesting Scotland no.15.

28. "Reintroducing the European Beaver to Britain ...", MacDonald et al, p.195.

29. "A Natural Method of Conserving Biodiversity in Britain", Whitbread & Jenman, British Wildlife (December 1995?),

30. "Reintroducing the European Beaver to Britain ... ", MacDonald et al, p.186.

31. Ibid, p.195.

32. Ibid, p.186.

33. "Place - name evidence for the former distribution and status of wolves and beavers in Britain", Aybes & Yalden, Mammal Review Vol. 25, No. 4 (1995), p.214.

34. 'Highland Wolf Fund' leaflet, Carnivore Wildlife Trust 1995.

35. "A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", p.6.

36. "Return to the Wild", Laura Spinney, New Scientist 14/1/95.

37. "Freedom in East Europe gives Scotland a surfeit of deer", BBC Wildlife, December 1990, p.843.

38. "Never Cry wolf", Michael MacNally, Deer Vol.9, No.7 (undated), p.436.

39. "Survival or Extinction?", Adam Watson, Birds Magazine, Autumn 1991, p.23.

40. Derek Yalden in The Natural History Programme, broadcast 26/3/93, Radio Four.

41. Natural World, Winter 1995, p.32.

42. Letter, Ibid, p.39. Also, see "Return to the Wild", Laura Spinney, for a good critical discussion of the Rhum proposal.

43. "Sheep Economy - rethinking the subsidy system", Victor Clements, Reforesting Scotland No.15, Autumn 1996, p.27.

44. "Return to the Wild", Laura Spinney, p.37.

45. See: "Fallen among humans", Stephen Mills, BBC Wildlife, Jan. 1990; "Wolves at the door", Peter Huck, Guardian 5/8/94; "Keeping the wolf from the law", Independent on Sunday 25/2/96; "Return to the Wild", Laura Spinney.

46. 'Highland Wolf Proposal', Roger Panaman, Highland Wolf Fund April 1994, p.2.

47. 'Wolves in the Scottish Highlands", Roger Panaman, in Deer, Vol.9, No.7 (undated), p. 435. See also: "Lobo come home", Stephen Mills, BBC Wildlife March 1990, p.188; "Who's afraid of the wandering wolf?", Reinhard Piechocki, New Scientist 2/4/94, p.21; "The problems of reintroducing carnivores", Derek Yalden, Offprint of The Symposia of the Zoological Society of London No.65, Clarendon Press 1993,

48. Ginsberg & Macdonald 1990, in 'Highland Wolf Proposal', Roger Panaman April 1994.

49 Quoted in "Return to the Wild", Laura Spinney, p.37/8.

50. "Never Cry Wolf", Deer Vol.9, No.7, p.437.

51. "A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands", p.7.

52. Ibid.

53. Tails Up No.13, Summer 1996, Highland Wolf Fund,

54. Eg. see description of 'Fassfern Estate Management', "Rural Manifesto", p.25. Also consider the strong precedent Norwegian land - use practises offer for this - eg.see "Norway and Scotland: A Study in Land Use" - Reforesting Scotland Norway Study Tour 1993.

55. See: "Killer seals stalk the sea", Dr. David Lavigne, BBC Wildlife May 1992, p.49.

56. "History of the Scottish Forests", Fraser Darling, p. 27.

57 "Reforesting Scotland: Beyond Conservation", Bernard Planterose, Tree Planter's Guide to the Galaxy No.5, p.7.

58. "Social Forestry - No solution within the market", V. Shiva et al, The Ecologist (1986), quoted in "Rural Manifesto", p.29.

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