Highlands & Islands

Paul Lister plans to push ahead with Alladale wolves plan

Image caption Paul Lister has plans to bring wolves and bears to his estate in the Highlands

A landowner has pledged to push ahead with plans to introduce bears and wolves to his estate in Sutherland.

Paul Lister, the heir to the MFI furniture fortune, bought Alladale Estate 10 years ago, with the goal of creating a wilderness reserve.

Elk and wild boar were introduced on a trial basis to the 23,000-acre estate, but Highland cattle are the biggest animals to be found there today.

His proposals to bring in wolves and bears have drawn criticism.

Farmers, walkers and legal experts have all expressed their opposition to the scheme.

More than 800,000 native trees have been planted, and the estate is involved in projects to protect native species including the Scottish wildcat and the red squirrel.

Large predators

Mr Lister says he still has more ambitious plans.

He told BBC Scotland: "We're going to do a feasibility study on the big vision and the vision is to have a minimum area of 50,000 acres, have a fence around it, and bring back wolves and bears into that area.

"We'll assess the socio-economic impact that will have and also the environmental impact. The presence of these large predators really changes the landscape for the benefit of nature.

Image caption Paul Lister owns a large estate at Alladale in Sutherland

"We're talking about maybe two packs of 10 wolves, maybe a dozen bears. These animals create the environment. It's not humans who create the environment, it's nature."

Mr Lister will need more land if his dream of creating a huge 50,000 acre enclosure is to become a reality. He may have to rely on the help of other landowners.

Drew McFarlane-Slack of the landowners' organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, said: "We would support what Mr Lister is doing in terms of peatland restoration, work with red squirrels and Scottish wildcats, which are native animals.

"But the reintroduction of big carnivores would require great care and it'll be many years before we can get to a point where there could be a general release of these."

'Got bears'

Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States in 1995.

The wildlife expert, Roy Dennis, who is based in the Highlands believes Scotland could follow suit.

He said: "Many of us now go on holiday to Italy, Spain and France and what have they got there? They've got wolves and they've got lynx and they've got bears.

"But you don't feel frightened walking in the Pyrenees. It's just something we've got in our heads and that's why we don't want it to happen."

Image caption Highland cattle roam Alladale at the moment

Malcolm Combe, of the Rural Law Research Group at the University of Aberdeen, said there could be legal challenges to Mr Lister's plans.

He said the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gives everyone a right of responsible access over most of the land and inland water in Scotland, could be an issue.

Mr Combe said: "Although landowners have a certain margin of appreciation as to how to manage their land, management activities cannot unreasonably interfere with access takers exercising their rights responsibly.

"Given the large area involved, it seems possible that any scheme at Alladale that has the effect of restricting access to the whole area could be subjected to a legal challenge."

He said the proposal could fall within the remit of zoo legislation, and also Europe's Habitats Directive.

"In terms of licensing of zoos, having predator and prey in the same enclosure would introduce animal welfare issues that would need to be carefully considered," said Mr Combe.

He added: "Human-management of protected species requires special consent from the European Commission. This would need careful consideration as the re-introduced grey wolf would have no natural predator in Scotland."

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