Sunday, 27 July 2014

Wolves at the Door? The Species’ Reintroduction to Britain is Entirely Possible, Says Charity

The last wild wolves known to have lived in Britain were killed in the 1700’s. When they died out as a native species, it ended the reign of a creature that had captivated the British imagination since time immemorial.


However, unlikely as it might seem, wolves could be returning to our woodlands (in Scotland, to be precise) in the not-too distant future.


In the most recent edition of the John Muir Trust (JMT) Journal, the conservation charity declared that there was ‘no ecological reason’ why wolves could not be reintroduced to Scotland.


“We have the climate, the habitat and the food,” wrote JMT Communications Chief Susan Wright and Head of Land and Science Mike Daniels in a companion article to the journal piece.


“Many are afraid of the ‘big bad wolf’ even though they are far more likely to be harmed by their pet dogs, or indeed their horses, than by a wolf, if it were present.” States the article.


The environmental reasons speak for themselves, but there could be potential financial benefits to Scottish tourism as well. So-called ‘ecotourism’ is on the rise and travellers willing to pay to see wolves in their natural state are common throughout Europe.


The systematic and chillingly efficient extinction of Scotland’s native wolf population involved organised hunts (not dissimilar to fox hunts, but on a far grander scale), as well as deliberate habitat destruction and the use of traps. It is a mistake of the past that it is now possible to repair.


In Tasmania, to quote from a similarly dark chapter in ecological history, carnivorous marsupial the thylacine (or ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ as it was colloquially known) was aggressively hunted to extinction in the early 20th Century. The last remaining individual died from a lack of proper care in Hobart Zoo in 1936. The thylacine cannot be reintroduced to Tasmania, because the population simply wasn’t spread over a wide enough area when extinction came calling. However, the Eurasian Wolf has a chance that the Tasmanian tiger did not; it is a strong species, with an excellent chance of building a good-sized breeding population in Scotland, if reintroduced there.


Eurasian Wolves were also in serious decline up until the 1950’s, even being rendered completely extinct in some areas of Europe. However, since that time, populations have been on the rise and reintroductions have become more common.


England, for example, has seen the successful reintroduction of European bison, while red squirrels have been brought back to Anglesey, Wales. European beavers are, at the time of writing, being released across the UK and white-tailed eagles are now successfully living (and breeding) in the Hebrides. Those are just a few examples; the list is actually quite long (and getting longer seemingly every day)


You may be surprised to learn this, but there are even tentative plans to return brown bears, elks and grey whales to our shores.


Could the grey wolf once again stalk its prey in the beautiful, untouched Scottish Highlands? For now, it’s just an idea, albeit a tantalising one.