THE spine-tingling, moonlit howl of wolves is set to echo over the wilds of Scotland for the first time in hundreds of years.

Flat-pack millionaire and Scottish landowner, Paul Lister, has ambitious plans to bring Canis Lupus back to the Highlands within the next three years. However, he is facing anger and opposition from politicians and Ramblers Scotland.

Lister, the outspoken heir to the MFI fortune and laird of Alladale estate, 60 miles north west of Inverness, says he is also determined to witness the return of bears. He will commission a feasibility study next year, followed by consultations with the Scottish Government, environmental groups and local communities.

His plan is for a huge, 20,000-hectare Highland reserve enclosed by a fence, initially containing up to a dozen wolves. "If you don't have an ideal to die for you have nothing to live for," he says. "My ideal is that I want to hear the wolf howl again in Scotland."

But his vision has provoked angry accusations that he is being selfish. There are also concerns that public access to the hills could be restricted. Lister has also been warned by an expert that he will have to confront deep-rooted ancient fears about evil, man-eating wolves.

Lister, whose father reportedly sold his share of the MFI business for £52 million in 1985, bought Alladale 10 years ago.

Since then he has often been int he public eye with plans to protect and enhance wildlife, including red squirrels, boars, elks and wildcats.

Now he says that, after all the talking, he is serious about reintroducing wolves, which were hunted to extinction in Scotland by the 18th century. After next year's feasibility study and consultation, he hopes to be in a position to bring 10-12 of the beasts back into an enclosed wilderness reserve in 2016.

Alladale is less than half the area he thinks the wolves need, so he would require the co-operation of neighbouring landowners or needanother location in the Highlands. A reserve would attract 20,000 people a year and could include overnight accommodation for 80 visitors, he says.

"At Alladale we believe that wolves and bears will create a huge attraction for Scotland's tourism industry, especially in a region where livestock farming and deer stalking offer little in the way of employment," Lister says.

Lister stresses he does not want to release the animals into the wild as humans have long forgotten how to live with them. Rather, he is trying to emulate South African game reserves to create "a thriving industry based on nature and wildlife".

But he has been given short shrift by Rob Gibson, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and convenor of the Scottish Parliament's environment and rural affairs committee. Gibson said: "He treats his land as a private kingdom and that goes against Scottish access laws".

Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, accused Lister of trying to create a massive zoo. The restrictions on people's right to roam and the damage to the landscape caused by fences and tracks would be too great, he said.

Garry Marvin, professor of human-animal studies at the University of Roehampton in London, thought bringing back wolves was "a really fantastic idea". But he warned Lister he would have to deal with profound cultural and emotional fears about the animlas.

In Aesop's fables, the Bible and fairytales, wolves have been vilified as a "unique symbol of evil" because they kill the livestock on which communities rely for food, he argued.

"The wolf has been demonised so much that we have tried in the past to eradicate it from the face of the planet," Marvin said.

"For any successful conservation strategy it is vital to engage with local people to understand their feelings and attitudes, or they will simply feel alienated and disempowered and be much less likely to co-operate."

Others were cautiously positive about the plans. "This undoubtedly presents challenges, but could also offer a unique ecotourism opportunity for Scotland," said Anne Gray from Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners.

Jonathan Hughes, Scottish Wildlife Trust conservation director, said there was a moral and ecological imperative to reintroduce species lost to Scotland by human persecution.

But suitable habitat, an understanding of impacts on other species, and support from affected communities were all needed, he said.