IT'S the first day of spring and the promise of new life is everywhere. Whin blooms sparkle, a ladybird scuttles through the grass and birds trill from every branch. “There's a wren singing ... and that's a chaffinch,” says Jim Crumley, whose ear for ornithological song is remarkable. Then again, Scotland's best-known nature writer is also a sometime jazz guitarist and his observations about the countryside are peppered with musical references.

As we walk together on Dumyat hill, a couple of miles from his Stirling home, he sums up his attitude towards land-ownership with a song line. “It's the land that is our wisdom, it's the land that shines us through, you cannot own the land, the land owns you.”

That's a Dougie MacLean lyric but most of Crumley's references are jazz-related and in his new book, The Nature Of Spring, his feelings towards the season are likened to the title of one of his favourite songs.

Fran Landesman's Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most is a jazz rendition of TS Eliot's line about April being the cruellest month. So what, I ask, was Crumley getting at in relating its melancholy message to this season of rejuvenation? “First of all, it's a terrific line just as a lyric and it would slip beautifully into a poem,” says Crumley (who, incidentally, is also a poet). He also relates it to the yearning felt at the end of a long, dark winter.

“By the end of the season, especially if it's been grey and dank rather than bright and snowy, I've usually had enough and I really want it to lift,” he says. “What I'm looking for is that change of pace, when the days lengthen and all the things we associate with spring kick in: when you start to hear bird song and see mammals getting into a different rhythm.”

Crumley's new book, a kind of nature-lover's chronicle of Scotland's landscapes over the course of a single spring, was researched at the tail end of last year's long, cold winter, which clawed into the middle of April in the wake of the Beast from the East. The longing for spring was, therefore, particularly acute.

By comparison, this year's spring is “well ahead” despite the low temperatures, and migrating ospreys have already returned to Stirlingshire from their West African sojourn. Then again, the cold season never really got started and the winter of 2018/19 brought the highest February temperatures ever recorded.

Crumley, a former newspaper journalist who still writes for The Courier and Scots magazine, has written more than 30 books on nature and wildlife. His latest, however, is the third in a series examining each of the four seasons in depth and his close attention to autumn, winter and now spring have convinced him that climate change is having a marked effect on Earth's natural rhythms.

“There is no doubt that the way we used to define the seasons and rely on them doing the right things at the right times, is disappearing,” he says, as we make our way along the woodland path that runs uphill from Blairlogie village.

This is one of Crumley's regular haunts, though normally, he comes here alone. His working method involves immersing himself in nature – watching, listening and often writing, out here the wilds. "You can't do that in company," he says simply, though he insists there's nothing antisocial about his work despite listing Ben Nevis among his least favourite mountains because it attracts noisy, litter-dropping “hordes”.

“It's not that I dislike people or that I'm particularly antisocial,” he says now. “But to get the most out of the time that I spend in nature's company, the fewer distractions there are and the less that there is between me and that” – he indicates the vast sweep of the landscape – “then the better I can do the job.”

Crumley's “job”, as he sees it, is to help build a bridge between humankind and the natural world, from which he says we are becoming increasingly estranged. Whereas the Inuit and other native peoples of the Arctic have maintained their respect for the land and a strong affinity with the creatures with whom they co-exist, our approach since the Victorian era has been that “nature exists for us to stamp dominion all over it”.

Crumley has no time for “Munro-bagging fetishists” or people who talk of “conquering mountains when all they've done is got to the top”. Although he's climbed plenty of mountains, he's not interested in “conquering” anything.

Here among the foothills of the Ochils, Crumley is training his binoculars towards a rocky crag on the brow of the hill. The crag is home to a pair of peregrine falcons he's has been observing for years. And there is the male, he says looking skywards as it soars then disappears from view – although not before we have heard its peculiar cry. "Pchew, pchew, pchew."

Listening to nature is what Jim Crumley does. So what does it tell him? "If you listen to the land today, if you sit still and quiet and alone in its midst, looking around you and cross-examining what you see and what you hear and what you feel, the land will tell you that it still feels the absence of wolves, that it still mourns wolves, that the memory of them is immortal."

Those lines, from The Nature Of Spring, get to the heart of it. Crumley is a passionate advocate of the “rewilding” of Scotland's landscapes. He has championed the successful reintroduction of formerly extinct native species such as sea eagles and beavers, and believes the rapidly dwindling Scottish wildcat population should be replenished by importing specimens from mainland Europe.

Rosemary Goring: Rewilding is a lovely idea but introducing the lynx is to play God with nature

The reintroduction of wolves is a yet more contentious prospect, as Crumley discovered when he gave a talk on rewilding to a group of Perthshire farmers – "the most sullen, hostile bunch of people I've come across for a long time" – and someone asked: “What are you going to do about the lambs and babies?”

“I really thought we'd got beyond that,” he says now. “Wolves are expanding everywhere in Western Europe. They're in Germany, France, Spain. There are big numbers in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic. They've just moved into Denmark.

"And in the past two centuries in Europe, there is not one reliable account of a healthy wolf eating anybody. On the other hand, if you care to Google the number of children in Scotland who've been seriously injured or killed by their own pet dogs or somebody else's pet dogs during the 21st century, you'll be horrified."

But why would we want to welcome this formidable beast back within our midst? Crumley believes the loss of the northern hemisphere's “top predator” has resulted in the destruction of important native woodlands that are vital to the survival of threatened native species, and to the ecological infrastructure. He points to America's Yellowstone Park, where the grey wolf's reintroduction in 1995, following a 70-year absence, is said to have triggered a dramatic rejuvenation of the landscape by preventing elks from overgrazing woodlands. As depleted willow and aspen regrew, birds, beavers and myriad other species returned.

Here in Scotland, the problem is red deer rather than elk and Crumley argues that the mere presence of wolves would be enough to prevent them from settling in an area and grazing it to the bone.

Stirlingshire's land, and its people, have perhaps more reason than most to mourn the passing of a creature that was hunted to extinction (the last wolf in Scotland was reputedly killed near Inverness in 1743). Go back 1000 years and more, and it's said that a night-time Viking attack on Stirling was narrowly averted when a howling wolf awakened the town's sleeping guards, who then alerted the troops resulting in the invaders' expulsion.

That story, suggests Crumley, "bears as much resemblance to reality as hobbits and fairies at the bottom of the garden" but so, he believes, do all those tales about big bad wolves stalking little girls and feasting on their bedridden grandmothers.

Misguided or not, the antipathy towards wolves remains. Is reintroduction realistic? "I think it will happen," says Crumley, who thinks wolves could be sourced from western Europe and released in Scotland.

"Wolves' natural habitat is travel," he says and for this reason, Alladale Estate owner Paul Lister's plan to introduce wolves to a fenced-in area of Sutherland are doomed to failure. "That's a zoo," says Crumley. "You cannot impose on an animal like the wolf an idea of territory that is not the wolf's own territory. I think Mr Lister, if he ever does get his wolves, will very quickly find that there's no such thing as a wolf-proof fence."

He is less sceptical about moves by Scotland's largest private landowners, Danish billionaires Anne and Anders Holch Povlsen, to rewild their 200,000 acres of Grampian and Sutherland and create an environment where threatened species such as red squirrel, pine marten, Scottish wildcat, capercaillie and black grouse can thrive.

What about the Scottish Land Commission's assessment that “land monopolies” – single ownerships of vast tracts of land – are harming communities? Crumley agrees with their assessment, adding that “it's not just communities that suffer, it's the land itself”. He suspects, however, that the Povlsens might not be their targets: “From what I've heard and seen in Glenfeshie [one of the Povlsens' estates], they seem to be very well motivated and I've been impressed by their achievements there.”

He adds, however, that “the size of what they are taking on scares the hell out of me”, pointing out that however sound one's land management principles, the practicability of ensuring their enforcement across such a vast area is questionable.

So how do we create a more sustainable land management system? Crumley wants community buyouts to be made easier and calls for laws to ensure “a maximum land holding for any one owner, and compulsory purchase to take land out of bad ownership”.

“There's an argument for making evidence of a track record of sound land management which has nature as a very high priority, a qualification, before you are allowed to go on and do it somewhere else,” he adds.

He's also like to see the creation of a nationally-owned “wilderness natural park”, as the ideal scenario for the re-introduction of the wolf.

And his preferred location for this sanctuary would be Rannoch – partly, he admits, because the grandeur of the location "befits the dreaming and daring of such an enterprise of wild theatre" but also because its centrality would allow new generations of wolves to "radiate outwards" spreading "the lifeblood of ecological renewal" as they bred.

Crumley thinks Rannoch, with its moor and ancient woods, may actually have been the last place in Scotland where wolves lingered, long after they'd been wiped out elsewhere. In his book, he speculates that the trees in Rannoch's Black Wood – some of them several centuries old, others mere skeletal relics of long-dead pines – still bear the memory of the wolves that once roamed there.

He argues that the Victorians' control-and-conquer approach to land management prevails on many sporting estates, and in The Nature Of Spring, he dares us to reclaim a portion of that land, to “restore and expand its native habitats as far as we are able, remove the alien traits of the legacy of the 'sporting estate', then stand back, make a respectful space, let wildlife manage wildlife, and watch and learn”.

What, then, would we see? "Most of the time, if wolves were back in Scotland, you wouldn't see them,” says Crumley now. “You might hear them from time to time."

We may, in fact, have to seek them out since he believes “the way to get round the wholly unjustified fear and ignorance about the animals is to spend time with them”. In Alaska, he met with a professional wolf howler who takes groups of people out into areas where wolves live. “They sit down in a suitable bit of landscape and he howls. And the idea is that the wolves howl back.” He thinks the popularity of this kind of “wildlife tourism” demonstrates one of the many ways in which reintroducing wolves could benefit Scotland.

The animals themselves, meanwhile, would quickly adapt to their new surroundings. Crumley believes in inherited memory and writes that in places where wolves have been reintroduced, “prey species know instantly what it is and how to behave in its presence, even if it has been absent for 100 years”. Meanwhile Sea Eagles – which were hunted to extinction in Scotland but reintroduced from Norway in the 1970s and 1990s – quickly re-acquired “the knowledge of their own traditions as a Scottish species”.

The Scottish Sea Eagle is flourishing during its “second spring” and Crumley's dearest wish is that the wolf, too, will be offered a season of rebirth on our shores.

One day soon, perhaps, the call of the cuckoo will mingle with the howl of the wolf. And for nature's listener, the song of spring will no longer strike a melancholy note.

The Nature Of Spring by Jim Crumley, Saraband, £12.99