In trying to put the apex predator debate on the back burner, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance accepts there will always be problems in Scotland with the idea of restoring large carnivores.

Not least because on an island we’ll never see the natural return of animals such as the wolf and lynx, as has happened in Europe and North America. It would have to be a positive decision, and that will raise opposition

Conservation has traditionally been about saving habitats and species. The concept of rewilding takes things a step further, rebuilding wild habitats already degraded and, crucially, reintroducing species removed by man.

Rewilding appeals because, when man’s environmental impact is leading to potential catastrophe, it gives something back, but reintroducing animals to ecosystems radically changed since they were last here is fraught with difficulties.

The keynote speaker yesterday at the Scotland: The Big Picture conference was Sean Gerrity, pictured, the American behind the American Prairie Reserve project. For the last 18 years it has been trying to rewild 5,000 square miles of Montana, while maintaining the human population and rural economy. It has 850 bison, after reintroduction.

Gerrity has walked the 90-mile West Highland Way in recent days and said: “There are wolves in the Netherlands now, working very nicely, there are wolves back in Germany ... from what I saw you have more than enough space along the northern West Highland Way for wolves and brown bears.”

Such ideas will always face opposition from farmers, land managers and local people concerned for the safety of livestock, children, pets and people.

Apex predator the white-tailed eagle was reintroduced from Norway to Rum in 1975, almost 60 years after the last Scottish specimen was shot, and has spread to Mull and the surrounding mainland.

While it’s a hit with tourists, its presence is resented by sheep farmers, as lambs appear to be a regular feature of some birds’ diet.

It seems those involved in the restoration believed that as there was little predation on sheep by eagles in Norway, it would not be a problem here, but failed to appreciate sheep here are reared differently, living all year, and lambing, on open hillsides.

The past decade has seen suggestions the Eurasian lynx should be reintroduced. The medium-sized woodland cat – the size of a Labrador – would prey on roe deer, whose growing numbers damage trees.

Proponents say it would be highly unlikely to prey on livestock, but Oban farmer Angus MacFadyen, chair of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use committee, who has seen stock affected by sea eagles, said: “There is no appetite for such reintroductions ... species reintroductions have hijacked the rewilding agenda.”

He pointed out many farmers are involved in work such as protecting native species, carbon capture, agro-forestry and biodiversity schemes that are part of the wider rewilding agenda.

Some wealthy estate owners and charities are trying to restore the ecosystems of the uplands which have been denuded of trees and stripped of wildlife.

For example, Paul Lister wants to fence his 23,000-acre Alladale estate in Sutherland and reintroduce wolves there.

Lister’s plan has run into difficulties because of Scotland’s access laws. Even more modest rewilding faces objections: estates which drastically cut deer numbers to restore trees act as a “vacuum”, sucking in animals and reducing the number to be shot by paying guns on neighbouring estates.

This year, beavers illegally released in Tayside, which now number around 500, were given protected status, 400 years after the last native beavers were shot.

The animals’ dams buffer rivers against floods and provide rich habitats for other species, but they cause serious flooding in arable fields.

Other reintroductions are likely to cause less of a stir.

Nature charity Trees for Life wants to reintroduce wood-ants to some Scottish woods, and the Atlantic Woodland Alliance has just been set up in Scotland to encourage the spread of west-coast woodland and its mosses, lichens and flowers.