NatureScot CEO, Francesca Osowska tells Dominic Ryan why ‘rewilding’ is not so much about wolves and bears but restoring the ecological balance in our natural habitats which will also help mitigate the effects of climate change

HeraldScotland:

The notion of rewilding in Scotland has come to imply many things to many people – from biodiverse city parks to verdant sanctuaries, entirely free of humans, where wild creatures roam free: think Jurassic Park but with wolves and lynx rather than velociraptors.

For Francesca Osowska, however, there needs to be a much clearer understanding of what rewilding actually means for the future of Scotland . . . and, indeed, the entire planet.

The CEO of NatureScot explains: “It’s really topical at the moment but, as a term, it has lots of different meanings for different people, so it’s helpful to say what I and NatureScot subscribe to in terms of rewilding. 

“A key message is to stop thinking about the human species being separate from nature. We are part of it and we need to work with it.

“So for me rewilding is not necessarily abandonment or about excluding people. It’s us working and living with nature to maintain, restore and create habitats at scale – I’m thinking about projects to return whole ecosystems into more of an ecological balance.”

Francesca believes understanding this dynamic is vital in terms of addressing the climate emergency and the many nature crises the planet is facing. 
Rewilding is an essential part of the solution to the climate crisis: globally, we need to rewild or face extinction – and Scotland can lead the way. 

There are already some wonderful examples of rewilding projects happening across the country.

“Cairngorms Connect is a really fantastic example of a massive landscape-scale project,” says Francesca. 

“This is about creating a habitat for nature to thrive by recognising humans are part of that environment and, where necessary, we do need to help nature along but such intervention should be minimal.”

A partnership of neighbouring land managers and encompassing 600 square kilometres, Cairngorms Connect is certainly an ambitious initiative, with a projected 200-year vision aimed at enhancing habitats, species and ecological processes within Scotland’s world-famous national park.

Francesca adds: “It offers tremendous opportunities and it’s brilliant there’s a dialogue to restore nature, help combat nature degradation and address climate issues.”

HeraldScotland:

As the nation’s official nature agency, NatureScot is adept at identifying such opportunities to meet its primary aim to improve Scotland’s natural environment and inspire all of us to care more about it. As part of this mission, it’s leading or funding a wide range of different projects to increase nature and implement nature-based solutions in towns and cities . . . and this includes rewilding for people and nature.

“We have two very important roles,” says Francesca. “The first is about creating and having the conversation about rewilding: what it is, what it isn’t and trying to make the concept more current and less scary for some. The discussions are taking place at a national scale but also at a local community level. 

“The introduction of beavers into Scotland is an example of rewilding where we are actively working with communities and local stakeholders – ensuring they’re comfortable with what’s being proposed is really important.

“Direct support is the second key element of our roles. As well as Cairngorms Connect, we support many other major restoration projects, working with partners.”

Francesca points out, even if NatureScot projects don’t always tick the boxes of rewilding, often they fit into that important category of working with nature, natural processes, ecosystems and landscape-scale change.

“The Forsinard Flows would be another great example of working with nature and restoring in some places what’s been there previously.”

This project in Caithness and Sutherland focuses on making space for natural processes through forest to bog restoration, offering the benefits of carbon storage for climate change mitigation and creating a habitat for wetland species.

Later this year, NatureScot will publish its research report Mainstreaming Large Scale Nature Restoration. This will include case studies in Scotland that have important elements of ‘rewilding’, including Cairngorms Connect, Forsinard Flows, Tweed Catchment, Glen Affric, Alladale Estate, Glen Tanar, Great Trossachs Forest and Sunart Oakwoods.

“It’s all about understanding what happens when you rewild an area and what it does for the habitat and the nature within it,” says Francesca.
Another important aspect of this entire process is what Francesca terms “rewilding ourselves”.

“There’s been a sense over a number of years that when we talk about nature conservation, it’s ‘us doing it to nature out there’,” she explains.

“However, we’re part of the ecosystem and we can’t live apart from it. We need to see ourselves as absolutely integral to nature and part of it not apart from it.

“It’s vital to have this understanding to grab the public imagination and inspire them to care about nature and all its benefits.

“So rewilding ourselves is about understanding we’re part of this really dynamic, complex, exciting set of interactions with nature and not just seeing ourselves as the kind of agent of change. We’re not masters of the planet, we’re part of it and we need to work with it.” 

Francesca adds that the forthcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow will help to further inspire greater public appreciation of nature and our existential role in it, adding: “The more people who understand this, the more they’re likely to care about nature and want to see changes in the way we work with nature.

“My aspiration is this becomes a really virtuous circle and the benefits derived from nature are fully recognized in both our society and our economy.”
 

www.nature.scot