Has rewilding’s moment come? The word itself increasingly resonates with many. And awareness of how badly biodiversity has been damaged in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, has grown. Moving on from thinking of planting trees being only about sequestering carbon to the goal of recreating flourishing eco-systems of trees, plants, insects, animals, birds, peatlands, healthy rivers and more is both vital and obvious. But can it be done fast enough, at large-enough scale, while bringing enough communities and other interest groups on board?

Some groups have been acting to rewild parts of Scotland for many years – decades even. From restoring the once-great Caledonian Forest to protecting and extending the remnants of Scotland’s temperate rainforests, re-introducing wildlife – from beavers and red squirrels to discussions about predators such as lynx – there are real signs of change and hope.

One such group is Trees for Life, based at Dundreggan a few miles west of Loch Ness, who have been planting trees in Glen Affric for three decades. Above their newly opened Rewilding Centre in Dundreggan, there are growing forests of a whole range of native trees from Scots pines to downy and dwarf birch to aspens, hazels and many more, all dripping with lichens and moss. Walk along the accessible paths – the aim is to engage as many people as possible – and birds dart across paths. There are rustles from the undergrowth, where tiny flowers peep out. An extraordinary 4,000 plant and animal species have been documented here.

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But rewilding means change. And if our twin climate and biodiversity crises are to be tackled at the scale needed in this crucial decade, then those who are doubtful about or opposed to change have to be brought on board. Trees for Life CEO Steve Micklewright says that successful change means good communication – listening, engaging, dialogue, reassurance, compromise and showing how rewilding can benefit local communities. They are currently running a discussion about re-introducing beavers to Glen Affric. It takes time to talk through where, how and why, and ways to ensure any possible negative impacts either won’t happen or would be dealt with promptly.

There is, inevitably, opposition, especially when something needs to move fast and at large scale. A new report this week, from leading international scientists, documents the impact of intensive agriculture, including pesticides and fertilisers’ use, on plummeting bird numbers across the UK and the rest of Europe. With encouraging exceptions, farmers and landowners are mostly not at the forefront of embracing rewilding.

In the European Union, the Commission’s new proposals to drive nature restoration, including reducing pesticide use, face determined opposition from the European People’s Party – the centre-right grouping in the European Parliament of which the Tories were once members. With European Parliament elections in a year’s time, the grouping is looking to its voters. Others in the Parliament embrace and argue for the Commission’s approach. But this degree of disagreement in a vital decade is not encouraging.

A recent article in a leading environmental journal argued, through painstaking analysis of different TV news sources in Australia, Brazil, Sweden, the UK and the US, that opposition to climate and biodiversity measures is now coming less in the form of straightforward denial of the problem and more through attacks on specific policies. These attacks often focus on claims about economic costs and personal sacrifices involved, the authors found. The European People’s stance is indicative of this problem.

Finding the best path through these political and oppositional dynamics is challenging. Rewilding needs genuine discussion and debate. It needs community buy-in and from business, civil society groups, the wider public, landowners and more. And certainly, meeting the Scottish Government – and UN – goals, of protecting at least 30% of Scotland’s nature by 2030, will not be possible without open democratic debate. So well-informed, fact-based discussion of choices, benefits, costs, trade-offs are all vital.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on highly protected marine areas has, unhappily, so far demonstrated how not to go about such plans and consultations. And the UK Government is currently planning to repeal EU water, air pollution and environmental laws.

But others have moved ahead more successfully. Despite Brexit – and its impact on their access to key funding sources – Trees for Life are now part of a major European network, Rewilding Europe, taking their work to a very much bigger landscape scale. Their Affric Highlands project aims to rewild half a million acres from Dundreggan to the west coast of Scotland over 30 years.

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Such a vast project needs buy-in, which Trees for Life are currently achieving, including from local communities, NGOs, landowners and businesses. The speed and extent of action from different groups in such a project cannot be dictated. It must be participative, voluntary and through seeing the benefits.

For Trees for Life, rewilding means a re-peopled landscape too, not a landscape without people. From their European partners in Portugal, says Steve Micklewright, they are getting lots of ideas too about the sorts of small ventures that can thrive due to rewilding, from local tourism and nature-based businesses to the many jobs that rewilding brings. These can attract younger people back to the area – and their views must count on what landscapes should look like in three decades’ time.

Scotland has a good range of dynamic rewilding groups, big and small. But the scale and urgency of biodiversity challenges means government must step in where voluntary, local and participative processes are not enough – if government is, itself, not part of the problem.

This then is the rewilding conundrum. Locally-driven projects may be best. But achieving nature restoration across 30% of Scotland will require effective, large-scale government intervention too. There will need to be serious, intelligent policy solutions that can get buy-in if some powerful voices, such as some landowners, are in the way of fast enough progress. Populist and oppositional politics will not help here. What we need are both local and national, democratic, fact-based and inspiring conversations and debate to drive rewilding forward.