£23m Endangered Landscapes Programme selects Caledonian Forest to be the focus of a key rewilding project – the biggest habitat restoration project in Britain.

Thousands of years ago, a vast and diverse forest covered the Scottish Highlands, but only fragments today remain. Many of these remnants of ancient forest are to be found in the Cairngorms, one of Scotland’s biggest areas of wild land.

Conservationists believe they may soon be able to restore a meaningful area of this landscape and bring this ancient forest back from the brink. In addition to the money donated by the Endangered Landscapes Programme, funds will be donated by other backers of the Cairngorms Connect project, including the RSPB, Forestry Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Wildand Limited. Overall around £9m will be available for the rewilding campaign.

The Endangered Landscapes Programme was officially announced on 4 October 2018 at an event at the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology by Professor Sir John Lawton. At the launch, Sir John said about the programme’s power to transform the conservation narrative: “We need to stop thinking about protected areas as isolated units in the landscape – we need to approach conservation at a landscape-scale if we are really going to make a difference.”

Lisbet Rausing, co-founder of the Arcadia Fund, reflected on what had inspired her to initiate and fund the Endangered Landscapes Programme: “Landscape-scale restoration ecology works. Nature is out there: waiting. Let’s invite her back in … Together we will restore and rewild, and thus protect, Europe – our home, our continent, our love.”

“The aim of the Scottish project is to connect up the fragments of Caledonian Forest with land that is no longer degraded – as it is at present – so that threatened species can communicate and move around,” said Jeremy Roberts, of the RSPB, one of the major groups involved in the Cairngorms Connect project.

“We are also going to provide restored habitats for threatened species that include rare sphagnum mosses, sundews, dragonflies and damson flies. It is going to be the biggest habitat restoration project in Britain. We will be working on more than 600 square kilometres of land.”

Cairngorms Connect is “committed to a bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes across a vast area within the Cairngorms National Park”. The partners in the programme will work to control deer numbers, naturalise rivers, restore huge tracts of peatland, and more. They aim for young woodlands to be spreading across open moorlands by 2020, and for natural processes to have largely taken over by 2065. By 2216, the programme hopes Cairngorms Connect’s woodlands will be the “best examples in NW Europe of an oceanic boreal forest”.

Our view? This is a welcome development, and we hope it inspires further rewilding efforts around the UK.

cairngormsconnect.org.uk

Header image © Alex Roddie