Festival speaker encourages communities to review benefits of allowing land to return nature and creating iconic destinations

A national rewilding expert is proposing that one of Scotland’s first modern wildernesses could be created in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

The idea will be included in a talk by David Balharry, Scotland Director of Rewilding Britain, at Wild Film Festival Scotland in Dumfries on 26 March.

David is presenting a long term vision for between 200km2 and 600km2 of the old Ettrick Forest to be returned to its wild state and asking if this approach can offer better opportunities for the economy and retaining young people in the area.

Such an area in the Southern Uplands could be a magnet for wildlife enthusiasts, tourists, walkers, runners, cyclists and many others wanting to enjoy the benefits of being in a landscape created by nature rather than manmade.

David’s approach is of consensus building. He said: “I don’t want people to see rewilding as a threat. I want to bring them together, get them talking and to see what they think the opportunities are.

“Letting land go back to nature, as an economic model, has worked elsewhere in the world and we believe that’s something that communities are interested in learning about.”

A Southern Uplands wilderness would also take advantage of the rapid worldwide growth in eco-based tourism at the very time when landowners and farmers urgently need to find ways to diversify.

The recreation of a Southern Uplands wilderness would initially focus on helping to restore a depleted landscape and the natural balance of plants and habitats that once existed. This in turn would attract an abundance of bird and animal life.

The commercial opportunities could range from providing campsites and chalets to leading tours and setting up hides and the key to success is collaborative business models and connecting income capture with land management.

But there are plenty of challenges, not least keeping down the deer population – a job once done by wolves and other apex predators. For the foreseeable future it would be more likely that deer populations will be managed in other ways.

David has concerns about initial perceptions around rewilding: “If you start talking about reintroducing bears and wolves it massively skews the debate. It’s not about logic it’s about culture and I don’t think we are culturally ready to be discussing the return of large apex predators.

“With the lynx it may be different, they are litte more than an large pussy cat – and they could add significantly to the business plan. But again, these are choices for local people and we’ll have to wait and see.”

What the wilderness would do is to recreate the sort of environment in which such creatures could thrive. And that opens up the possibility that they could be brought back by our children or grandchildren.

Sid Ambrose, festival organiser, said: “Rewilding is a key theme of the festival – it’s a hugely important debate at a time when so many of the planet’s wild areas are being destroyed and ever-more species are being lost.

“The idea that southern Scotland could be at the forefront of efforts the reverse this trend is very exciting and will generate a lot of interest and discussion.

“One of the festival’s main aims is to show what’s happening to the planet right now and offer new visions for a way ahead – and that’s certainly something we’ll be achieving by having a national leader like David Balharry as one of our many speakers.”

WFFS is a celebration of the natural world through film, photography, topical discussion, music and and more. It takes place from 24-26 March and its central themes will be Amazing Journeys, Wild Places and Rewilding. Some 30 films are being screened, many of them winners of coveted Wildscreen Panda Awards (the wildlife Oscars).

There is a strong Scottish strand throughout the programme with Highlands and Hebridean Summer from Glasgow’s Maramedia, and other Scottish films such as Sullivan’s Winter, Red Sky on the Black Isle and Loch Lomond A Year In The Wild.

There are also celebrity guests such as Sacha Dench who will talk about her epic 4,500 mile powered paraglider flight from the artic to help save Bewick’s swans, as well as Iolo Williams from BBC Springwatch and Simon King of Big Cat Diary.

  • Wild Film Festival Scotland is being made possible due to a series of partnerships. Our funders and supporters include the Rural Dumfries and Galloway LEADER Programme, Dumfries and Galloway Council and The Hollywood Trust, The Scottish Rural Development Programme and E-on.