Scottish Highlands estate to be transformed into an “open natural laboratory” in rewilding partnership

A Scottish Highlands estate, on the banks of the Loch Ness, is set to be transformed into an “open natural laboratory” to advance rewilding and create new livelihoods.

The 511-acre Bunloit Estate, near Drumnadrochit, has been bought by solar energy entrepreneur and former scientific director at Greenpeace, Jeremy Leggett.

In partnership with the nonprofit organisation Rewilding Europe, Jeremy Leggett will restore peatlands, return commercial plantations of non-native species of trees to mixed woodlands, and aim to significantly increase biodiversity.

Bunloit is a typical Scottish Highland estate, with a varied landscape and diverse wildlife, which includes healthy populations of deer (red, roe, fallow and sika). Rewilding the estate will principally focus on woodland, peatland and pasture.

Bunloit’s eclectic mix of woodland is home to both broadleaf and coniferous trees, with native species such as Caledonian pine and birch, and commercial plantations of non-native species such as Sitka spruce, which are far less abundant in wild nature than native woodland.

Developing a rewilding-focused management model for the Bunloit Estate, Rewilding Europe outlined it will mean working out the best way to harvest some of these trees, and how to replace them with native species. It will also mean controlling deer populations through culling, to ensure such species can thrive.

Jeremy Leggett said: “In our post-Covid-19 world we need to rebuild economies, tackle climate change and reverse biodiversity decline.

“Rewilding Europe’s support will prove vital as we look to create green livelihoods, recover wild nature and contribute to a zero-carbon future.”

Some of the wood harvested on the Bunloit Estate will be used by Makar, a local company that designs and builds climate-friendly eco-homes. A limited number of these (all beyond zero carbon) will be built on the Bunloit Estate and sold to private buyers.

The aim of the initiative is to enhance the wild nature and nature-based economy of the area by forming a coalition of landowners and communities. As such, the transformation of the Bunloit Estate could provide a role model (and financial mechanism) for further rewilding. 

Rob Stoneman, Rewilding Europe’s Rewilding Area Coordinator, said: “The Bunloit management approach has significant scalability potential. It could lead to a change in the way land is used in the Scottish Highlands, with a far greater focus on the rewilding of landscapes as a means of locking up carbon. It could also contribute to a rethink about construction and the ability of wooden buildings to act as long-term carbon stores.”

Rewilding Europe

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.

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