Sustainable Scotland: Find out everything you ever wanted to know about rewilding – and more – at Scottish conference

One of Scotland’s leading experts on wildlife reintroductions is among a stellar line-up of speakers at an upcoming conference on rewilding being held in Perth.

One of Scotland’s leading experts on wildlife reintroductions is among a stellar line-up of speakers at an upcoming conference on rewilding being held in Perth.

Renowned naturalist and ornithologist Roy Dennis, headline speaker at The Big Picture Conference, has been working in the Highlands and Islands since 1959 and has been instrumental in bringing back missing species such as white-tailed eagles, red kites, ospreys and beavers in Scotland, the UK and Europe.

The conservation legend, now an octogenarian, will reflect on a career spanning six decades, including his involvement in the successful reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Scotland in the 1970s – the pioneering project, which saw birds from Norway released into the wild here, has seen the species continue to breed and spread across the country over the years, recolonising areas where they once lived but had vanished from.

Subtitled Scotland’s Rewilding Event, the conference will be hosted by acclaimed nature photographer Peter Cairns, co-founder and executive director of Scotland: The Big Picture – a charity working to drive the recovery of nature across Scotland through rewilding, in response to the growing climate and biodiversity crises.

He considers rewilding to be less about pine forests and pine martens and much more about people’s hearts and minds.

He will discuss the social and cultural barriers to rewilding in Scotland and how they might be overcome.

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The Big Picture Conference, coming to Perth on 24 September, will explain everything you need to know but were afraid to ask about rewilding and restoration of nature. Picture: Neil McIntyre

Also appearing at the full-day event is photographer, consultant and blogger Kate Macrae, renowned for her wildlife-friendly garden in England and for setting up nature-cams in locations across Scotland and the UK.

A regular contributor on the BBC’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch, she will offer useful tips on how people can wild their own spaces.

Other speakers are Rebugging the Planet author Vicky Hird, discussing the importance of earth’s spineless creatures; Philip Rice, a wildlife photographer who is involved in a community-led project to restore native oysters near his home in Argyll; Kevin Cumming, talking about the ground-breaking community buyout of 10,000 acres of a former grouse shooting estate in Dumfries and Galloway; and Tom Bowser, owner of Argaty Red Kites, which recently became the first Scottish landholding to rehome beavers which were causing a nuisance elsewhere; ecologist Shaila Rao, who works for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar lodge estate; Susan Cooksley, a freshwater scientist from the James Hutton Institute who has worked on several restoration projects around the River Dee, will shine new light on salmon in her presentation The Fish that Lives in the Forest; James Nairne, Scotland: The Big Picture’s project leader for Northwoods Rewilding Network , a nationwide chain of landowners committed to nature recovery; and Linzi Seivwright, founder of ecological consultancy Caorann, presenting Red Deer: Monarch or Menace.

Attendees can also explore the work of several groups and organisations which are working to restore nature, with a selection of fascinating breakout shows.

Topics being discussed include everything from reintroducing native species such as beavers and white-tailed eagles to the workings of the carbon market. Picture: Mark Hamblin

The include Affric Highlands: Go Big or Go Home, an insight into the pioneering 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative that aims to link up a majestic sweep of the Scottish Highlands as one vast nature recovery area; The Making of Riverwoods, a behind-the-scenes look at the ground-breaking documentary film exploring the life of Scotland’s iconic wild salmon; and Carbon Made Easy, explaining emerging ecosystem markets and how society can pay to create nature-rich landscapes that will help tackle climate change and benefit well-being.

There is even an outdoor session which will allow participants to see for themselves how DNA sampling in the River Tay can reveal the success or otherwise of efforts to boost biodiversity.

People looking to invest in nature, reduce their carbon footprint and build value in their community can attend Make Rewilding your Business, with Scotland: the Big Picture’s Katherine Tubb.

According to the conference organisers, the world has changed significantly since the inaugural event in 2019 – rewilding has in recent years gained increased recognition as an effective and natural way to tackle the twin crises of climate change and loss of nature. Picture: Peter Cairns

Scotland today is an ecological wasteland compared to what it once looked like, following centuries of felling trees for timber and to make way for farmland and urban spread.

High densities of sheep, cattle and wild deer and invasion of alien species have also contributed to dramatic losses of native wildlife.

A number of projects are happening all over the country in a bid to return landscapes to their healthy natural state, including work to regenerate native forests, restoring bends and meanders into rivers which had been artificially rerouted and rewetting dried-out peatlands.

These efforts help bring back species which have been lost as well as aiding efforts to curb global warming.

The world has changed significantly since the inaugural conference in 2019, according to the organisers.

Since then rewilding – the restoration of the living systems on which we all depend – has increasingly captured the public imagination, offering a new ray of hope that centuries of ecological decline may be reversed.

The conference will be hosted by acclaimed nature photographer Peter Cairns, co-founder and executive director of rewilding charity Scotland: The Big Picture. Picture: Debbie_Borthwick

Following the United Nations climate summit COP26, held in Glasgow last winter, there is now a heightened focus on nature recovery and this conference will deepen people’s understanding of rewilding as a nature-based solution to the challenges of climate breakdown and worldwide disappearance of species, they say.

Speaking ahead of the conference, compere Peter Cairns said how glad he is that the event is returning this year and bringing together a diverse range of people with an interest in nature recovery across Scotland.

“At a time when the impact of climate breakdown and global nature-loss is becoming ever more apparent, the headline message from this event will be that rewilding is for everyone,” he said.

“We can all contribute to a nature-rich future, even the majority of us who live in and around towns and cities.”

The Big Picture Conference: Scotland’s Rewilding Event is being held at the Perth Concert Hall on Saturday 24 September, running from 10am to 5.30pm.

Sponsors include Aviva, Rewilding Britain, Trees for Life, TreeStory and Real Wild Estates Company.

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