SCOTLAND’S uplands dominate much of the country’s landscape but they are not, as widely believed, “natural”. Centuries of extractive land use has left us with a largely deforested landscape – overgrazed, burned and depopulated.

Little thought has been given to putting something back to replace the fibre and protein which has been extracted in a historical narrative of greed, exploitation and disputes.

Human management of the land saw extensive tree-felling, overgrazing, culling of selected species and depopulation. The results? Degraded soil, low biodiversity and productivity, higher carbon emissions and simplified and segregated land use.

A report today says there is little hope of change any time soon under current management and subsidy regimes, but it does offer some hope.

A Mosaic of Life is the third in a series from Common Weal that we have featured this week, and it examines how rewilding and reforesting can transform land into a more productive space with commercial and non-commercial woodland that enables biodiversity recovery and improved carbon capture. This will be combined with more contained livestock rearing, restored peatland, revitalised communities and more.

The authors, Donald McPhillimy, founder director of Reforesting Scotland, and Callum Blackburn, a consultant on the circular economy, say changes will be needed to achieve all of this – hill sheep flocks will need to be reduced, deer numbers cut to enable forest regeneration and driven grouse shooting stopped.

Putting this mosaic into practice will not be done with tiles, stone or glass, but by using what we already have.

In the upland rewilded mosaic, the sheep will come off, which has already happened across parts of the Highlands, and the numbers of deer and grouse will come down.

The authors say: “Back will come the native woodland as can be quite clearly seen at Glen Feshie, Mar Lodge, Abernethy and several other sites.

“Where the seed source doesn’t exist, it will have to be planted as at Carrifran in the Southern Uplands.

“Existing semi-natural habitats like peatlands and mountain tops will be protected and restored.”

That is just one aspect of the ambitious project, which is accompanied by a nine-point plan to get there, starting with the establishment of a “national discussion” on a land use strategy linked to the National Planning Framework (NPF) outlined by the Scottish Government in November.

A Land Use Agency would be established with divisions for the upland rewilded mosaic, forestry, agriculture, water and renewable energy.

Models for each of the divisions would be created, based on carbon sequestration, ecological health and biodiversity, human wellbeing, integration with other sectors and outputs, such as softwood timber, energy and food.

Individual landowners would be guided by Regional Land Use Strategies, which have already been piloted in the Borders and Aberdeenshire.

A pilot study of Regional Land Use Partnerships for five parts of Scotland has already been announced.

All driven grouse moors would be licensed and a start made to actively rewild them, as in the uplands, using a new agricultural payments system and ecosystem services payments and grants. Agricultural payments would be reformed

to remove sheep from open hillside.

New “half wild” forests would be created and existing forests converted over time through changes in forestry policy.

The report said most landowners should managed to convert to the new model and a turnover of some land units would allow for “fresh ideas and younger people to come in”.