THIS week more than 120 organisations, activists and eco-enthusiasts asked the Royal family to go wild at Balmoral.

Signatories to an open letter by the Wild Card campaign – which seeks to boost ecological recovery – include Springwatch host Chris Packham, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and scientist Professor Sir Robert Watson.

It calls on the Windsors to restore their managed estates in Royal Deeside, Cornwall, Norfolk and beyond as part of a biodiversity push aiming to combat climate change, telling them it would be “ground-breaking and game-changing” and stating: “You have a unique and historic opportunity to radically address the degraded state of nature on these islands.”

But a leading land reform proponent and sustainability expert says the group’s got the Highlands wrong, calling the missive “a quintessentially English approach to rewilding”.

Magnus Davidson, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, is a founding member of Scotland’s 2050 Climate Group and a director of Community Land Scotland. “Asking the Royal Family to rewild their estates is quite literally the most perfect showcase of the rewilding movement’s inability to comprehend the land question,” he stated.

The National: Magnus Davidson has warned rewilding campaigners about their proposals for the HighlandsMagnus Davidson has warned rewilding campaigners about their proposals for the Highlands

“Cosying up to landed gentry and new large owners has, and will, work at delivering some rewilding aims but utterly fails to address the underlying issue of social justice.

“This ultimately delivers ‘aesthetic rewilding’ but lacks the substantial outcomes many of us want delivered.”

Purchased by Queen Victoria in 1852, Balmoral spans around 50,000 acres of moor, loch, pasture and woodland. It includes 150 buildings and houses grouse shooting, deer stalking and other pet hobbies for the royals. Prince William and wife Kate have a third home there and are to spend more time there under plans drawn up by the palace in response to sustained support for Scottish independence, according to reports.

But Davidson argues rural and northern Scotland have suffered for generations from mistaken ideas perpetuated through the royal connection.

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He claims some contemporary drives to rewild the landscape are influenced by the same misconceptions.

“The royal family, through the purchase of Balmoral, popularised hunting, shooting and fishing as well as the perception of the Highlands as this wild and untamed landscape,” Davidson says. “This is a landscape that has been forcibly depopulated and degraded due to overgrazing.

“It perpetuates the myth of the Highlands as this wild landscape where you can introduce landscape-scale changes to land use, which we know is problematic when you consider the social history of the Highlands.

“What I find deeply problematic is the lack of community understanding by proponents of rewilding. They totally get the ecological side of this but they don’t get the community side.”

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According to a UN report an area at least the size of China must be rewilded by 2030 in order to meet global climate commitments.

Last year the RSPB found of 20 UN biodiversity targets, the UK had fallen short of 17 and just 5% of land is effectively managed to benefit nature.

“An act of rewilding from the royal family would be of massive cultural significance,” says Wild Card co-founder Joel Scott-Halkes.

According to research by former MSP and land campaigner Andy Wightman, half of all privately-owned land in Scotland is held by around 430 owners, with 10% controlled by just 16 parties. Local trusts and action groups represented by Community Land Scotland manage a combined 560,000 acres home to 25,000 people.

“The people who put this together I think have the best intentions in the world,” Davidson says of the Wild Card letter, “In principle, rewilding sounds quite nice and quite cool, and who would disagree we should be looking at the country being a bit wilder if it’s going to help with the climate crisis? But it’s been pushed on people who have to make their living from and have their cultural identity tied to the land.

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"That’s not to say that people aren’t sympathetic to the aims and outcomes of rewilding.

“People can get on board if it’s a bottom-up approach, not pushed from the top by external factors, not something that’s done to us but something we can do ourselves and take that local environmental and cultural knowledge and the knowledge that’s ingrained in the language of Gaelic.

“We have a history of land change being forced on us and the Highlands have been shaped by this. Very few people own the land in the Highlands – it’s not in the hands of the communities. So there’s an incredibly easy solution which is putting the control in the hands of the communities themselves. Then it could be an active driver for sustainable development, economic development, from a community perspective – an opportunity to bring people back into the land to live there.”

A royal estates spokesperson said the family has “a longstanding commitment to conservation and biodiversity,” adding: “The royal estates are constantly evolving and looking for new ways to continue improving conservation, biodiversity and public access to green spaces, as well as being home to thriving communities and businesses which form part of the fabric of the local community.”