UP to half a million acres of the Scottish Highlands are in line for rewilding following the launch of a project.

The 30-year scheme by Highland charity Trees For Life, with funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, would create a vast nature recovery area – Affric Highlands – connecting Loch Ness to Scotland’s west coast.

It was officially welcomed by Rewilding Europe as the ninth member of its network of large pioneering rewilding areas at a ceremony in Glenurquhart Public Hall in Drumnadrochit on the banks of the loch.

The launch follows three years of consultation between Rewilding Europe, Trees For Life, and other local partners.

The National:

The boundary of the Affric Highlands area

A group of 20 landowners, covering at least 25% of the total area, and six organisations are already on board and Trees For Life hopes more will join.

Work has begun to involve the local communities in practical action to connect areas of rewilding land due to begin in 2023.

Affric Highlands aims to boost habitat connectivity, species diversity and social and economic opportunities in an area of more than 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.

Steve Micklewright, Trees For Life chief executive, said: “With Scotland’s rewilding movement growing rapidly – and the Scottish Rewilding Alliance calling for Scotland to become the world’s first Rewilding Nation, with the rewilding of 30% of the country’s land and sea by 2030 – Affric Highlands will take large-scale nature recovery to a new level, providing a catalyst for the local economy at the same time.

“The Highlands have huge potential to help nature to come back and so help people to thrive, and to make a leading contribution to tackling the global climate and nature emergencies.

“We are delighted Affric Highlands is now one of Rewilding Europe’s large rewilding areas that are inspiring hundreds of other rewilding projects across the continent.”

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Rewilding Europe’s eight other rewilding areas are Portugal’s Greater Coa Valley; the Danube Delta in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova; Romania’s Southern Carpathians; Croatia’s Velebit Mountains; Italy’s Central Apennines; Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains; the Oder Delta in Germany and Poland; and Swedish Lapland.

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Frans Schepers, Rewilding Europe managing director, said: “Affric Highlands is a bold, exciting and inspiring venture for nature’s recovery as Scotland moves up the biodiversity league table. Our decision to accept the project as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees For Life, its volunteers and its partners.

“Including Affric Highlands in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.”

Trees For Life has established nearly two million native trees to restore the globally important Caledonian Forest at its own 10,000-acre estate at Dundreggan in Glenmoriston – which will become what is said to be the world’s first Rewilding Centre in 2023 – and elsewhere in the Highlands.