A NETWORK of landholders committed to rewilding Scotland’s environment has grown to 50 partners in just 18 months.

The Northwoods Rewilding Network was launched in April last year by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture with an initial goal of attracting 20 landholdings in its first two years.

However, after recently welcoming its 50th partner – Glassie Farm in Aberfeldy – the network now covers more than 13,000 acres.

The sites range from farms and crofts to community woodlands, private estates and even a school. The network’s partners are the owners, managers or trustees of the sites, some of which are taking their first steps into rewilding.

James Nairne, Northwoods project lead, said the success of the network shows widespread recognition that the ecological health of some of Scotland’s landscapes needs to be restored.

He said: “The thread that runs through the Northwoods Rewilding Network is a determination to be part of the solution to climate breakdown and biodiversity loss”

The National: Artist, Rutger Emmelkamp rests on a footbridge at Northwoods Rewilding Network partner, Tireregan.Artist, Rutger Emmelkamp rests on a footbridge at Northwoods Rewilding Network partner, Tireregan. (Image: James Shooter)

“What’s taken us by surprise is the strength of the appetite. From Sutherland to the Solway Firth, and from the East Neuk of Fife to the Ross of Mull, this is a landowner-driven aspiration – they’ve come to us more than the other way round.”

Each Northwoods partner makes rewilding commitments tailored to the site, which may include the expansion or enrichment of native woodlands, the restoration of carbon-storing wetlands or the creation of wildlife corridors to allow animals to roam freely across the landscape.

“Rewilding is ultimately about restoring dynamic natural processes, and Northwoods was established to help remove the barriers to taking action.” added Nairne.

“We support our land partners with ecological knowledge, practical advice and funding opportunities.”

Duncan Pepper is the owner of Upper Brae of Cultullich in Perthshire, a farm which has been rewilding the landscape for over twenty years.

He said the benefit of being a Northwoods partner lies in the collaborative spirit between the members.

The National: Pool and grassland habitat, Harestone Moss, Northwoods Rewilding Network. Picture: Mark Hamblin/scotlandbigpicture.comPool and grassland habitat, Harestone Moss, Northwoods Rewilding Network. Picture: Mark Hamblin/scotlandbigpicture.com (Image: Mark Hamblin/scotlandbigpicture.com)

“It’s like a support group,” he said. “Lots of people are joining because they have this intention for rewilding and now there’s a group that can help them to exercise that intention.

“It’s a learning process for everybody. We’re going to do some leaky dams at Glassie Farm, with lots of members getting together to do the practical work of building them, learning as we go.”

The network is also setting its sights on more ambitious, collaborative projects as well as hosting webinars that allow members to share their expertise in certain subjects.

“We’re also looking into things such as sharing pigs,” said Pepper. “Pigs have a good impact on the environment but it’s a big impact. So, you probably don’t want them on your land all the time.

“Northwoods could allow us to create a system whereby you have pigs on your land for a few months before passing them along to another Northwoods partner, which would be ideal.”

Gavin Drummond and Laura Hay are the owners of Harestone Moss, just north of Aberdeen, and joined the Northwoods Rewilding Network in May 2022.

The 70-acre site was farmed conventionally for many decades but has now been partially committed to rewilding, which includes reversing the effects of 1950s drainage by creating ponds and wetlands. This re-wetting will enable peatlands to resume carbon sequestration.

READ MORE: Affric Highlands set to rewild half a million acres of Scottish land

“We have an opportunity to create something amazing – a site where visitors can appreciate the restored landscape and the return of wildlife, and where we can earn a living in a way that doesn't harm the land,” says Hay.

The biggest site in the network, and the one that has been rewilding for longest, is Tireragan on the Isle of Mull. Cared for by volunteers of the Tireragan Trust, the site is home to a remnant of nationally important Atlantic rainforest, and has been a rewilding pioneer since 1997 when intensive grazing was curtailed.

Judy Gibson, a Tireragan trustee, says: “We are committed to enhancing the biodiversity of this special place but doing so in a way that maintains a human connection through recreation and education.

“Being part of Northwoods helps us drive our ambition forwards, to share our experiences and learn from others.”