Published 21st November 2013, 13:27

    IT’S a debate that seems to come around as regularly as Christmas: Should we re-introduce wolves and bears to the wild in Scotland?

    The romantic in me loves the idea of seeing animals that were hunted to extinction reclaiming their place in our land. The realist knows that’s not going to happen.

    Paul Lister, multi-millionaire heir to the MFI furniture fortune, bought the Alladale Estate in Easter Ross in 2003 with the intention of “rewilding” it with the likes of wolves, bear, lynx and elk. 

    He was given permission to bring in elk and wild boar with the proviso that they were kept in enclosures, and there is also a small herd of bison. Wolves and bears, however, were a no-no, as they required a zoo licence.

    The experiment with the wild boar was not exactly a success story anyway, the animals’ rooting habits causing huge damage to native trees. 

    But the eccentric landowner is in the news again with another attempt to realise his dream. He wants to create a massive wilderness reserve but to do so would mean building a ten-foot high electric fence which would cut off access to around 50,000 acres to the public.

    The remote Corbett, Carn Ban, would be off limits and some routes to that wonderful Munro Seana Bhraigh could also be compromised.

    Apart from being contrary to Scotland’s access laws, Lister’s plan would need the co-operation of other landowners in the area as his estate covers just 23,000 acres.

    Anyway, that’s not re-introducing animals to the wild, it’s just creating another artificial wilderness.

    Lister rightly says the deer population is out of control, and so is the damage they cause. But putting them into an enclosed space with bears and wolves would surely have the alarm bells ringing with animal welfare groups.

    We have a safari park near Stirling and there’s the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore. But the Alladale park wouldn’t be for ordinary mums and dads to take the kids along. No, this would be a wildlife park for the rich, with guests paying anything up to £20,000 for a week at the lodge.

    It all sounds very noble when you say you‘re putting the animals and the landscape ahead of human needs. What it really means is that the plebs have to be kept off the land. 

    Lister’s plans didn’t go down too well with his neighbours last time, and it’s likely he would get short shrift again. Anyway, I would be nervous about trusting anyone with links to any furniture flatpack company building a fence that would keep large, scary predators secure. 

    There have been access problems at Alladale before. Many people remember a huge sign saying there was no unauthorised access  for hill walking, camping or cycling during the hunting season, which, according to the estate, lasted  for nearly eight months of the year. At all other times, you were expected to call ahead for permission to walk there, the probability being that they would have managed to come up with another excuse by that time to try to keep you out.

    Since Lister has taken charge, he’s shown on several occasions that he’s either not up to speed with Scotland’s right to roam laws or that he holds them in the highest contempt and would love to find ways to circumvent them.

    The fear among many is that this latest attempt to introduce a massive fenced-off area would be the ultimate Beware of the Dog sign.

    (First published Daily Record, November 7, 2013)