Thinking like a mountain

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) MCIEEM on 27/09/2019


Sara King, the Ecosulis Biodiversity Assessment Specialist, recently attended the Scotland Big Picture Rewilding Conference. She was inspired by what she heard and saw.


The phrase "thinking like a mountain" was coined by American writer and philosopher Aldo Leopold - it encourages us to take a holistic view of entire ecosystems and their interconnectedness.

It is also a concept that has been adopted by Scotland: The Big Picture - a team of media professionals creating high-impact, inspirational communications to articulate and amplify the case for a wilder Scotland - to encourage rewilding and large-scale habitat restoration. Ecosulis recently sponsored the Scotland Big Picture Rewilding conference, an inspirational event that brought together 400 enthusiastic participants to drive rewilding forwards in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The conference began with an admission of failure; that despite the best of intentions, conservation has failed within the UK, and that as a result we are now seeing massive declines in species and habitats. But the presence of 400 delegates in the room (and an excessive demand for tickets) from a variety of backgrounds generated optimism that now was the moment for change. The rewilding concept has already inspired many to act, both within the conservation industry and without, leading to stories of change and the recovery of biodiversity. Presentations were delivered from groups working on rewilding projects in Scotland and continental Europe focused on both terrestrial and marine habitats.

Enterprise and business were also central to the event. Lynbreck Croft provided an exciting presentation on their approach to nature-friendly farming. They have successfully built a crofting enterprise in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland. Producing high quality food, their farming techniques also deliver healthy, biodiversity-rich habitats. These techniques include tree planting, natural grazing using low densities of Highland cows, pigs and hens, and the encouragement of large areas of species-rich meadow.

The Scottish Rewilding Alliance was also launched - a collaboration between like-minded organisations who share a mission to rewild Scotland. This new collaboration will work to ensure that conservation efforts can "think like a mountain" and focus on the whole Scottish ecosystem, acting cross far larger areas than any one organisation could manage. This is a positive new approach to conservation, aiming to pool resources and improve the effectiveness of work being undertaken now and in the future.

One of my personal event highlights was the panel session, which comprised four young people from different backgrounds. Identified as the future of conservation, they were given a platform to voice their thougts on rewilding and the future of nature conservation. Many of their comments reinforced the feeling that now is the time for change, and that rewilding is an exciting way to restore broken ecological processes at scale (with ambitions that should include the reintroduction of such icoic species as wolves and lynx!). They also raised the critical point that rewilding discussions must be open and inclusive, incorporating landowners and land managers.


Overall, most projects were focusing on a positive approach to rewilding, from both nature friendly farmers and conservation groups. One case study project presented at the event proposed the use of rewarding the presence of species in America. This involves paying neighbouring farmers who sign up to the scheme for every key animal photo captured on a camera trap. For example, money was paid to adjacent landowners for the presence of bears, wolves and cougars on their land.

The day was crammed with positive and inspirational rewilding stories from the UK and across the world. It was very difficult not to leave the conference feeling as though rewilding can be achieved at scale, and that maybe one day we will not only see our habitats and wild nature thriving again in the UK, but that we might also hear the howl of wolves or catch sight of a lynx on the prowl in our forests.

"The Big Picture Conference wouldn’t have taken place just a few years ago, but as a society we are waking up to the fact that we are all bound together in an intricate web of life that ties us to every other living creature on the planet. Rewilding is part of that awakening and contrary to popular perception, it’s not about the return of large, scary carnivores and farmers being evicted from their land; it is an opportunity for nature and people to forge a new relationship that benefits both. We’re delighted that the conference helped reinforce that message to such a wide audience spanning many different interest groups."

Peter Cairns, Director, Scotland Big picture