Defining rewilding for Scotland's public sector: research findings

View from the ground to tree canopy
Alan Robertson

The Scottish Government has published the main findings of research investigating debates around the term ‘rewilding’, its relevance in a Scottish context, and a working definition of the term suitable for use by the public sector in Scotland.

Rewilding is a very new term: a decade ago the term was rarely used anywhere in Scotland and as a result, there is not always a clear or shared understanding of what it implies. A shared understanding of the term could therefore help organisations, including Scotland's public sector and NGO's, to have a consistant definition and approach. 

Based on an evidence review and workshop on rewilding, this report proposes a new definition of rewilding for use by Scotland's public sector. This definition is compatible with existing international debates but is intended to be more accessible and relevant to a Scottish context.

“Rewilding means enabling nature’s recovery, whilst reflecting and respecting Scotland’s society and heritage, to achieve more resilient and autonomous ecosystems. Rewilding is part of a set of terms and approaches to landscape and nature management; it differs from other approaches in seeking to enable natural processes which eventually require relatively little management by humans. As with all landscape management, rewilding should be achieved by processes that engage and ideally benefit local communities, in line with Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, to support a Just Transition.”

The report recommends that if the proposed definition of rewilding is adopted, it is important that there is awareness of this, and it is consistently used by Scotland's public sector:

  • Specific efforts should be taken to communicate it to all public sector organisations and groups that may need to refer to rewilding.
  • A short briefing providing the definition, context and international guidance may help to support internal and external communication about rewilding.

Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Scottish Government said;

‘Our vision is to empower communities to benefit from the opportunities presented by nature restoration and the journey to net zero, as part of our work towards a Just Transition. This vision supports the wider goals of the Scottish Government, including commitments set out in the 2022-23 Programme for Government’.

Steve Micklewright, Scottish Rewilding Alliance Convenor and CEO of Trees for Life said:

‘The Government definition is to be welcomed. It focuses on what is different about rewilding for land managers and how it seeks to ensure it can benefit local communities. It is therefore an essential step in creating a #RewildingNation.’

Work by the John Hutton Institute that included input from Scottish Government, green investors, academics and environmental organisations helped to create the definition.  

Steve added, ‘There is now a groundswell of rewilding happening across Scotland and we are hopeful that the next few years will take us closer to being a #RewildingNation. Growing Government support and endorsement is essential in achieving this.’

The Scottish Rewilding Alliance has called on the Government to declare Scotland the world’s first Rewilding Nation, and commit to start the process of rewilding 30% of Scotland’s land and sea by 2030.

You can find the full report here