On my way to the Isle of Skye yesterday, I passed through Cairngorms National park. It contains Britain’s highest and most massive mountain range, and its biggest native forests. Everywhere you look, there are spectacular rivers and lochs, heather-covered moorlands and dramatic peaks. The park is a stronghold for wildlife.
The Cairngorms National Park is in north-east Scotland and was established in 2003. It covers an area of 4,528 km². The Highland Wildlife Park, within Cairngorms’ boundaries, looked like the only chance I might get to see some of Scotland’s most interesting animals. Like Ireland, Scotland has a formidable history of extinctions. Only a tiny fraction of original native forest cover remains. Eurasian Lynx lived here until 1,500 years ago. Brown bears became extinct in the 9th or 10th century and elk survived until about 1300. Wild boar and wild ox (Urus) died out by the the 15th century. Auroch, huge cattle with sweeping horns which once roamed the forests of Europe and Scotland, have not been seen for nearly 400 year. The last known wolf was shot in Invernessshire in 1743.
Attempts at rewilding are being made. Scottish Natural Heritage have re-introduced the European Beaver using Norwegian stock. The species was found in the Highlands until the 15th century. Wild Boar have come back to a large fenced area of the Dundreggan Estate in Glenmoriston. Apparently the owner of the Alladale estate north of Inverness wants to add wolves to a wilderness reserve, the first of its kind in Britain. For now I’ll have to settle for the wonderful animals on show at the Highland Wildlife Park. Rare species like Wildcats, Pine Martens and Capercaillies. Will wild individuals even exist in a few decade’s time? Scottish conservationists are doing their best. I take my hat off to them.