Page last updated at 07:44 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 08:44 UK

Moose back on the loose

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News


Moose back in the Scottish Highlands (footage: BBC Natural World)

"When you have radical ideas like this, people think you're a crackpot," says Paul Lister.

The Scottish landowner is a man on a mission.

He plans to wind back the clock at his estate in the Highlands by repopulating the land with a raft of animals that have not been seen in Britain for hundreds of years - including brown bears, lynx and wolves.

"What I'm aiming is to create a wilderness and wildlife reserve similar to those that exist in Southern Africa; something that is controlled, managed and fenced," he told BBC News.

"It is nothing like Britain or Europe has ever seen before."

Paul Lister (Mike Birkhead)
I get quite angry when I think about the fact that when we want to put back just 1% of the Highlands, we get potential resentment from some quarters
Paul Lister

The idea for the proposed project came to Mr Lister years ago.

He explained: "The main problem we have in Scotland is a complete overpopulation of red deer. We probably have triple or quadruple the number of red deer than we can sustain.

"When I was 20, I was out shooting deer and I started thinking about why we were having to cull so many of them. And the reason was that we got rid of all the predators years ago.

"By bringing large predators back - wolves, lynxes and bears - then we would end up with a more healthy and balanced population of ungulates."

He is keen to point out that he is not trying to reintroduce animals back into the wild, rather he is aiming for a "controlled release" into a 50,000 acre (20,000 hectare) fenced enclosure.

Bringing back moose

A BBC Natural World team has been following Mr Lister set up his multi-million pound scheme.

And it has all started with animals that have not been seen in the wild in Britain for many centuries - a pair of moose (Alces alces, also referred to as elk in Europe).

They have recently arrived from Sweden and have been settling into a 450 acre (180 hectare) enclosure within Mr Lister's Alladale Estate.

They join some newly introduced wild boar and also 80,000 Caledonian pine, juniper, hazel and birch trees, which have recently been planted to bring back the land that he bought four years ago from its "desert state".

The moose were flown in to Scotland from Sweden (footage: BBC Natural World)

But while a couple of moose and some new flora are unlikely to attract too much debate, the proposed plan to introduce larger predators to his fenced reserve has provoked more controversy.

Local farmers are worried about the impact on local livestock should any large predators escape from the Alladale Estate.

On the other hand, the proposed fence to keep animals in is worrying local ramblers who want to safeguard their right to roam.

And while some ecologists are onboard with Mr Lister's idea, others have concerns.

Timothy Coulson, professor of population biology at Imperial College London, says: "In many ways, I think this is a nice idea and I applaud him for investing the time and money to see if this will work.

"However, the proposed area for the reserve is too small to viably support, in the long run, an ecosystem containing large predators.

"A single pack of wolves will cover a huge territory, so in 50,000 acres you could probably just have one pack, and for long term survival, the animal population would have to be actively managed."

Grey Wolf
Wolves were hunted to extinction in the UK about 200 years ago

Mr Lister points out that there is still much to do before larger predators can be brought in.

For a start, he says, he needs to increase the size of his estate from 23,000 acres to 50,000 acres and there is also the need to bring his neighbours on board, as well as to navigate through the reams of red tape the project would involve.

However, he is optimistic, and believes the reserve could be up and running in two to five years.

He told the BBC: "We have covered our countryside with motorways, highways, buildings, golf courses and so on to our own benefit and satisfaction to the detriment of every animal that has ever lived there.

"I get quite angry when I think about the fact that when we want to put back just 1% of the Highlands, we get potential resentment from some quarters.

"When someone wants to come along and do something good for the native flora and fauna, we ought to put our hands up and get on with it."

The BBC Natural World programme Moose in the Glen will be shown on BBC Two on Wednesday 16 April at 2000 BST

Wild wolves 'good for ecosystems'
31 Jan 07 |  Science/Nature
The demise of Scotland's wolves
31 Jan 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Warning on deer population boom
12 May 05 |  Scotland
Call for wolves to be reintroduced
25 Jun 02 |  Scotland


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