BREXIT has made the task of rewilding Scotland more difficult, the chief executive of a leading conservation charity has said.

Speaking to a podcast from the European Movement in Scotland, Trees for Life boss Steve Micklewright said that the UK leaving the EU had presented problems in their efforts to rewild an area of the Highlands “the size of a small country”.

Trees for Life, which was founded by the Scots conservationist Alan Watson Featherstone in 1986, is aiming to plant forest connecting Glen Moriston – where it has its rewilding centre at Dundreggan – to the famous Glen Affric.

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Micklewright told the podcast: “We have a landscape that we call Affric Highlands, that’s 500,000 acres, the size of a small country, that we’re seeking to rewild over the next 30 years.

“That’s been recognised by our friends at Rewilding Europe as one of ten landscapes across the European continent that are kind of exemplars of rewilding.”

The charity boss said the list included rewilding efforts in Romania, Italy, Germany, and Ukraine.

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about this. Nature knows no boundaries and nor should we. We work really closely with our European colleagues because they are doing things that we can translate to Scotland, and we are doing things that they can translate to their European landscapes as well.

“It’s just wonderful to feel part of a European-wide movement that’s making change happen.”

The National: Steve Micklewright is CEO of Trees for Life. Photo: Alex Baxter

But asked about the impact of Brexit by host Dr Kirsty Hughes, Micklewright (above) said it had “of course” presented problems.

Explaining the issues, he went on: “The main problem it will cause is funding. The rewilding centre that we have here received over £1 million of funding through Nature Scot, which is the Scottish Government’s nature conservation agency, which is European development fund money. That goes.

“We are one of the last beneficiaries of that fund in Scotland. We won’t have that anymore. So if somebody else wants a rewilding centre, a really important source of European funding … has gone.

“So that’s the hardest thing. We can’t apply for LIFE funding, which is a major pot of European money that could have helped with reintroducing species, could have helped with the Caledonian pine woods – because they’re a unique habitat in the world and the EU recognise that. That funding stream has gone.

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“And there is an issue over labour as well. We are running a hospitality venue here in the Scottish Highlands and there are many European friends that would have loved to work here. Now, they can’t.”

But, Micklewright said: “Despite Brexit we’re still working really closely with the people we should be in Europe.”

Trees for Life opened its rewilding centre at Dundreggan in April in what was billed as a “world first”.

The charity said the site was designed to offer a gateway for visitors to explore the 10,000-acre Dundreggan estate, where work is aimed at restoring the Caledonian forest and its wildlife.

Speaking to the European Movement in Scotland podcast, Micklewright said that the importance of story-telling in connecting people to rewilding was a key lesson they had learnt from their European partners.

“Story-telling is what really turns people on to rewilding,” he said. “There are some wonderful landscapes where people are telling the stories of families that were no longer living in parts of Portugal, but Rewilding Portugal have established the landscape and people are coming back …

“That’s the process. It’s about, not just nature coming back slowly and gradually, it’s also about people changing and figuring out how they can sustain a modern life in this landscape.”