Wolf reintroduction to Scotland: public attitudes and consequences for red deer management.
Nilsen EB., Milner-Gulland EJ., Schofield L., Mysterud A., Stenseth NC., Coulson T.
Reintroductions are important tools for the conservation of individual species, but recently more attention has been paid to the restoration of ecosystem function, and to the importance of carrying out a full risk assessment prior to any reintroduction programme. In much of the Highlands of Scotland, wolves (Canis lupus) were eradicated by 1769, but there are currently proposals for them to be reintroduced. Their main wild prey if reintroduced would be red deer (Cervus elaphus). Red deer are themselves a contentious component of the Scottish landscape. They support a trophy hunting industry but are thought to be close to carrying capacity, and are believed to have a considerable economic and ecological impact. High deer densities hamper attempts to reforest, reduce bird densities and compete with livestock for grazing. Here, we examine the probable consequences for the red deer population of reintroducing wolves into the Scottish Highlands using a structured Markov predator-prey model. Our simulations suggest that reintroducing wolves is likely to generate conservation benefits by lowering deer densities. It would also free deer estates from the financial burden of costly hind culls, which are required in order to achieve the Deer Commission for Scotland's target deer densities. However, a reintroduced wolf population would also carry costs, particularly through increased livestock mortality. We investigated perceptions of the costs and benefits of wolf reintroductions among rural and urban communities in Scotland and found that the public are generally positive to the idea. Farmers hold more negative attitudes, but far less negative than the organizations that represent them.