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scotlandwolvesWolves lived in Scotland for thousands of years until heightened hunting eventually drove them into extinction.

The wolf traditionally cited as the last in all of Scotland, is said to have been killed on the upper reaches of the River Findhorn in the year 1743. According to this story a "black beast", thought to be a wolf, had attacked a woman and two children as they crossed the hills from Calder. So the Laird of Maclntosh arranged a "Tainchel" or gathering, to which all the hunters in the district were summoned, to attempt to drive the wolf from hiding and kill it. A well-known hunter of great reknown named MacQueen was ordered to attend, with his hunting dogs. MacQueen asked questions about the place of the alleged attack and sightings of the wolf, and promised to join the hunt.

On the day chosen Maclntosh and all the hunting men of the district gathered promptly - except for MacQueen, who was conspicuous by his absence. Time passed, and the Laird's temper grew short. At last MacQueen made a casual entrance with his dogs at heel, to be scolded immediately for his lateness by the angry Laird of Maclntosh.

But the Laird had a change of attitude when MacQueen lifted his plaid and drew forth the bloody head of the wolf. This he tossed at the Laird's feet, saying, “There it is for you!”

Duly impressed, the Laird praised MacQueen and rewarded him with a gift of the lands of Sean-achan, to grow crops to provide meals for himself and his dogs for all time to come.

And so died, according to tradition, the last Scottish wolf.

This of course, leads to the question...should the wolf be reintroduced into Scotland?

In order for any reintroduction of the wolf to Scotland to be successful, it is first necessary to secure a safe and viable future for wolves in areas of Europe where they have managed to survive human persecution, and in areas where they have returned, aided by legal protection and European Community policies and conventions encouraging conservation of native habitats, flora and fauna. The lessons to be learnt from this can then be applied to the challenge of co-existence with large carnivores in the Scottish Highlands.

Wolves and Humans aims to present the facts about wolves and share experiences working with people who live and work alongside wolves and other large carnivores, in order to enable people to consider and discuss the issues, and hopefully lay the foundations for informed debate about possible reintroduction in the future. There is still a lot to learn from other countries about co-existing with wolves; resolving problems of livestock conflict, impact of human development on wolves, management of wolf populations and many other issues.

Reintroducing the wolf to the Scottish Highlands was first proposed in the late 1960s, but the idea only started to gain wider publicity and support following the reintroductions of the red wolf to the south-eastern United States in 1989, and the grey wolf to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The media are always happy to report a story about reintroduction, keeping the topic constantly in the public forum; most proposals reported are unfounded, and lacking in scientific credibility.

Although the British government is required to consider the reintroduction of native species under article 22 of the EU Habitats and Species Directive of 1992, any proposal for reintroduction to Scotland would have to be approved by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government organisation responsible for wildlife and habitats in Scotland, and their position remains that they have no plans to consider reintroduction of wolves.

This is not going to change until something persuades them that reintroduction would not be a controversial issue and would be widely welcomed by the whole spectrum of land users and interests in Scotland. There are however pointers for the future; agriculture in Scotland, particularly sheep farming, which has always been one of the major stumbling blocks for returning large carnivores, is changing. From January 2005 subsidies based on production, where farmers and crofters receive payment per head of sheep or cattle, were replaced by Single Farm Payments. This means that farms and crofts receive a subsidy regardless of whether livestock are grazed, or crops grown. The subsidy also requires recipients to meet new rules for Good Agricultural or Environmental Condition. This change, coupled with a Scottish Executive ruling doubling the amount of land eligible for the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme, which provides grants for regeneration of native woodland and forestry, could see sheep being replaced by woodland restoration in the future, thus increasing suitable habitat for both predators and their prey.

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