Scotland wants to rewild its famous wilderness

(CNN)On the edge of the Scottish Highlands, three families of beavers slip, slide and splash between a series of ponds and swamps at the Bamff estate. The animals have been breeding there for almost two decades, brought in by Paul and Louise Ramsay who own the estate, and are now establishing themselves in the wild.

The Ramsays are often credited as pioneers in the reintroduction of Eurasian beavers, which are native to the UK but were hunted to extinction there during the 16th century. They are just the first chapter in what is now a nationwide rewilding movement.
As Scotland hosts the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, calls on the government to support rewilding, regenerate peatland and reintroduce lost species are becoming louder -- and the potential benefits becoming clearer.
    With their dam-building, beavers can quickly modify a landscape, creating ponds and canals.
    "Paul and I wanted to bring back beavers in order to restore the wetlands and because we believe that animals that have been here historically should be returned," Louise Ramsay tells CNN. "What we learned as we went along that journey was that the beaver doesn't just bring itself back, it brings back extraordinary habitat and an extreme boom in biodiversity."
      Trees felled by the gnawing beavers offer a rich habitat to fungi, insects, owls and woodpeckers, and intricate dams built along the ditch that runs through the 1,300-acre estate have turned the area into a wide wetland where otters, herons and water voles thrive.
        Frogs and toads -- populations of which are in decline across much of the UK -- have arrived in their masses since the beavers were introduced, says Sophie Ramsay, daughter of Paul and Louise, who also manages the estate.
        "Come summer, we normally see thousands upon thousands of them -- there are times when you can't walk because they are everywhere on the ground," she says.
          Mother-and-daughter team Louise and Sophie Ramsay are looking to rewild the Bamff estate, which has been in the family since 1232.

          Into the wild

          But while the beavers have already transformed the landscape, the Ramsays are intent on making it even wilder. Last year, they announced a "wildland project", which aims to transform 12 fields and six woods across 450 acres into an interconnected, self-sufficient area where cattle, pigs and ponies roam free.
          The Ramsays hope that by surrendering to the wild land that has historically been used for farming, plantations and sports such as pheasant and grouse shooting, they can help to restore biodiversity, sequester carbon and mitigate impacts of climate change like flooding and drought.
          "When you have a patch of land like this, there's a chance to do something meaningful with it, however small," says Sophie.
          The Cairngorms Connect project sprawls 600 square kilometers (230 square miles), stretching from ancient pine woods of Abernethy (pictured) to some of Britain's highest peaks. Credit: scotlandbigpicture.com