Call of the wolf chills Scotland

Wilderness campaigners who want the howl of the wolf to be heard again in the highlands of Scotland were yesterday warned of the high price that might have to be paid in sheeps' lives and lawsuits.

The last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1746 but in recent years some conservationists have argued that not only should wild landscapes be protected but that extinct species should be reintroduced. The Government is bound by a European Union directive to consider the possibility.

But writing in the latest issue of The Field, clan chief Willy Newlands criticises "suburban dinner-party conservationists" who want to foist their English enthusiasms on to Scottish farmers. "The eerie howling of a wolf pack on a frosty night could be a dramatic restoration of one of the natural wonders of the Highlands, but the price to be paid would be high," writes Mr Newlands.

Wolves would do little to control deer, preferring to hunt the abundant sheep or ponies, he argues. Organisations who set wolves free could also face expensive lawsuits if tourists were frightened away or if anyone were to be mauled. In the southern Alps, French farmers are demanding the destruction of reintroduced wolf packs which have killed nearly 500 sheep in one season.

Simon Pepper, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Scotland, accepts that any reintroduction of the wolf, even on islands, is decades away. "Long term it is an exciting vision, but we do not see it as a practical proposition yet. Issues to do with the interaction with livestock and people would have to be resolved."

WWF's first candidate for reintroduction to the wild in Scotland would probably be the beaver, which is harmless. The European beaver does not even gnaw down trees in the cartoon manner of its American cousin.