The Big Bad Wolf is misunderstood – so why do we fear its return to Britain?

Reintroducing the ‘fear factor’ to Britain would significantly improve biodiversity, ecologists argue. But if plans go ahead, we will have to face our fears too, writes Phoebe Weston

Wednesday 29 May 2019 16:28
Wolves have an incredible ability to regenerate tattered, overgrazed landscapes
Wolves have an incredible ability to regenerate tattered, overgrazed landscapes

I was a few hours from Rome listening to the primordial howl of a wolf pack in the half light of the moon. This could be the opening scene to a cautionary tale by the Grimm Brothers but wild encounters like this are no longer lodged in the past: wolves are weaving their way back into Europe, which is now home to 20,000, with numbers growing each year.

In fairy tales the wolf is depicted as an undomesticated brute. We read about them swallowing grandmothers and blowing down houses owned by innocent little pigs. A wolf in sheep’s clothing describes someone who doesn’t show their true self.

The Big Bad Wolf was once the most wide-ranging mammal on the planet – except for humans – and since becoming a protected species they have quickly recolonised their ancient hunting grounds. In Europe numbers have quadrupled since 1969. From deserts to forests to moorland, wolves can live almost anywhere and increasingly there are controversial calls to reintroduce this apex predator back in the UK.

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