Well, yes. But despite their beauty and drama, many of those landscapes have been stripped of the abundance and complexity of life they once supported. Without the animals that helped shape them, these places have become, at best, just scenery.
Being postcard-worthy isn’t going help Scotland play its role in tackling the overlapping nature and climate emergencies. For that, we urgently need large-scale nature restoration.
Here Scotland has the choice and the opportunity to become a rewilding nation, with 30% of our land and seas enjoying nature recovery by 2030, and with everyone sharing the benefits of landscapes much richer in nature, from new job opportunities to improved public health.
Growing numbers of rewilding projects, often rooted in their communities, are helping to restore our peatlands, wetlands, woodlands, rivers and seas, while helping wildlife – from red squirrels to oysters – rebound.
This is a groundswell of hope. Yet we need to do something more. We need to address the fact that we have driven all of our large predators to extinction and so far, failed to allow a single one of them back.
Predators matter. They play a vital role in maintaining healthy living systems. Biodiversity is badly affected by their absence.
Of course, any reintroduction needs to be realistic and reasonable, and work for Scotland. Rightly, any reintroduction requires approval by the Scottish Government, with habitat assessments and full public consultation.
All of which is why the Eurasian lynx is in the spotlight as the best candidate for a return.
Research suggests the Highlands has the habitat to support around 400 lynx. These shy and elusive woodland hunters pose no danger to people, and have successfully returned to European countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland.
In April this year, the case for reintroducing lynx was discussed in the Scottish Parliament for the first time – reflecting an emerging conversation around the return of this native species, missing from Scotland since being made extinct more than 500 years ago.
Last year, the Lynx to Scotland partnership completed the first detailed research into people’s attitudes towards a lynx reintroduction, consulting farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, conservationists, landowners, tourism operators and rural communities in the Cairngorms and Argyll.
The one-year study found sufficient appetite from a diverse range of people to examine whether potential barriers to lynx reintroduction can be overcome. Conversations have since begun between cross-sector groups, to build cooperation and explore the issues.
Now the Lynx to Scotland partnership between rewilding charities SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Lifescape, and Trees for Life has produced a new briefing paper highlighting 10 reasons for bringing back the lynx. Here they are.
1. The public want lynx. A series of polls have demonstrated widespread support for their return – signalling growing societal concern for the degraded state of Scotland’s nature.
2. Righting a wrong. Scotland is one of only a handful of European countries still lacking any large predators.
Human activity – hunting and deforestation – caused the extinction of lynx, and so we have a responsibility to return them.
3. Revitalising natural processes. Lynx specialise in hunting woodland deer. Their influence helps maintain the health of forest ecosystems, and their return would restore natural processes, helping to recycle nutrients and boost biodiversity.
4. Tackling the climate emergency. Scotland has less native woodland than almost any European country. By reducing the over-abundance of deer – or just changing their behaviour – lynx could help Scotland’s forests to expand and lock up more carbon.
5. Meeting international commitments. The Scottish Government has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and reversing it by 2045, acknowledging in the Edinburgh Declaration the need for transformative action. It is difficult to envision how these ambitions can be realised without reintroducing lynx. In addition, doing so would be a signal to the world that Scotland is serious about nature recovery.
6. Setting an example. Other countries – many with higher population densities than ours – coexist with animals that are much more challenging than lynx. By refusing to countenance the return of an animal that is relatively easy to live with, we risk appearing intolerant and hypocritical. Instead, we could lead by example.
7. A boon to local tourism. Lynx would attract visitors, with people drawn to the chance to experience a landscape shared with this charismatic animal, to walk in its footsteps or simply feel its hidden stare from the depths of the forest.
8. A wider economic boost. Possibilities exist for developing a diverse range of “lynx-friendly” products, from food and drink to wood and wool. The wider influence of lynx could reduce other costs linked to deer, such as tree damage, fencing and car accidents.
9. Inspiring hope. Wellbeing is increasingly understood to be linked to a healthy natural environment, with many young people anxious about the lack of action to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises. The return of lynx would encourage hopes for a fairer, greener future.
10. Rewilding ourselves. Lynx evoke an intangible sense of awe and wonder that we only experience in the presence of wildness. The return of these animals promises to help reconnect our frayed relationship with nature and restore a sense of pride in Scotland’s natural heritage.
Ultimately, the return of this magnificent creature is about choices. Are we willing to coexist with other species? Are we serious about our role in restoring nature? Can we justifiably expect other countries to protect large carnivores when we won’t?
If the answer to such questions is yes, the return of the lynx offers us the opportunity to press the reset button and begin a new relationship with the wild world.
Peter Cairns is executive director of rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture (www.scotlandbigpicture.com) and partner of the Lynx to Scotland project