Magazine article Geographical

Return of the Wolf: Wolves May No Longer Roam the Wild Realms of the UK, but Plans to Bring Them Back to the Scottish Highlands May Be a Boon for Photographers Wishing to Visually Capture the Wild Beasts

Magazine article Geographical

Return of the Wolf: Wolves May No Longer Roam the Wild Realms of the UK, but Plans to Bring Them Back to the Scottish Highlands May Be a Boon for Photographers Wishing to Visually Capture the Wild Beasts

Article excerpt

Despite regular culls, it is commonly accepted that Britain's deer population is the highest it's ever been. In fact, red deer numbers in Scotland have doubled in the past 50 years. As deer spread throughout the countryside, and even into urban areas, constant grazing means the shoots of the next generation of native woodland trees never survive the deer's next nibble.

Increasingly, some conservationists and government environment officials are considering the reintroduction of a British predator capable of controlling the growing deer numbers. Such a move, they argue, would restore the natural balance, improve biodiversity and help revive native British woodlands. Cue: the return of the wolf.

Just over 20 years ago a similar situation existed in America's Yellowstone National Park as growing populations of elk grazed the landscape unhindered. Wolves were reintroduced and the results have been dramatic: not only were elk numbers reduced, but the fear of wolves kept them on the move, allowing young trees to grow and re-establish in areas that had been grazed bare. This included riverbanks where tree roots were able to shore up the banks, slowing the flow of rivers and creating more pools to attract other wildlife species.

Yellowstone's experience of wolf reintroduction also had a positive effect on tourism: wolf-watching tours were launched and immediately attracted hundreds of visitors each year, keen to photograph these apex predators. With more than 100 wolves established in the park and around 500 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, this is one of the best places in the world to photograph wild wolves. Yellowstone's example of a positive, 'wolf-led' environmental impact and economic benefit has boosted the position of those arguing for the reintroduction of wolves to Scotland.

HEADING WEST

As in the UK, Europe's wolves have been persecuted for centuries, but a more enlightened policy recognising the importance of the wild canines to the health of the ecosystem has seen their numbers quadruple since 1970. From their strongholds in Eastern and Southern Europe, wolf packs are steadily moving west: in 2014 wolves were recorded in Denmark for the first time in 200 years and last year a pack was photographed in woodland just 50km south of Hamburg, Germany's second largest city. Wolves are protected in Germany and their return was a natural occurrence, first recorded in 1998, when seen wandering across the border from neighbouring Poland.

Unsurprisingly, there have been attacks on livestock, angering farmers, but compensation payments for losses have tempered this reaction. In fact, there have been relatively few reported conflicts between wolves and humans in Germany and other countries so far, but their expansion westward means they are moving into more densely populated areas in Belgium and the Netherlands.

WOLF-WATCHING HOLIDAYS

As wolves spread and their numbers increase, wolf watching and photography holidays are now a growing market in many parts of Europe. From northern Spain and Portugal, to the Abruzzi mountains of Italy and the dense forests of eastern Finland, there are now plenty of specialist operators who conduct workshops, operating from well-positioned hides in areas where wolves frequently roam.

Hide photography of any wild species requires great patience and silence, primarily to avoid giving away your presence to creatures that have acute sensory awareness. This is particularly true of the wolf, a master of stealth and the silent approach: they will hear any unusual sound or disturbance long before you realise they are nearby. In their own domain wolves are assured and fearless, the apex predator, and see any other species--humans included--as passing guests. Even a long-established hide won't go unnoticed, its presence tolerated as part of the landscape by all wildlife, not just wolves.

Although a hide increases your chances of photographing wolves at close proximity, telephoto lenses are still the primary choice. …

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