Trees for Life’s Rewilding the Highlands Project

Rebuilding the relation between humans and the natural world. 

Trees for Life’s Rewilding the Highlands Project will involve the planting of 200,000 trees in a bid to restore the Caledonian Forest. With community engagement at its heart, the project also aims to create native woodland links between ancient Caledonian Forest fragments in the Highlands through engaging and involving people in practical tasks and discussions around the concept of ‘rewilding.’ The project launched with a symbolic journey in September 2016. Storytelling will play a vital role in creatively reconnecting people with the environment. 

Lakseeventyr/Salmon Fairytale

As part of the project, on Wednesday 26 April, storytellers Claire Hewitt and Essie Stewart will be joined by Torgeir Vassvik, Georgiana Keable and Martin Lee Mueller of Norway for a magical evening of stories and song at the Millenium Hall in Invermoriston, featuring the Lakseeventyr or ‘Salmon Fairytale.’ Combining joik (traditional song), philosophy and stories from Sami and North-American indigenous traditions, Salmon Fairytale is a story about wonder, loss and the amazing lifecycle of the beautiful salmon. The piece considers what connects salmon, philosophy and traditional storytelling, and asks: what has the industry done to the fish?

The show ‘Salmon Fairytale ‘will also visit Edinburgh’s TradFest on Saturday 29th April. 

Pearl Fishing

Following the evening’s performance, pupils at Invergarry PS pupils will be telling their own stories and songs about salmon and trees, developed in workshops with storyteller Claire Hewitt. Pupils will also get the chance to see a film and animation made by pupils at Lochaline PS about fresh water pearl mussels. This film highlights the close relationship between wild salmon, fresh water pearl mussels and local rivers.

Fifty percent of the world’s population of fresh water pearl mussels are found in Scotland and most of these are found on the River Moriston. The larvae of the mussel depend on salmon to move up the river. In the past, pearl fishers like Essie Stewart carefully removed the pearls ensuring the mussels survived to old age ( some up to 130 years!). Today, with dwindling populations of wild salmon and greedy pearl hunters, the mussels are very rare.

I did a lot of fishing myself – I liked to go out in the river. It takes years to know the rivers – really to know where to fish, know when to leave alone, but anyone can get the basics, and in those days  there were still plenty of pearls to be found.” – Essie Stewart, The Summer Walkers

Storyteller Essie Stewart prospecting for mussel shells in the Conon River, 1995

Future Projects

Rewilding the Highlands is currently working with five local schools (Invergarry, Fort Augustus, Balnain, Cannich and Drumnadrochit). Two of these (Glen Urquhart Community Campus in Drumnadrochit and Kilchuimen Academy in Fort Augustus) provide for pupils aged 3-18. All have native woodlands within walking distance and have areas of designated ancient pine forest nearby, where pupils have been invited to explore the special relationship that existed between people and trees in the past, including investigating Gaelic place names and the link between the Gaelic alphabet and trees.

Looking to the future, the Rewilding the Highlands will continue with poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn working with secondary schools on a Gaelic place-name map, using linguistic archaeology to reveal lost woods and wildlife in Glen Affric, Glen Urquhart, Glenmoriston and Glen Garry. Pupils will carry out research, with their discoveries added to the map. Storytellers Claire Hewitt and Bob Pegg will run two-day story-making/song writing workshops with upper stages pupils at Kilchuimen PS, Invergarry PS, Glen Urquhart PS, Balnain PS and Cannich Bridge PS. The focus will be on the names as a historical record of the ecology of the past, present and future. These names tell us what has thrived and could thrive again. This mapping will consider tree place names but also lost or rare species: for example, in Glenmoriston we have Creag a’ Mhadaidh (the wolf crag); Sron Muic (the sow’s snout); Tychat/Tigh a’ Chait (the wild-cat’s house).

Another aspect of the wider project is Project Wolfbeing trialled at Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston. This is a unique new conservation programme in which volunteers replicate the natural disturbance effects of Scotland’s extinct predators. The initiative is taking place during spring and early summer, when – without hunting activity or the presence of large predators – there is nothing to prevent deer from feasting on newly emerging seedlings and the new season’s growth on any young trees.

For more information about the project visit or email Joyce Gilbert.