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Bunloit Estate Rewilding Project (Highlands Rewilding)

United Kingdom Bunloit, Inverness-shire, Scotland

Through the restoration of woodlands and peatlands and the managed grazing of grasslands, Highlands Rewilding aims to increase carbon sequestration and biodiversity while delivering local community benefits at Bunloit.

Nature-based intervention:

Since 2020, Highlands Rewilding has managed the 511 hectare Bunloit Estate to achieve four goals through rewilding efforts: increasing carbon sequestration, enhancing biodiversity, community prosperity, and developing sustainable income streams (1). Rewilding efforts are conducted across peatland, woodland, and grassland habitat types. Peatland restoration is undertaken by removing non-native conifer plantations and controlling drainage to reduce water loss (2). Woodland restoration is facilitated through the supplementary planting of mixed-species native trees of local stock and natural regeneration accompanied with the control of deer populations. Low-intensity grazing by Highland cattle is used to maintain species-rich grasslands. The management of the project involves a consultative process with scientists, local community members and environmental experts.

Overview of context:

The Bunloit Estate has been inhabited since the 1500s, with historical land uses including crofts, game shooting, plantations, and grazing. The landscape is a mosaic of broadleaf woodland, conifer plantations, peatlands, heathland, scrub and grassland. A 2021 baseline analysis of natural capital found that the site was a net emitter of carbon (from degraded peat soils), averaging a net loss of 240 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) per year (1). The site hosts threatened fungi and bird species, rare dragonfly species, and internationally significant lichens. The project seeks to support Scottish Government goals to achieve net-zero carbon targets by 2045 and reverse nature loss by 2030 (3). The estate is located within the 200,000 hectare ‘Affric Highlands’ initiative for landscape-scale restoration.

Case effectiveness on

Climate change

Mitigation: Not reported

Following the acquisition of the estate by Highlands Rewilding in 2020, an assessment of natural capital was carried out in 2021. Peatlands in the estate were found to store around 10 times more tCO2e than woodlands (1). However, peatlands in the estate function as a net carbon source (6). Hence, peatland restoration efforts are prioritised and implemented through “re-wetting” (5). Carbon sequestration from the restoration of peatlands and new broadleaf plantations at Bunloit is estimated to have the potential for net 60,747 tCO2e savings over 100 years, taking account of carbon stock lost from felling of non-native plantations (1). Baselines of aboveground biomass and soil organic carbon have been established against which such potential changes can be measured.

Adaptation: Not reported

While outcomes for climate adaptation have not yet been explicitly measured, ecological restoration at Bunloit is likely to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts in the future. The restoration of natural ecosystem processes can build resilience to adapt to climate change (4).

Ecosystem health

Ecological effect: Unclear

Habitat surveys have found that relatively little of the estate is in good condition, and nearly 47% is in poor condition, according to the Defra Metric (metric not designed for Scottish habitats) (6). The presence and recent removal of non-native conifer plantations, peatland drainage, gorse scrub, and over-grazing of native woodlands, are the reported causes of this poor condition. Highlands Rewilding aims to restore native broadleaf woodlands, peatland, and species-rich grassland across the estate, to improve habitat condition and biodiversity. Efforts to restore peatlands are expected to increase the number of marsh and peatland species. Additionally, Highlands Rewilding plans to introduce wood ant species to promote seed dispersal and tree growth. Baseline biodiversity surveys have revealed 27 priority invertebrate species, with 65 priority species in a 5 km radius from Bunloit. This highlights that there is potential for an increase in priority species within Bunloit following conservation efforts.

Socioeconomic outcomes

Highlands Rewilding projects aim to provide opportunities for community ownership of land across all estates (see Beldorney Estate case study) in light of concentrated land ownership in Scotland (8). Through a mass-ownership model, local communities are represented in land management decisions, with 40% of shareholders living in Scotland (9). To ensure that communities prosper from rewilding and natural capital projects, Highlands Rewilding has outlined an ‘Engagement Roadmap’ that delineates community engagement strategies within the project. The roadmap aims to consult with local communities to identify their desired socio-economic benefits, such as potential advantages in job creation, increased access to nature, and support for locally produced food. In line with this roadmap, Highlands Rewilding has received funding from the Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland scheme to create partnerships with communities (Joint Ventures) to capitalise on benefits from nature recovery and generated ecosystem services (10). Across Highlands Rewilding’s estates, 27 people are employed, of which 17 reside in the local area. Opportunities are also extended to universities and local school students to engage in the organisation’s work, several of whom have taken place in summer placements or apprenticeships.


Local participation in Governance: Passive

Highlands Rewilding employs a participatory governance model where community members are consulted and engaged on estate initiatives. As a mass ownership company, Highlands Rewilding has 809 shareholders, of which 5% live in the communities around the estates. In addition, Highlands Rewilding emphasises that their board of directors reside and work in the Highlands.


Highlands Rewilding is a mass ownership company. Projects are financed through equity funding, where the public are able to invest at least £50 to have an ownership stake. As of 2024, £11 million was raised in equity from 809 shareholders. Investors include individuals and financial institutions, with no shareholder owning more than 13%. In addition, Highlands Rewilding worked with Ecosulis to test sustainable income streams from rewilding credits through the CreditNature platform (7). The adoption of natural capital income streams is facilitated through the data-driven approach to establish baselines and monitor natural capital on the estate.

Monitoring and evaluation

To establish the baseline, Highlands Rewilding modelled carbon emissions using country and habitat specific data and supported this with data obtained from measurements, focusing on above and belowground biomass in woodlands and soil organic carbon in peatlands and grasslands. Measurements were obtained from volumetric LIDAR measurements of woodland biomass and peat depth measurements to determine volumes of peat and extrapolate to tonnes of CO2e (1). Biodiversity baselines involved the collection of data for eDNA assessment as well as plant, mammal, bird, insect, amphibian and reptile surveys, conducted through camera traps and on-the-ground surveys using plots and transects.

Following the baseline study of carbon stocks and biodiversity in the estate in 2021, yearly natural capital reports have been published that document results from biodiversity surveys and shed light on management plans. Long-term monitoring sites have been established to assess biodiversity changes.

Trade-offs and limitations

In the short-term, removal of non-native conifer plantations likely contributed to losses in carbon stock. Over time, with restoration of native woodland and peatland on the estate, gains in biodiversity, increased carbon sequestration and reduced emissions from peatland are expected.


  1. Bunloit Rewilding. 2021. Natural Capital Report: Bunloit Rewildling.
  2. Ghazoul, J. and Schweizer, D. 2021. Forests for the future: Restoration success at landscape scale – what will it take and what have we learned? Prince Bernhard Chair Reports. Editors: Almond, R. E. A., Grooten, M. and Van Kujik, M. WWF Netherlands, Zeist and Utrecht University, Netherlands.
  3. Highlands Rewilding. 2022. Second Natural Capital Report: Taking nature recovery to scale.
  4. Morecroft, M. D., Duffield, S., Harley, M., Pearce-Higgins, J. W., Stevens, N., Watts, O. and Whitaker, J. 2019. Measuring the success of climate change adaptation and mitigation in terrestrial ecosystems. Science 366:1-5.
  5. Hannon, M. and Kerr, F. 2022. Carbon offsetting for communities: Loch Ness field trip report. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
  6. Highlands Rewilding. 2023. Third Natural Capital Report: Building natural capital.
  7. Ecosulis. Bunloit Rewilding case study.
  8. Glenn, S. et al. 2019. Investigation into the issues associated with large scale and concentrated landownership in Scotland. Scottish Land Comission.
  9. Highlands Rewilding. 2024. The Scotsman: How a mass-ownership company can help communities prosper, boost nature recovery and tackle climate change.
  10. Highlands Rewilding. N.d. Highlands Rewilding receives funding from the Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland (FIRNS).
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Intervention type

  • Management
  • Restoration
Conducted at landscape scale

Ecosystem type

  • Temperate forests
  • Temperate grasslands
  • Peatland

Climate change impacts addressed

  • Drought


  • Local private sector

Societal challenges

  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Economic and Social development
  • Rights/empowerment/equality
  • Food security


  • Food security: Positive
  • Water security: Not reported
  • Health: Not reported
  • Local economics: Positive
  • Livelihoods/goods/basic needs: Not reported
  • Energy security: Not reported
  • Disaster risk reduction: Not reported
  • Rights/empowerment/equality: Unclear
  • Recreation: Positive
  • Education: Positive
  • Conflict and security: Positive
  • No. developmental outcomes reported: 5


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Literature info

  • Grey literature
Case methodology not reported