Wilderness, Religion and Ecological Restoration in the Scottish Highlands


  • Michael S. Northcott University of Edinburgh




Highlands, wilderness, conservation


The efforts of nature conservation bodies to return parts of the Highlands to a ‘pristine’ state involve attempts to reduce both signs of human dwelling and the destructive impacts of animals introduced by wealthy landlords for sport and cash such as deer and sheep. The irony is that such restoration projects will still not achieve the levels of biodiversity that obtained before the Clearances when Gaels dwelt in what are now regarded as ecologically rich but threatened regions. Wilderness restoration projects reflect in some ways the modern romantic fetishisation of wild nature which finds its modern equivalent in the growing practice of wilderness therapy. Discussions amongst philosophers of wilderness, and ecological restoration, frequently neglect the dimension of the environmental exclusion of indigenous people, and so also tend to fetishise wilderness. Biblical accounts of wilderness restoration are strongly at variance with modern approaches when they suggest that the divine intent to restore desert to fertile land involves also the redemption of the poor, and of other species, from the greed and corruption of the wealthy. In this sense the land reform project of the new Scottish Parliament comes closer to a Biblical vision of wilderness restoration than traditional nature conservation strategies.

Author Biography

Michael S. Northcott, University of Edinburgh

Reader in Christian Ethics, University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity, Mound Place, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2LX


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How to Cite

Northcott, M. S. (2005). Wilderness, Religion and Ecological Restoration in the Scottish Highlands. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 10(3), 382–399. https://doi.org/10.1558/ecot.2005.10.3.382