More than 50 investors – including a Hollywood screenwriter and a solo mountaineering world champion – bought Highlands Rewilding, becoming the first shareholders in a company created by eco-entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett.
Mr Leggett, a former scientific director of Greenpeace, bought the 1,200-acre Bunloit estate near Loch Ness in 2020, following the sale of his company Solarcentury, which introduced solar panels to the mass market.
Last year he added the 860-acre Beldorney estate, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire, to his portfolio.
Its aim is to “create a nature reserve that optimally sequesters carbon, develops biodiversity, creates green jobs and generates profits in the process”.
It will also be a center for scientific research, in particular to quantify the potential for carbon absorption by the landscape, and for development that respects the environment.
To do this, he sells land to his new company Highland Rewilding through a crowdfunding campaign.
Going wild: how the Scots are trying to save nature through rewilding
Most of the Beldorney land – an area covering 852 acres – as well as two-thirds of the Bunloit estate – 830 acres – has now been sold.
More action will be offered later, with prices starting at £10 to encourage a wider co-ownership base, with a focus on Scots in general and Highlanders in particular.
Mr Leggett, Managing Director and Founder of Highland Rewilding, said: “If we are to win the existential battle against climate collapse and biodiversity collapse, we must demonstrate that fixing nature creates more prosperity for more of people than to continue to undermine it.
“And we must involve the full fighting force of local communities in the struggle.
“Highlands Rewilding aims to do both of these things.”
He says the company’s definition of rewilding “is very much people-centric” because the battle to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be won “without the full involvement of communities in the fight”. .
“Hence the mass ownership model on which we intend Highlands Rewilding,” he said.
In addition to the regeneration works, affordable eco-homes are being built in Bunloit to help repopulate the area.
Meanwhile, a woodland legacy known as the Forest of Hope – celebrating the historic UN COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow last year – is to be planted in Beldorney.
It will see 250,000 native hardwoods of mixed species planted on the site, with potential for future expansion.
The project is being carried out as a public-private collaboration, led by environmental groups Highlands Rewilding, Climate Action and Cabrach Trust, with support from conservation charities Trees for Life and Woodland Trust.
The Highlands Rewilding team, now 17 strong, has already produced its first scientific report, showing how carbon and biodiversity can be quantified “at a granular level”.
They will regularly update natural capital inventories at the sites while assessing the impacts of restoration works and other land management measures.
Shareholders could potentially benefit from increased land values and profits from nature-based solutions to the environmental crisis, thanks in part to government payments for carbon offsets and the rush of companies to green their credentials.