Interview with The Alladale Nature Reserve

Sam Sutaria is an environmentalist who works for our sponsor: Alladale Wilderness Reserve. It was during his Masters course in Wildlife Filmmaking that he was able to combine his creative talents and passion for documentary with his academic background in conservation biology.

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Could you tell me about Alladale Wilderness Reserve?

Alladale Wilderness Reserve is a pioneering conservation and hospitality project in the Scottish Highlands. In 2003 Paul Lister bought the twenty-three-thousand-acre reserve with the aim to repair some of the damage to the Highland ecosystem and kick-start a new rural economy. We now have four beautiful lodges, where people come to experience, relax and rewild themselves; we meet everyone – from those who want their haggis blessed to those who just want a breath of fresh air! Working alongside our primary partner, The European Nature Trust, we have planted almost one million trees; a red squirrel population has been reintroduced; we are directly involved with a Scottish wildcat captive breeding programme alongside the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, amongst other projects. Most importantly I think we have contributed to a significant increase in the public awareness of the issues surrounding this word of the moment: rewilding.

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Why did you get involved in with Paul?

Paul has an incredible passion and drive, and approaches conservation issues in a realistic way; we both believe that those looking to do their part in protecting the environment have to consider the bigger picture and prioritise that which benefits the whole ecosystem. It is this more holistic approach that has seen the reserve’s biodiversity increase. There are certainly some differing opinions around the issue of rewilding in the Highlands, but we are starting to see more and more exciting evidence of its benefits, not least the story of Yellowstone National Park and its reintroduction of wolves –  from which Alladale takes a lot of inspiration.

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Could you explain the ‘Yellowstone Effect’?

The Yellowstone Effect is really referring to trophic cascades. The idea here being that the introduction of larger predators – wolves – into an ecosystem alters the number and behaviour of grazing animals – elk – in order to produce significant changes to vegetation and biodiversity. Taking the example of Yellowstone National Park, wolves were reintroduced in 1995 controlling the elk population that had, over the past seventy years, grazed on the vegetation until it was severely degraded. The wolves changed the behaviour of the elk; the elk started to avoid areas of the park where they didn’t fancy their chances against wolves and those places have started to regenerate. Everything takes time, but the initial signs are certainly encouraging!

How is the Reserve used as an educational tool?

The Reserve attempts to inspire a sincere appreciation and respect for the natural world among all people; from children to adults. The importance of education in conservation globally cannot be stressed enough. An integral part of the Alladale Wilderness Reserve vision is our HOWL programme, offering a specially designed journey for young adults and school children across the UK and beyond. During the four-day experience our participants not only improve their understanding about the natural world, ecology and conservation but also learn key life skills – the guys climb a munro, go fishing, explore our projects, camp out and cook in the wild. If you are associated with a school that may be interested in taking part do get in touch!

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What ways do you think city-dwellers can protect the environment? 

People are disconnected with nature these days. I think it’s crucial that people go outdoors and engage with wilderness in a respectful way. Of course you can stop eating meat, be more conscious around the house, or donate to wonderful foundations, but actually connecting with wilderness is the best way to inspire others to do the same – this is simply the most effective way to conserve the little we have left.

How did you get involved with the Barnes Film Festival? 

I am very attached to the local area as I went to school in Barnes. Although I have moved away now, I support the festival for its combination of film and sustainability. At TENT, it is in our belief that film is a very powerful tool in conservation, so a festival that encourages this among young people combined everything we love. We are certainly proud sponsors!

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And since we are a film festival: what is your favourite film with a green theme? 

The Jungle Book! I really believe in making environmental themes and content accessible, and engaging people with storytelling like this is the perfect way to do so.

 Lastly, do you have any advice for younger filmmakers?

Watch everything possible! It is important to know what’s out there already before you start making something for yourself, and you never know what you might come across to use as inspiration for that first film.

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Details of the HOWL programme can be found here  and for more information on The European Nature Trust, click here.

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