Scottish Man Completes Walk Across Canada to Raise Money for Rewilding Efforts

It took Michael Yellowlees and his husky Luna nine months to cross the country.

Michael Yellowlees and dog Luna at Cape Spear in Newfoundland

Trees For Life

While I spent my summer tapping out articles on a laptop and hauling kids down to the lake after work, Michael Yellowlees was having a much harder time of it. He was slogging across Canada on foot, all the way from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.

Starting in February 2021 in Tofino, British Columbia, Yellowlees set out with his furry, four-footed best friend, an Alaskan husky named Luna, to make the slow and impressive journey to Cape Spear, Newfoundland. It took him nine months to complete, with his final day of travel being December 5.

What's interesting is that Yellowlees isn't even Canadian. He's from Perthshire, Scotland—and looks every inch the quintessential Scotsman, with a kilt and long flowing red hair and beard. He chose Canada because he wanted to raise money for a charity called Trees For Life that's working to "rewild" Scotland's Caledonian Forest after centuries of deforestation. Canada, with its vast tracts of forest, seemed like the right inspirational spot.

On his fundraising page, Yellowlees explained, "I am hoping through my walk to capture the sense of vast wilderness that still exists in Canada and hope also that, through the dedicated work of Trees for Life and the magical people that work there, in Scotland we will be able to restore some of the wilderness that has been lost to our country over the last few hundred years."

(As a Canadian myself, I am terribly curious to know if he was prepared for the number of bloodthirsty mosquitoes and blackflies he likely met along the way—and how many bottles of bug spray he used to keep his kilted legs from getting completely chewed to bits. For the uninitiated, Canadian bug season can come as a horrifying shock, and it lasts for most of the spring and summer when you're in the bush.)

The journey went smoothly for the most part, except once when Luna disappeared into the wilderness. Aided by local volunteers, Yellowlees searched for a week until she finally came back. Says an emailed press release, "The two were joyfully reunited when Luna suddenly reappeared at his side, having chewed away her lead, which appeared to have become entangled in forest vegetation."

Yellowlees described it as a "horrible scare," but otherwise "the journey through Canada has been amazing. And so, too, have the people. I've been marched into towns by pipe bands, applauded by crowds lining the streets, and inundated with offers of food, clothing and shelter."

Michael Yellowlees and Luna at end of their cross-Canada walk

Trees For Life

Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement in recognition of Yellowlees' accomplishment, saying, "Michael chose Canada for this mission due to the many Scots who left their homeland generations ago, settled here, and contributed significantly to the fabric of our country. He was also inspired by the many and vast beautiful natural environments Canada continues to enjoy and protect."

Richard Bunting, a spokeperson for Trees for Life, told Treehugger that his organization is thrilled by Yellowlees' accomplishment. "Words don't do justice to what Michael and Luna have achieved. Their Rewilding Journey has been an amazing, inspiring adventure of hope. By raising awareness and so much money for Trees for Life's work, they have made a real and long-lasting difference to our work bringing Scotland's Caledonian Forest back from the brink of being lost forever, and to rewilding Scotland."

Bunting went on to explain the urgency of the task at hand, saying that Scotland has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

"It is one of Europe's least wooded countries, and a quarter of its land no longer supports the nature-rich forests, peatlands, and river systems it should... The money Michael raises will go towards our work rewilding the Scottish Highlands, and restoring the globally important Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife. This forest once stretched across a vast swathe of the Highlands, but following centuries of deforestation, only around one or two percent of this globally important habitat now survives.

"But our volunteers have now established almost two million native trees at dozens of sites across the Highlands, including at our own 10,000-acre Dundreggan Rewilding Estate near Loch Ness. We are also taking action to protect and restore the forest's wildlife such as red squirrels, beavers and golden eagles. Michael's wonderful support will go towards this work—saving a unique habitat that is Scotland’s equivalent of a rainforest, helping tackle the nature and climate emergencies, and helping repeople the Highlands."

Yellowlees' fundraising page shows an impressive balance of £47,265 (US$62,413) thus far. These funds will go a long way toward helping Trees For Life, whose work we described on Treehugger earlier in 2021. Rewilding would put Scotland in a better position "to tackle the overlapping threats of climate change, nature loss, and diminished health, while boosting human wellbeing and sustainable economic opportunity." 

While Yellowlees says he's taking a few well-deserved weeks to "rest and depress," you can still support his efforts and the campaign to rewild Scotland.