Photo by Lloyd Blunk on Unsplash
There are a number of exciting rewilding programs taking place currently across the globe. We wanted to share with you a little about what rewilding means and why we believe it is vital right now.
It can’t be denied that human activities are having a definite negative impact on the global environment. Not least is the decrease in biodiversity. It is estimated that over the last 40 years more than half of the world's wildlife population has become extinct. According to the United Nations 2019 report, our actions significantly changed 75% of the land-based and about 66% of the marine environment.
For our ecological systems to function correctly, we require a wide range of creatures all fulfilling different roles. Rewilding is a way for us to step back and allow nature to repair itself.
Less human interference
Possibly the hardest thing about rewilding is that it requires a conscious effort by people to interfere less. At its most basic, it means allowing our natural spaces to grow naturally. To allow them to return to their inherent systems and cycles which are fundamental to the support of wildlife and vegetation.
It still allows significant space for agriculture, but it must be undertaken in a more thoughtful way that works in harmony with the environment rather than against it. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement for us and the planet after all.
Some key species that can help revive our planet's wild and natural spaces include beavers, large predators such as wolves, and migrating herbivores such as buffalo.
The beaver, small as it may be, is thought to be integral to the development of healthy and diverse ecosystems. Beavers, through their simple act of damming rivers, can help slow down the flow of water, reduce the effects of drought in dry landscapes and create wetlands that nurture a large array of creatures.
Predators are necessary to keep the population of herbivores in balance. Without natural predators, the number of grazing herbivores can increase beyond the capacity of their environment with devastating effects on tree and plant populations.
Most people would relish the opportunity to see an increase in wildlife to their gardens, parks and even cities. For this to happen a network of wild spaces needs to be available to support the habitats and migration of local species.
The following examples hopefully show that the prospect of more wild spaces is an exciting one.
Rewilding Europe is a not-for-profit foundation based in the Netherlands. The group has plans to create large wild landscapes in at least 10 areas throughout Europe. Their projects span an array of climates from southwest Europe into Scandinavia.
Portugal, the Côa Valley
More than 100,000 hectares of land in northeastern Portugal have been set aside for conservation purposes under the European Commission's Natura 2000 programme. This has seen the return of key predator and prey species such as the Iberian wolf, Iberian ibex and red deer.
Italy, Central Apennines
In this epic mountainous area of Italy, efforts are being made to protect the habitats of local wildlife, specifically the native Marsican brown bear. This is by linking existing natural areas by means of corridors that reduce the danger of traffic for bears and allow humans and bears to peacefully coexist.
Romania, Southern Carpathians
There is currently 1 million hectares of protected land in this rugged Romanian landscape. Further plans involve the connection of a total area of 3 million hectares to create one of Europe's biggest wild landscapes.
Efforts are concentrated on the reintroduction of free roaming European bison, which is a key grazing species that has been extinct in this area for 200 years. It is hoped this area could become a popular destination for ecotourism and benefit the local economy.
The Danube Delta is the area where Europe’s second longest river meets the Black Sea. It spans an area of 580,000 hectares across Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, and is Europe's largest wetland area.
The re-emergence of large herbivores and beavers in this area, and the promotion of a nature-based economy are improving the ecological integrity of this biodiverse region. Further plans include introducing a modern relative of the now extinct auroch which once roamed this area.
Photo by Niléane on Unsplash
Knepp Castle Estate, England
On a smaller scale but equally as important, the Knepp Estate in south England is 1,400 hectares of former farmland that have for the last 20 years been devoted to rewilding. The owners are allowing nature to reclaim the area, which has dramatically increased the amount of wildlife and biodiversity in the once quiet landscape.
The intention is to create a functioning ecosystem and to prove that rewilding is a low-cost method of restoration for poor-quality or abandoned farmland. Farmland transformed in this way can support other local nature reserves and wild areas, and eventually create a national web of healthy biodiverse regions.
American Prairie Reserve, Montana
It is an ambitious project to return 3 million acres of Montana land back into wild prairie and grasslands. Reintroduction of keystone species such as the plains buffalo, which is an icon of the Great Plains, is underway. The buffalo has been absent from this area for 120 years and is integral to the health of the prairie lands.
Prairies are required to be about 5,000 square miles in size in order to be a working ecosystem that can support the migration of sizable buffalo herds and other native wildlife.
South Plains Land Trust, Colorado
South Plains Land Trust has acquired 30,000 acres of grassland across six different sites in southeastern Colorado. The organization has reintroduced a herd of bison to its largest reserve at Heartland Ranch where rare elk, pronghorn and white-tailed deer can also be found.
SPLT has been in operation since 1998 with the aim to create a network of wildlife reserves and refuges.
These are just a few of the exciting projects taking place across Europe and the US, but there are many more worldwide.
Rewilding could play an important role in reversing some of the environmental damage caused by human practices. As someone very smart once said, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.”