Rewilding Stories: Enterprising Endeavour

July 18, 2018

Rewilding Europe’s enterprise work is now seeing nature-based businesses mushroom across Europe. The economic prosperity they are generating is benefitting people and wild nature on a growing scale.

Pictured here in the Western Iberia rewilding area, the Fly Camp by Miles Away is a rewilding-related business set up with support from Rewilding Europe Capital. Image: Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe
Pictured here in the Western Iberia rewilding area, the Fly Camp by Miles Away is a rewilding-related business set up with support from Rewilding Europe Capital. Image: Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe

Beyond the shuttered windows of the beautifully renovated shepherd’s cottage the wind whips through the walnut trees. Fortified by a meal of delicious, locally prepared food and a few glasses of local wine, the guests inside sit back and contemplate a day of wildlife watching beside a roaring fire. Then, high above the noise of the wind, comes howling of a very different kind.

Where in Italy can nature lovers see a pack of wolves loping through the winter snow, or a brown bear ambling across a springtime hillside, all from the window of their accommodation? Thanks to a 40,000 euro loan from Rewildling Europe Capital (REC), the answer is the new Bisegna Mountain Refuge. Opening its doors in 2017, this is now one of the most spectacular properties in the Central Apennines.

“The financial and technical support we received from Rewilding Europe was a real game changer,” says Umberto Esposito, a hiking instructor and nature photographer who founded Wildlife Adventures, the Pescasseroli-based company which runs the refuge. “Without it we wouldn’t have been able to open this amazing property, which now benefits both wild nature and people in the local area.”

The business of rewilding

In contrast to many other parts of the world, there is still very little awareness in Europe about the potential for developing businesses that engage with and support the conservation and rewilding of natural landscapes. In rural areas where the commercial value of wild nature is poorly understood, access to finance for enterprises working with nature is pretty much non-existent.

This is the reason Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) was founded in 2014. As the first conservation enterprise investment vehicle to focus on the rapidly expanding European rewilding movement, REC works to stimulate economic growth and development directly connected to the rewilding of natural landscapes. By the end of 2017 it had financed 19 businesses in six European countries, with a commitment totaling 520,000 euros and a portfolio of sectors including nature-based tourism, natural products, natural resource management and habitat restoration.

“From a personal perspective it’s always inspirational to visit enterprises which have received financial support from REC,” says Timon Rutten, who recently joined Rewilding Europe as the Head of Enterprise. “Helping these businesses and watching them grow and have a positive impact on both the local community and wild nature is really why I chose to become involved with Rewilding Europe.”

Located in the Faia Brava nature reserve, Star Camp is another example of a successful rewilding enterprise in Western Iberia. Juan Carlos Múñoz / Rewilding Europe
Located in the Faia Brava nature reserve, Star Camp is another example of a successful rewilding enterprise in Western Iberia. Juan Carlos Múñoz / Rewilding Europe

A holistic approach

Nurturing enterprises which support rewilding isn’t just about money, of course. Rewilding Europe’s enterprise team provides technical and promotional support to rewilding-related businesses too. By the end of 2017, 124 enterprises had received support from Rewilding Europe, of which 43 had received dedicated training. Many have also received advice on promoting their business through social media and a well-targeted web presence.

“Our support for the Bisegna Wildlife Refuge started in 2016,” says Simon Collier, Rewilding Europe’s Wildlife Tourism Manager. “We visited the area three times to speak with Umberto about developing the project, and are still in contact with him regularly.”

With a range of backgrounds, Rewilding Europe’s international and highly experienced enterprise team boast a range of end-to-end skills. These are vital when it comes to helping enterprises get off the ground and establishing strong, long-term relationships with businesses owners. There is now an increasingly strong tie-in between our enterprise work and the European Safari Company, with which Rewilding Europe enjoys a strategic partnership.

“People frequently have amazing nature-related business opportunities right in front of them, but they just don’t see them,” says Collier. “We help them see and realise the possibilities. In terms of tourism and natural products, we also help them bring their offering to the market and maximise revenue.”

Very often business conceptualisation is simply about applying a knowledge of what would work best in a given situation.

“At first Umberto wanted a refuge solely for hikers,” says Collier. “We helped him see that dividing the refuge between more basic accommodation for hikers and more upmarket accommodation for couples, with more focus on wildlife watching, would generate more profit.”

Influential investment

Rewilding Europe Capital experienced several milestone moments in 2017. The first was in early April when it became the first recipient of funding from the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF), established by the European Commission and managed by the European Investment Bank. The 6 million euro fund means REC can now provide loans of up to 600,000 euros to businesses across all 28 EU member states.

Rewilding Europe Capital has also supported a beekeeping business in the Velebit Mountains rewilding area. Image: Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
Rewilding Europe Capital has also supported a beekeeping business in the Velebit Mountains rewilding area. Image: Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

In the same month, empowered by NCFF funding, REC disbursed a 75,000 euro loan to the Snowchange Cooperative. As the first such loan provided to a member of the European Rewilding Network, this enabled the Finnish nonprofit organisation to purchase the 120-hectare Linnunsuo wetland area.

Situated in the Finnish region of North Karelia, Linnunsuo was bought from Vapo, Finland’s leading developer of bioenergy and the world’s leading peat industry business. Using both local knowledge and the latest scientific techniques, the Snowchange Cooperative has started to restore the area to attract both birds and tourists.

Both the enterprise team and Snowchange view the Linnunsuo project as simply the first step in a long and fruitful partnership.

“We partnered with Rewilding Europe to find new ways of restoring natural systems that respect and benefit from Finnish traditional land use,” says Tero Mustonen, Director of Snow- change. “The work at Linnunsuo is a showcase for the positive changes that such restoration can bring about. We now want to build on this and bring a wide-reaching ‘northern’ perspective to European rewilding. Several more ambitious projects involving Snowchange and REC are in the pipeline for 2018,” adds Rutten. “Stay tuned.”

Economies of scale

Developed with the help of Rewilding Europe Capital, the Bisegna Mountain Refuge opened in 2017 and is now one of the most spectacular properties in the Central Apennines. Image: Umberto Esposito / Wildlife Adventures
Developed with the help of Rewilding Europe Capital, the Bisegna Mountain Refuge opened in 2017 and is now one of the most spectacular properties in the Central Apennines. Image: Umberto Esposito / Wildlife Adventures

Empowered with financial resources and expertise, Rewilding Europe’s enterprise team are now looking to scale up their efforts across sectors. In terms of investment through REC, the focus is not only increasing the volume and size of loans, but the identification of business opportunities which can have a really sizeable positive impact on wild nature and nature-based economies.

“The scaling up of our partnership with Snowchange is a good example,” says Rutten. “We now need to raise the profile of REC and our enterprise work in general to make sure that people are aware of the opportunities that exist.”

Rewilding Europe wants to collaborate with entrepreneurs, corporations, investors, governments and municipalities as we take our enterprise work forward and scale it up.

“Our door is always open,” says Rutten. “Prospective enterprises are welcome to contact us at any time.”

The “Enterprising Endeavour” story was first published in the Rewilding Europe Annual Review 2017.

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