From 9 to 14 October, Rewilding Europe organized a Training Seminar on Wildlife Watching and Conservation Enterprise Development in Finland. Representatives of the five rewilding projects from various European countries travelled all the way up to Finland to learn from first-hand experience in the Kuhmo region, which is famous for its bear-watching facilities.
In this area on the Finnish-Russian border, just in a few years time, a number of entrepreneurs managed to set up a great system of hides where visitors can watch and photograph brown bear, wolf, golden eagle, wolverine and many others. We were hosted by Lassi Rautiainen from Articmedia, who is one of the pioneers and entrepreneurs in the Finnish bear watching industry and who is running wildlife safaris in Finland.
Creating businesses is a key component in Rewilding Europe, next to conservation and communication. Through enterprises based on wilderness, wild areas and wildlife, we hope to provide new economic opportunities to the regions where land abandonment is happening at a large scale.
The aim of the training was threefold. First we wanted to be exposed to the wildlife watching operations in Finland and learn from them, to see how this could also be applied in our own rewilding areas in Eastern and Southern Carpathians, Velebit, Western Iberia and the Danube Delta. The second aim was to learn about the wildlife watching industry in general and trends worldwide. Europe can learn an awful lot from operations in other parts of the world (in particular Africa), since our own continent has very limited experience in this field. Staffan Widstrand led the sessions and showed us the opportunities about wildlife watching, with the support from Lassi Rautiainen.
The third aim of the seminar was a serious training on how to develop conservation enterprises in a broader sense: not only related to wildlife watching, but also other business opportunities that can be related to rewilding in our five project areas. Neil Birnie and Giles Davies from Conservation Capital, Rewilding Europe’s business and finance partner, gave an in-depth training and overview on how to identify possible businesses and how they can benefit rewilding in our areas.
The seminar turned out to be a very intense and productive; the five project teams were challenged to identify concrete and realistic conservation business opportunities in their areas, and provide the details of how this could work in practice. A lot of business opportunities came out: not only wildlife watching, but also ideas ranging from biodiversity offsets and payments for watershed protection to wildlife hide construction, conservation based tourism and wildlife breeding businesses.
All of these examples were collected, while the most promising business opportunities will be screened and further developed into a portfolio of real business cases where Rewilding Europe will help to seek entrepreneurs and investors to get them off the ground.
The outcomes of this part of the training were really exciting, we even formed a special Rewilding Europe Enterprise Team!
Apart from the technical side, the seminar turned out to be a very good team-building exercise as well – at all levels. Despite the long days of work, often from (very) early morning to late night (‘’this is not a boys or girls scout camp’’), we had a lot of opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences in informal ways.
All in all, based on the feedback from the participants, the seminar worked out very well, and gave us all a lot of new inspiration and concrete ideas. Of course it is the start of a longer term process. The concept of a seminar like this will be continued – the next one will be in The Netherlands on technical rewilding aspects (natural grazing, reintroductions, wildlife management etc.), combined with marketing and communication.
It was really great to have this quality time with our rewilding colleagues from Poland, Slovakia, Portugal, Croatia, Romania, Spain, Sweden, France and the Netherlands, a great step towards building a true Rewilding Europe team!
On the wildlife watching we can report back that we saw a pack of up to 11 wolves (every day at close range), a brown bear, forest reindeer, hawk owl, golden eagle, and a snow hare.
So our conclusion was: if the Finnish can do it… I am sure we will be seeing similar initiatives in our rewilding areas in a few years time!