Rewilding Europe is thrilled to welcome Aleksandrina Leonidova Mitseva as a new member of its supervisory board. With this new appointment, Rewilding Europe wants to provide the opportunity for an early career, dynamic and visionary rewilding enthusiast to gain experience in a board position and help shape the rewilding movement in Europe.
A native of Bulgaria, Aleksandrina Mitseva (22 years young) recently graduated from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen with a BSc in Conservation Biology. We caught up with Aleksandrina to talk about her involvement with nature and rewilding, and what she hopes to achieve in her new position.
Young people’s perspective
As a person just starting out on your career, how will this position allow you to contribute to Rewilding Europe and the European rewilding movement?
I’m so thrilled to have been given this opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge acquired during my degree. I’m really looking forward to using my insight, energy and understanding of young people’s perspectives to contribute to the governance and strategic development of Rewilding Europe, and to help take the European rewilding agenda forwards. These are exciting times for rewilding, and I really want to spread the word and get more young people involved.
Do you think you can learn something in exchange?
In return I will continue to learn about all aspects of the rewilding movement. I believe I have a good theoretical understanding of rewilding – now is the time to learn about how rewilding works in practice, and how it can benefit wild nature and people across Europe.
Can you tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities as a Supervisory Board member? What will you be doing?
By providing regular input in Supervisory Board meetings – such as the recent one (my first) in the Southern Carpathians in Romania – I will help in the governance and development of Rewilding Europe. A particular focus for me will be finding creative ways to engage young Europeans in rewilding, which means I will be thinking about and researching ways in which I can make this happen.
How did you first hear about rewilding and Rewilding Europe?
I first learned about rewilding during my university degree, when we discussed the application of rewilding concepts in pioneering projects such as Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands.
I first heard about the work of Rewilding Europe when we covered rewilding efforts in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria and Greece. As a Bulgarian it made me so proud to hear my country mentioned in connection with rewilding. I had never heard an example of a Bulgarian conservation project mentioned in any of my lectures before!
In July this year I will travel to the Rhodope Mountains for the first time, and meet the rewilding team there. I will enjoy seeing the area and witness the great work being carried out in this area.
The need for rewilding
What would you say are the biggest conservation challenges that Europe faces today?
I would say that the biggest challenge is climate change, and how people perceive it. Through landscape-scale restoration, rewilding could create an interconnected system of more robust, resilient European ecosystems that make a huge contribution to the mitigation of climate change. Not only would these restored ecosystems lock up more carbon, they would also allow wildlife to adapt to climate change by enabling south-north migration.
I love the fact that rewilding prioritises people as much as it does wild nature. For any conservation approach to really work, it has to involve people – this is especially true in such a densely populated continent as Europe.
As a conservation approach, do you think rewilding resonates with young people?
Today more and more young people are rising up and making themselves heard when it comes to conservation issues – just look at the recent climate change strikes across the world. I think young Europeans are increasingly disenchanted with traditional approaches to conservation, which are clearly not delivering the expected results.
With its practical focus and message of hope, rewilding really does resonate with younger generations. As the efforts of Rewilding Europe and other European-based rewilding initiatives have shown, rewilding can deliver positive, tranformative results. With its emphasis on wild nature and people, it is both inclusive and inspirational.
Young Europeans want (and need) a continent where they can connect with wild nature – where they can can see wildlife, enjoy nature and go biking, hiking and walking, where they can escape the pressures of urban life. Rewilding has already shown that it can help to make this kind of continent a reality.
Can you tell us about a conservation-related story from your own country that you find particularly inspirational?
The rewilding efforts in the Rhodope Mountains of my own country make me immensely proud. To see griffon vultures making a comeback here as part of restoring a unique food chain – after they nearly disappeared from Bulgaria altogether – just shows what rewilding can achieve if given the opportunity.
The Bulgarian economy is still developing, and we have endured some difficult economic times in the past. Yet we have still managed to preserve a lot of our forests, many as relatively pristine habitat. This is a positive story that other European countries could learn from and be inspired by.
One of Rewilding Europe’s aims is to reconnect people with wild nature. Do you need wild nature in your life, and if so, what does it give you?
Everyone needs wild nature in their life. When nature is missing some people try to replace it with other things, by working, by keeping busy in their urban lives. But such things can’t satisfy this basic need.
I need to experience wild nature at least once a week. It calms me and makes me feel both humbled and grounded. Being based in Scotland I’m lucky enough to have places such as the Cairngorms National Park and Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve a short journey away. I also have the beautiful botanical gardens at Aberdeen University even closer to hand.
What’s your favourite animal, and why?
That’s a tough question to ask a nature lover! Pilot whales, because I’ve been lucky enough to encounter them – they’re so friendly and intelligent. I love birds, especially kingfishers and puffins, and of course the griffon vultures that are making a comeback in my own country. I’m sure that being involved with Rewilding Europe will allow me to experience many more of Europe’s amazing wildlife species!