The enterprise component of Rewilding Europe is all about the people we are working with to create rewilding enterprises in our rewilding areas. In order for rewilding to succeed, it has to bring benefits for the people who live in those areas. If local people feel the benefits this pleases politicians – and this means a more favourable political climate for rewilding.
The Velebit region of Croatia is one of our most spectacular rewilding areas. The high mountains sweep dramatically down to the Adriatic sea. The views over the islands are incredible, but life is not easy for the people who have farmed these steep mountain slopes for centuries. In one remote valley adjacent to the Paklenica National Park, Petar Knezavic and his family are the only people left in what was once a thriving community. The young people have left for the cities or for the coastal towns but Petar is determined to stay on and make a living in the mountains.
Petar is known locally as the ‘guardian’ of the semi-wild horses which live in the valley and we are working with him to protect and increase the herd. Petar has also recently entered into a partnership with Rewilding Europe to begin a Tauros Breeding Programme in the valley. These ancient wild cattle once lived across most of Europe and such charismatic animals will form the basis for an emerging nature and wildlife tourism opportunity, where the tourists who flock to the Croatian coast in large numbers will hopefully be tempted to explore the interior of the Velebit peninsula.
With more herbivores, there will be in turn more for exciting species such as wolves – thereby diversifying the wildlife viewing opportunities. Bears are also frequent visitors to the valley, feeding on the berries on the high slopes above. Rewilding Europe are presently structuring a loan to help Petar renovate some outbuildings adjacent to his farm into a simple guesthouse, which will provide accommodation and tasty local meals for visitors. In the years to come, it is our hope that Petar’s children will have a reason to remain in the area. Indeed other families will hopefully return, attracted by new nature based economic opportunities.
Elsewhere in Velebit, we have been working with the Senj bee-keeping association whose 200 local members rely upon the wild plants of Velebit to produce their superb natural honey. We have recently provided a loan through Rewilding Europe to Sanjin and Ines Žarković, a young couple whose family produce the Guslice & Melnice local honey. Our finance (which has been made possible through our funding partners the Dutch Postcode Lottery and the Adessium Foundation) will help the Guslice & Melnice team to invest in new specialist honey producing equipment and to access new customer markets. We are excited to support a local business whose product relies wholly upon the wild nature of Velebit.
Further into the hinterland of Velebit, we enter a world of beautiful wooded valleys and wild flower meadows. Charming wooden barns and small villages dot the landscape. Here, the Linden Tree Ranch & Retreat has recently received a Rewilding Europe Capital loan to renovate their guest accommodation and to invest in new equipment for their fantastic horse riding holidays in the Velebit mountains. Rewilding Europe has helped Linden Tree to develop a partnership with a leading international tour operator who will bring their first groups to Velebit in summer 2014. Linden Tree’s founder and owner, Bozidar, has been working with Rewilding Europe and the nearby University of Zadar on a grazing experiment with European bison on his property. This is a process involving all relevant local and national stakeholders which if successful will provide both an essential component of the natural ecosystem and a valuable attraction for nature tourists in the region.
In another beautiful part of Europe, the ‘Western Iberia’ border region of north-west Spain and Portugal, Rewilding Europe works to support several local entrepreneurs living near the Faia Brava Nature Reserve. The wonderful Casa da Cisterna guesthouse is owned and operated by Ana Berliner, a local guide and biologist who has renovated a series of beautiful old buildings in a historic village overlooking the Côa valley. Ana has received a Rewilding Europe Capital loan to expand her guesthouse to include a further 4 en-suite guest rooms. A condition of her loan is that all guests will make a contribution to the Western Iberia rewilding area initiative. Guests of Casa da Cisterna have the chance to view rare species such as the Spanish imperial eagle.
Rewilding Europe are working to support another great local entrepreneur, Mafalda Nicolau de Almeida whose business ‘Miles Away’ offers fantastic outdoor dining experiences in the Côa valley. Guests are treated to a 4-course meal of local specialities and fine wines while seated under the stars. We are working with Mafalda to introduce a new ‘fly-camping’ experience, which she will introduce to her business during summer 2014. Guests will spend the night on a sandbank by the Côa river or among the beautiful oak woodlands of the Faia Brava reserve.
These local personalities and nature entrepreneurs are the essence of Rewilding Europe’s work. We look forward to supporting the growth of many more local rewilding enterprises during 2014.