Rewilding Europe aims to rewild at least one million hectares of Europe by 2020, consisting of ten areas, each at least 100,000 ha, which together reflect a wide selection of European regions.
The first five rewilding areas have a wide variety of ecosystems, flora and fauna, but also a high cultural and social diversity. They share a common characteristic – a lot of abandoned land – but the social background can be quite different. Land tenure, local stakeholders, legislation and other social and political aspects differ depending on whether we are in Spain, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Poland or Croatia.
To achieve at least 100,000 hectares of rewilded land in each area it is important to scale up our efforts, using different methods to achieve naturally functioning ecosystems.
In Western Iberia, our partners have acquired land (around 800 hectares in Portugal and 500 in Spain) which is used as a core area for the management activities. Obviously, it is not possible to buy the huge amounts of land needed for rewilding, so the main approach must be signing agreements with neighbouring landowners to develop rewilding activities.
In Spain, Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre (FNYH) is signing agreements with municipalities to manage some communal lands, used formerly to graze, but now partially or totally abandoned. FNYH will assure the maintenance of open areas (important for biodiversity) through natural grazing (cows and horses being the strike force). Private properties on the Spanish side of Western Iberia are large, and agreements will be prepared to encourage rewilding here as well.
In Portugal, with a complex structure of many smaller land holdings (some with unknown owners) it looks more efficient to promote rewilding through agreements with hunting areas and this is what Associaçao Transhumancia e Natureza (ATN) is developing. In many abandoned areas, hunters are the main users of the land, and it is possible to agree on common objectives, as they also want high numbers of hunting species. Setting up non-hunting areas is one of the best methods to increase the density of hunting animals in the buffer zones just outside the core areas.
However, in many Eastern Europe countries most of the land is public, belonging to the state or the local governments. Problems like poaching are often related to the lack of trust in state authorities and legislation, perceived by the locals as a barrier to their involvement in the management of the land. This is the case of the Danube Delta rewilding area, where Rewilding Europe and our local partner, WWF Romania, are working on the creation of Community Conservation Areas.
This kind of management has been implemented mainly in Africa. In Namibia and other countries, legislation allows local communities to create conservancies to benefit from wildlife on communal land, while allowing the local community to work with private companies to create and manage their own tourism market. This is a success system that we want to translate to Europe in the appropriate way.
The Community Conservancy approach is a key factor for moving forward with rewilding. To enable the communities to gain ownership of local wildlife and natural resource use and to benefit financially from those resources is critical for success. The annual income of many households in Danube Delta is no more than 3,000-5,000 euros. In such situations, the reintroduction of missing species is of very limited interest to people, unless the presence of such animals can bring direct monetary benefits and jobs.
The communal ownership of wildlife will probably be one of the best means to reduce poaching, as the perception of fauna will change, from “no one’s animals” to “our animals”.
In short, single way to rewild will not work throughout Europe. Rewilding areas should be embedded within the social and cultural fabric of their respective region and the methods of rewilding will be as diverse as European culture and nature.