You could be forgiven for imagining there was little true wildness and wilderness left in Europe, and you’d be wrong, as the Trail to Salamanca will increasingly reveal in weeks and months to come.
A new potential for wildlife and humans to co-exist is the breathtaking vision of many around the world, among them Vance Martin, president of the US-based WILD Foundation, Magnus Sylven of Rewilding Europe, and Miquel Rafa of the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation.
Walking with me for the first couple of days, Magnus provided fascinating background insights into what is nothing less than an unprecedented global collaboration to ‘Make the World a Wilder Place,’ which will find full expression during WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain, between October 4 and 10.
The glimmerings of the idea became an exciting reality three years ago when Magnus invited Vance to accompany him to the Col de la Colombière nature reserve, and suggested staging the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Europe, and more specifically in Spain.
“Spain is one of the countries in Europe that has allocated the most land for conservation and is a biodiversity hotspot with a tremendous return of wildlife,” he said.
Sitting in a beautiful landscape just 50km from Geneva, that is visited by thousands of city-based nature lovers each year, the two conservationists enjoyed the wild presence of ibex, chamois and marmots, while lammergeier vultures soared on the thermals high above them.
It was a visual demonstration of how humans can successfully partner with nature to the mutual benefits of both.
More recently I learned from Miquel Rafa of the Great Mountain Corridor linking four great European mountain ranges – the Alps, Grand Massif, Pyrenees and Cantabrians – and heard of the concept of the Trail to Salamanca – or El Camino Salvaje – as it is known in Spanish.
It not only celebrates the return of wildlife, but the amazing resilience of iconic species like wolves that have returned from the brink, surviving and even thriving in areas of land abandonment. Imagine their immense challenge in traversing vast areas, mostly unseen, where their ancestors were hunted to extinction!
“One of the most exciting comebacks has been that of the Alpine ibex (a kind of wild goat) which has become a symbol of the Alps,” Magnus enthused.
Due to unregulated hunting in the whole Alpine arch 200 to 300 years ago it was wiped out everywhere, except in the vicinity of the 4 062-metre Gran Paradiso mountain, which was established as a royal hunting ground by the Italian King Victor Emmanuel in 1856.
“Only about 60 animals were left 150 years ago, but due to successful conservation, the Gran Paradiso National Park (the first Italian national park established in 1922) is home to 2 500 animals with the global ibex population consisting of more than 30 000 animals – a huge conservation success!”
So what could a wilder Europe look like?
Rewilding Europe together with other organisations across the continent present a vision in which wild nature is recognised as an indispensable part of Europe’s natural and cultural heritage and a necessary building block for a modern, prosperous and healthy society.
Imagine mountain cliffs alive with ibex and chamois, with vultures, eagles and other raptors soaring in the thermal uplifts; mystical old-growth forests with woodpeckers, mosses, lichens and mushrooms; open forests where bison, deer and wild horses exist alongside wolves, lynx and bears; and seas inhabited by seals and more than 25 species of whales and dolphins. The spectacular landscapes and seascapes are already there, awaiting the return of more of the wild creatures that belong.
It’s possible within our lifetime: the choice is ours.
HELP GEOFF GET TO SALAMANCA BY DONATING THROUGH OUR INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN BY JULY 14TH! http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trail-to-salamanca
The countdown to WILD10 will be measured in footsteps along the Trail to Salamanca. “Earth Pilgrim” Geoff Dalglish and others are hiking from Geneva, 2500km (1500 miles) across four mountain ranges in six countries over 125 days, to arrive in Salamanca just as delegates gather from all other the world for WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress. All along the Trail, Geoff will be joined by other hikers from local villages and organizations as they experience and explore the re-emergence of ecological corridors and the return of wildlife across Europe.
This blog entry is reposted from wild10.org. “Earth pilgrim” Geoff Dalglish is walking a 2500 km Trail to Salamanca from Geneva to Salamanca, arriving just in time for the WILD10 world Wilderness Congress. You can follow Geoff’s journey from his blog. Check out the WILD10 blog as well.