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The business of Rewilding – building the foundations

October 31, 2011

Following the successful seminar held in mid October in Finland, now comes the process of trying to develop successful conservation enterprises in our rewilding areas. At the seminar, we first challenged ourselves to consider what each of us understood by the term “conservation”. Was this a preservationist approach, where we sought to protect what is already there? Or a more dynamic approach where we seek to stimulate existing ecosystems and natural processes – and indeed create new ones?

Inevitably there were a wide range of views on this and we concluded that a successful conservation strategy must include all of these elements, however that “rewilding” was about focusing more upon the dynamic activities.  Rewilding Europe therefore strives to compliment the preservationist activities which are essential to conservation with an additional and more expansive strategy which seeks to stimulate, renew and indeed create natural processes and natural ecosystems across our projects areas in Europe and beyond.

The reason this was an important exercise was due to the fact that any conservation enterprise must be deeply rooted in conservation.  This might seem obvious, but our wider Rewilding Europe enterprise team’s long experience in other parts of the world shows that there are many great businesses which have been developed by conservation-minded people, which have not sufficiently considered the conservation impact and linkages at the outset.  Where might be the best place to locate a business?  Is there a wildlife corridor in the area which is particularly important?  Is a particular community of particular importance to the area from a conservation perspective and should we seek to work first with them?  Where are our early rewilding efforts most likely to be focused and how can we best link our business development ambitions to our conservation activities in order to demonstrate and genuinely provide local economic benefits?  And for us, with our emphasis on rewilding, our enterprise development efforts should be particularly focused upon rewilding activities.  Indeed, we concluded that we would begin to think about our enterprise development activities in terms of “rewilding enterprise” rather than simply “conservation enterprise”.

Our next focus was to think about the various elements which must be present for any conservation enterprise – or “rewilding enterprise” – to succeed.  This is what we refer to as creating an “enabling environment”.  We might find a great entrepreneur with a great business idea, but will there be a clear conservation / rewilding context within which to “ground” this business?  If we want to help create a wildlife tourism business, do we know that the community or private landowner we are working with has long-term control over the land?  Do they have the right to enter into a partnership with the entrepreneur?  If it is a community, do they have the skills and governance structures to be able to deal effectively and transparently with the entrepreneur?  What will the wider regulatory and policy environment look like?  Are there any local or regional incentives (financial or otherwise) which might help the business succeed?  Building a picture of all of these things across our project areas will be essential to our long term success in establishing our priorities and creating businesses which genuinely support and are embedded in our rewilding activities.

The next element of our planning process relates to a fundamentally important element of Rewilding Europe’s mission – stimulating a wildlife comeback in Europe.  The presence of wildlife – particularly large herbivores upon which predators can prey and which can maintain and enhance diverse ecosystems through natural grazing – is largely lacking in many of our project areas.  If we are to build businesses which are founded upon wildlife and nature, we need to invest in core conservation strategies such as addressing non-sustainable yet licensed hunting practices and illegal poaching so as to protect the wildlife which is already there.  And where necessary – and it will be necessary in all of our project areas – facilitate carefully structured wildlife reintroductions.   The responsibility for these activities lies with our core conservation team, however it has a fundamental bearing upon our chances of succeeding with our rewilding enterprise programme.

In the short term, there are a range of business approaches and ideas which we have now asked our project teams to begin to consider, which do not necessarily require large numbers of wildlife to be present but which will be enhanced if this is to become the case.  We’re looking at ecosystem payment based businesses and biodiversity offset mechanisms.  Also recreational tourism businesses which focus upon natural landscapes and habitats rather than pure wildlife-watching.  There are also a range of businesses which might be linked to the process of rewilding itself, such as businesses which offer local and regional authorities and other landowners the skills and operational expertise to remove man-made constructions from waterways so as to make them wild again, to recreate (or indeed simply create) wetlands, or to provide underpasses for wildlife to move from one natural area to another.  We encouraged our team to be creative – no idea would be discounted – however we all understood that any business idea would first be scrutinised for its conservation/rewilding impact before moving on to consider its commercial merits.

There is a long way to go – and we are only beginning to develop our ideas around the important issue of how to finance such businesses.  We look forward to sharing progress in the weeks and months to come as we begin the process of identifying opportunities and stimulating rewilding enterprises our project areas.

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