In late August and in the beginning of September people in The Netherlands and Belgium welcomed the first wolves in their countries since more than 100 years! Two countries with rapidly increasing numbers of wild herbivores in their natural areas. During the same period wild horses from The Netherlands were released in Latvia and Bulgaria, countries rich in wolves. Is this a coincidence?
„Look at how the bark beetle influences the spruce forests – the affected trees appear as small islands in the larger forest landscape”. Tea Silic, biologist at the Northern Velebit National Park, shows us around in the park in preparation for the start-up of one of Rewilding Europe’s field projects.
The disappearance of grazing herds of sheep and goats transformed large areas of the Mediterranean mountain landscape into forest with dense undergrowth and scrub. These landscapes are particularly susceptible to large fires and extremely dry summers due to climate change increase the chances of this. But with the return of native herbivores such as deer, ibex, wild horses and wild cattle, semi-natural landscapes, which are much less vulnerable to fires, are once again formed.
It was 25 years ago when I saw a tortoise for the last time, as a researcher of perhaps the richest area of reptiles in Europe: Thrace. Even Egyptian vulture, imperial eagle and black vulture fed on reptiles there. And it appeared that the majestic golden eagle, elsewhere picking young ibex and chamois off the rocks, was taking almost 100 tortoises a year per eagle chick back to the nest.
Even before reaching the hide in the Stramba Valley we see the first bears – a female with two cubs. They run up a small hill into the beech forest, hardly aware our presence. Under the guidance of a local forester we climb the stairs to the wooden hide and looking outside the window we see another female with three cubs feeding on the remains of a dead cow.
On 1 June the latest of the outdoor exhibition series “Wild Wonders of Europe” was inaugurated in Copenhagen by the Danish Minister for Environment, Karen Ellemann. This was exhibition number three in the pan European tour and the first since Rewilding Europe became a main partner in this ambitious conservation communication initiative.
At the end of May I was on a short break in the Belgian Ardennes – a huge forested area where tourism flourishes but where nature is not in its best condition. And it’s an area that has undergone huge transformations over the last few centuries. The Ardennes were the starting point of the Industrial Revolution on the European mainland. It’s hard to believe nowadays.
After the first night’s short sleep, when three bull elephants chased us away from our open air camp and two hyenas took advantage of our absence to finish our meal, we arrived in the late afternoon at campsite two quite exhausted. However, the sight in front us quickly removed all tiredness.
Sitting in the middle of a vast river delta, surrounded by tall Phragmites australis* reeds, an intense feeling of peace began to filter through my veins. No office, no fingers flying on the keyboard, no phonecalls. Just wide open landscape.