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.
From the very fragmented, small-landowner landscape in northeastern Portugal, we suddenly come into a big, already quite raw and wild-looking area: the 600 hectare Faia Brava private nature reserve, in the dramatic Côa valley. This is Portugal’s first private reserve and it is owned by Associaçâo Transumância e Natureza, who is working to rewild it, taking away all extractive use and bringing back lost wildlife, as well as protecting the already existing precious locally breeding wildlife: the Bonelli’s eagle, the golden eagle, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, eagle owl etc. And taking care of the cultural heritage sites in the reserve as well.
From the wide and relatively intact Dehesa forests of the Salamanca district in Castilla y León. After five minutes in the Campanarios de Azába nature reserve, we understand that we must be in the right place with the impressive sight of more than 100 large raptors slowly taking to their wings in the air thermals of the morning sun over the holm and cork oaks of the reserve.