Frequently asked questions

Here below we have tried to answer some of the frequently asked questions, FAQs. If you have further questions that are not included here, or if you would like to comment or add to our answers here, please do not hesitate to send us your questions, or comments. We will try to answer them as soon as possible, and if we find they might be of general interest, we will add them to the number of questions below.

1. What do you mean with “Wild areas” and “Wilderness”?

“Wild” basically means “not managed”. “Wilderness” has a more strict definition and includes so-called Core areas, Buffer zones and Transition zones. “Wild areas” is a bit looser in the definition.

The definitions below were established by the “Wilderness Working Group” in 2013, where Rewilding Europe was a participating party. These are now being incorporated into EU policy:

“Wild areas have a high level of predominance of natural process and natural habitat. They tend to be individually smaller and more fragmented than wilderness areas, although they often cover extensive tracts. The condition of their natural habitat, processes and relevant species is however often partially or substantially modified by human activities such as livestock herding, hunting, fishing, forestry, sport activities or general imprint of human artifacts.”

“A Wilderness is an area governed by natural processes. It is composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. It is unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.”

In short you can say that by Core wilderness areas we mean areas with wild integrity, where there is no extractive use – no logging, no hunting, no fishing, no tilling of the land, no heavy-handed management and no new major construction works (no windmill parks, solar energy parks, dams, roads, ski resorts etc.). Outside these core areas there are areas where different forms of sustainable, extractive use can take place. These areas are labeled Buffer zones and Transition zones respectively.

The Buffer zone, with relatively low impact of human presence, surrounds and protects the Core zone. Emphasis here should be on restoration/rewilding of natural habitats and processes, with phasing out of built structures and high impact activities within 10 years. Where feasible, there should be plans for it to be incorporated into the Core zone and expand outwards over time into the Transition zone. The Transition zone is an area where a range of human activities can take place, but with management controls preventing development of major infrastructure, wind farms or large scale clear felling, that might significantly alter the landscape or natural environment. Sustainable harvesting is possible of timber, animals (hunting & fishing) and plants (berries, fruits, mushrooms), together with organic agriculture”.

These definitions are of course quite theoretical and are not absolutely carved in stone. In each area, at the end of the day, the realities of life, culture, history, ecology and economics will play their role. But the definitions above send a clear signal of the direction and level of ambition.

2. Is “Rewilding” not the same as “Restoration” of nature from a certain time period in the past?

Rewilding is really not about looking back in time. It is instead about looking forward, giving more room to wild, spontaneous nature to develop, in a modern society. Going back (to when?) is not a real alternative, it is mostly just nostalgia. Rewilding is about moving forward, but letting nature itself decide much more and man decide much less. We think nature is perfectly capable of taking care of itself, if just given the opportunity and the spaces large enough. This will of course not work the same way everywhere, and often not in very small areas either. That is one reason why we are aiming for our rewilding areas to be of at least 100 000 hectares in size. On the other hand, these basic principles can be used in a lot of places, even if not necessarily everywhere. We want to let nature be nature. The more natural, the better. For rewilding to really function to its full extent, nature will need to have all its natural original key building blocks and tools at its disposal. Large herbivores of all the original species. The carnivores. The carrion-eaters. Trees will have to be allowed to die and remain dead in place. Storms will take their toll and nothing done about it. Fires too. Insect and fungus outbreaks too.

This all is a big mental step away from the older attitude that Man needs to manage everything in nature in detail, for nature’s own sake.  Well functioning ecosystems are crucially important to a modern society, also from a number of socio-economic reasons: flood mitigation, avalanche protection, forest fire prevention, attractive resources for the tourism industry, fitness and physical well-being, psychological well-being etc.

3. Don’t you like forests?

We really love forests, the wilder and more natural the better! And we would like all old-growth forests to be much better protected. However, forests are only some of the components of European wild nature, and we love all those other wild natural habitats too: swamps, marshlands, lakes, the ocean floor, tundras, steppes and a variety of open and half-open mosaic landscapes. Since massive evidence shows that Europe has had vast areas of open lands and mosaic landscapes all the time since the latest ice age, we don’t want every piece of wild land in Europe to necessarily become a closed canopy forest. That would not be natural. In some areas, open landscapes are the results of the natural processes, and then we love these open lands too, of course!  The fact that about 50% of Europe’s species biodiversity is connected to the open and semi-open landscapes strongly supports these reasons. We say let nature decide what becomes forest and what becomes something else, but only with all the original keystone species in place.

We are strongly against plantation forests – tree farms with trees of a single species, all of the same age, planted in straight lines and often with a lot of terrain-changing bulldozing and other heavy-handed “management” methods, because these methods severely damage the original biodiversity and the wild integrity of any landscape. We are strongly against all exotic, non-indigenous tree species like eucalyptus or out-of-place pine tree species – both of which are at the roots of many of the forest-fire problems in southern Europe over the last decades.

4. But are horses and cows really wild animals?

Well, both species were originally wild on this continent. And not that long ago. They happened to be two of the most important keystone species for all the ecosystems of the time. The aurochs (Bos primigenius) is the ancestor of all the different domestic cattle breeds in the world of today. It was finally exterminated as a species in 1627. But its genes still remain, spread out over a dozen or two quite primitive cattle breeds. We are partners of the “Tauros” project, which aims to bring back a functional aurochs again to Europe’s landscapes and ecosystems.The different types of the wild horse, such as the Tarpan (Equus ferus), are the ancestors of all the domestic horses of today (Przewalskis horse is an Eastern, Asian steppe form/species and there was also a Mediterranean form and a Balkan mountain form). The Tarpan was exterminated in the wild in the 1880s and the last captive individual died as late as 1909. Many facts point at the probability that huge flocks of wild horses and aurochs once lived across most of Europe. Some still into Roman times, ca 2,000 years ago. Rock carvings, cave paintings and sculptures of both wild horses and aurochs are very common from many areas in Europe, over the tens of thousands of years. There is a lot of research being done right now on the wild horse’s origins as well, and we will for sure be engaged also in that for many years to come. Garranos, Retuertas and Konik horses are already being returned to the wild in some of our rewilding areas and more forms/subspecies will be tested as well, like the very ancient Exmoor pony.

5. What is the importance of rewilding horses and cattle when there are so many other, really wild herbivores?

Wild horse and aurochs were the two heavy true grazing (grass-eating) species in Europe whereas most of the others are more browsing (bush and tree/leaf eating) herbivores, and therefore thousands of indigenous grassland species developed in co-evolution with wild horses and aurochs during 100,000:s of years (which continued also with domestic horses/cattle during the last 4,000-6,000 years).

Now much of that livestock is disappearing, especially from the marginal agricultural landscapes, and since the wild herbivores are not yet there to replace them, ecosystems that are a million years old are collapsing in just a few decades, in front of our eyes.

Bringing back horses and cattle into these abandoned landscapes is therefore of huge ecological importance. But it needs to be animals that are well adapted to these natural conditions. Best would of course be the original wild horse and aurochs, but in the mean time until such are available, we will use primitive breeds of these, that can live fully wild lives without the intervention of man.

6. Do you want to bulldoze away our houses and farms?

No, not at all. On the contrary, many of the measures Rewilding Europe suggest will help more of the countryside people to stay in their areas, several of them working with the new ways of using wild nature to create jobs, business and income. Land abandonment is not our doing or liking, it is just a physical reality fact today, driven by a complex series of socio-economic and cultural factors, with globalization and modernity at the centre of the reasons. And the simple fact that most young people today don’t want to be shepherds, goatherds, olive-pickers or subsistence farmers any more.

7. Isn’t forest the natural climax stage of vegetation on all land in Europe?

That is indeed a hotly debated statement. Most probably, all of Europe was not completely covered with forest, but rather by a mixed mosaic landscape of forests, tree savannahs, bush and open grasslands of several kinds. Strong indicators of that are all the open- and semi-open land species that now live in the open landscapes – almost half of all species in Europe. Where would they have come from, especially all the endemic species, that have complicated symbioses with other species. That can simply not have developed only during the 5,000-6,000 years that man has been farming the land here.

The vegetation cover before man’s arrival was also probably to a large extent influenced by the large herds of large herbivores of the time – aurochs, bison, tarpan, red deer, wild boar, roe deer, ibex, chamois and in south-eastern Europe also fallow deer, saiga and probably also wild donkey and water buffalo. But instead of fiercely debating what Europe might have looked like 100,000 or 6,000 years ago, why don’t we just try it again and see? Let the natural processes continue unaltered, reintroduce the missing keystone wildlife species and let them multiply as they can, non-managed. Then we will all see in a few decades’ time what those parts of Europe possibly may have looked like when man first came onto the stage.

8. But all wildlife needs to be managed, doesn’t it?

No, not for the sake of nature or the wildlife itself. That is a myth created by Man to justify all his/her heavy-handed management. Nature can very well take care of itself without any human management at all. However, certain management might be seen as needed, because of Man’s wishes, needs and expectations. But then it is not the wildlife that needs to be managed, nor the forest. It is then all only about us humans, wanting/feeling that we need to manage things in a certain way, so that they fit our needs – economy, road safety or various shifting public opinions, whichever those might be, which also tend to change over time and place.

9. If deer and bison are not “managed” (which means hunted) and fed, they will either die, or kill the forest – no?

Herbivores will increase to the natural numbers that the productivity of respective type of terrain can sustain, counting in the natural limiting factors involved (food availability, cold winters, dry summers, floods, predators, diseases, competition between species etc.). By far, the most important limiting natural factor for wild herbivores is the combined productivity of the soil and climate, resulting in the yearly available mass of vegetation that can be eaten. The size of a really natural population of wild herbivores in Europe is far, far larger than most people (including most biologists) would ever expect. In some areas in Europe’s lowlands, this natural population density is fully up to Serengeti levels of wildlife per square km, or more. However, this has not been seen by any human for thousands of years, since we brought their numbers down to a fraction of the natural densities in area after area after man’s arrival in Europe, and particularly so after the last Ice age.

10. Why don’t you fight to save the ancient, traditional culture landscapes? For increased subsidies for old-style farming lands?

We are not at all against subsidies to keep certain old traditional farmlands intact. We just don’t believe that this is a recipe that will work everywhere or long-term. Reality already shows it doesn’t. It is not economically sustainable in the long term. So we want to develop a new, parallel approach, that we call rewilding, which will work much better for many of these areas and give space to develop new, modern ways of combining income, jobs and business with biodiversity conservation.

11. How about land that is not abandoned, should we not be able to rewild some of that too?

Yes, that is possible, of course, if the present land owners are in favour of it (many are!…), or if the land can be bought or leased and rewilded by the new owners/leasers.

12. Are you against farmers and herdsmen and domestic grazing animals? Do you want to get rid of us?

We are absolutely not at all against neither farmers or herdsmen, nor their livestock. On the contrary – we work together with them. The truth is that the present economic and socio-cultural realities are making countryside people leave their land, and particularly so the younger people. Already today, all this cannot be compensated for with government or EU subsidies. So the question now is in many areas – what to do with the land instead, so that those farmers and land owners, who wish to, can stay in their area. And so that the rich biodiversity connected to these lands is not eradicated.We are also not at all against domestic grazing animals. They do an almost as good grazing job as the wild herbivores, to keep open lands open. But much of the domestic animals are already disappearing from the landscape due to agricultural intensification and the changes in economy and lifestyle. Modern times means change here. We want to compensate for that loss of grazing in the landscape by letting the wild grazers come back again, and in natural numbers.

13. Why don’t you do this and this and this instead? And also there and there?

We refuse to be held responsible for what we are not doing, or for what someone else is doing or not doing. We focus on what we think is the most important and what we are reasonably good at, and we try our best to make that happen. Others will have to take responsibility for other areas and other methods.

14. Will you then buy my land and throw me out?

No. We want to work together with you, your neighbors and lots of other private and public land owners and stakeholders, in order to find ways to make these lands wilder. But if you want to sell or lease it away or sell part of your hunting concession in one of our Rewilding areas, please do ask us first!

15. Can we still hunt, fish and cut trees?

In the core areas we would ideally like to phase out hunting, farming and logging. We need to have a number of reference areas in Europe, where there is strictly no hunting or logging, so that we can see what a natural vegetation really looks like and what natural wildlife numbers really are in different areas and habitats.

But in the transition areas, outside the core and buffer areas, there will most probably quite quickly be more opportunity for quality hunting than almost ever before, since we will be help bringing up the numbers of wildlife in the core area, and the surplus will then migrate into all the neighboring lands, if these are not fenced in. This can become a major local money-earner, as it has in many countries.

If sports fishing is going to take place in the core areas, it will have to be on a strict catch-and-release level. In the transition areas, sports fishing can become a valuable money-earner.

16. Why do we need to rewild at all, since it will happen naturally?

Yes, but often in a bit non-natural, synthetic way, since most of the large herbivores and therefore also the large carnivores are often absent – two of the most important ecological factors among the natural processes.

17. Why do you focus only on “Wilderness” and not also other natural lands? Since there is much more of them than of wilderness.

We do focus on both “natural lands” and “wilderness”. We like both. We would like to help to rewild all kinds of lands, into a wilder state than they are in now. If we see the level of wildness as a scale of 1-10, we would like to help many areas move up that scale a notch or two or three.At the Number 10 there would then be the completely un-managed pristine wilderness, which we of course would like to see both more of and much better protected. But we would also like to to see huge areas of quite natural lands become one or several steps wilder. This is really important for the biodiversity of our continent. Our special focus here is however the abandoned or semi-wild land across Europe and on developing intelligent ways of how to let these lands become much wilder, for the benefit of nature and man alike.

18. Is rewilding only possible in the most remote corners of the European continent?

Today, the wildest areas are usually situated in the greater mountain chains, in the most remote areas of Europe and in its throughout history most heavily contested borderlands. But rewilding is above all a process of giving nature more space, and this process can take place even in the most densely populated areas of Europe. Not always aiming for complete wilderness as the end result, but at least something much wilder than today. For this to become an organised network of rewilding areas, we have started up the “European Rewilding Network”.

Also in many areas of North/Western Europe there are regions where people are leaving the rural areas, and the wildlife comeback to Western Europe is maybe even more spectacular than in other parts.

It seems that with lower the hunting pressure and the large amounts of available food, even cities like London and Berlin attract large wildlife species like foxes, martens, deer and wild boar, showing examples of rewilding also in a big city context. Berlin, for example, has about 4,000 wild boar living in the city.

19. How can you talk about a new “nature based” economy? Nature conservation usually only costs money, whilst forestry and hunting instead generates income?

Here we can learn a lot from Africa and the USA, where wildlife has become a main factor in many regional economies and there are many examples of conservation enterprises, which show that wild nature really can provide the base for a flourishing economy.Also in Europe, and even in the Netherlands with its high land prices, there are the first examples of competing economies being developed, based on nature development.

With these examples in mind it is not difficult to imagine that in the large scale abandoned landscapes of Europe, the comeback of wildlife in natural numbers could create an economy that can compete with the current, often subsidized forestry and the hunting on marginal numbers. Many logging and hunting businesses by the way are not profitable at all, and several ever work at a loss every year, year after year. In those cases, in effect, the tax-payer is paying to subvention the reckless destruction of the forest. In 2011, in the USA, the numbers of wildlife watchers were far bigger than the number of hunters AND sports fishermen combined! Wildlife watching also had a greater economic turnover than either the hunting or sports fishing did.

20. You say fire is one of the natural processes, but we have been fighting fires for generations, fire is one of the biggest problems in many Mediterranean countries!

Fire is a natural process in any wilderness, but at the same time, natural fires are not very common. Today’s fires are in most cases caused by man, either deliberately or by accident. A very strong reason for the frequent fires in the dry south of Europe is the man-made tree plantations of mainly non-natural, introduced pine species and eucalyptus. Both these groups of species of trees are very flammable and very prone to catch fire. Another reason for frequent fires and for more damage during fires, is the large amount of scrub and bush now growing under the trees in the abandoned landscapes. Which is a direct result of the lack of proper amounts of grazing large herbivores.

So bringing back the large herbivores is also a huge fire-preventive action of great economic value. Oak and other original broad-leaf forest species are much less prone to burn and they are often the most natural forest types in Southern Europe. And if naturally grazed, the risk of fire diminishes a lot.

21. If cattle and horses run wild, isn’t there risk for the spread of diseases? Is it even legal?

Cattle and horses live wild or semi-wild in a number of countries in Europe already, without it being illegal in any way. In Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands, for example, they are given full wild status, owned by nobody and legally the same as other wildlife. There lives the largest wild-living herd of horses in the world! In Camargue in France, the semi-wild black bulls and white horses have been famous since centuries. Europeans are just not yet so used to looking at cattle and horses as truly wild animals. That will change.Any wild living animals could, of course, have and spread disease, but in practice it’s rather the other way around. International livestock- and poultry transports brings force-bred livestock and poultry from crammed animal production factories, with over-use of antibiotics etc., and spreads disease to wildlife. Take the Bird Flu as an example – that came from poultry in South-Eeastern Asia and spread to some wildfowl.

22. Is it ethical to trade in live wildlife species?

As with all discussions about ethics, that is of course much in the eye of the beholder. Is it ethical to eradicate the original wildlife over almost all their original homelands, as we have done in Europe with terrible efficiency for millennia? Perhaps it is more ethical to let wildlife come back and to let the animals take care of themselves again, to a much greater extent than before? If trade in live wild animals leads to much more space being made available for wildlife in society, and many 100,000s of hectares more of private and public  lands re-stocked with wildlife instead of used for industrial farming or domestic animal husbandry, is that then not a good thing for nature and biodiversity? As soon as you bring back the original fauna, interestingly enough, the rest of the original biodiversity comes back as well – plants, insects, fungi, birds, etc.

23. Will not tourism risk to destroy the original culture? And the wilderness?

Like all other human industries, tourism is a phenomenon that can come in several versions. Very beneficial to nature conservation, just as well as strongly destructive to it. Tourism is not neutral. It all depends on what kind of tourism and under which rules people promote it. We are in favor of a long-term sustainable and responsible tourism with as little negative impact as possible. There are already thousands of examples worldwide, of how such can contribute to both nature conservation and local economy in many different ways.

24. How will a few bison and deer be able to replace the grazing pressure from millions of domestic sheep, horses and cattle of today?

They won’t. The wild grazers that come back (including European bison, wild horses and wild cattle) will also need to be in the millions, to have the same effect at the end of the day.

That is why we in the meanwhile, until proper numbers can be obtained from these species, temporarily replace them with some of their most primeaval cousins or relatives.

25. What kind of animals would you like to bring back? Dinosaurs? Cave lions, cave bears, mammoths, …?

We think the most relevant and interesting species are the ones that man has exterminated or significantly reduced the distribution of, during the last 10,000 years that have passed since the last Ice age. Muskox, bison, wild reindeer, wild horse, aurochs, etc. The herbivores are at the top of the list. When they are many enough, also the large carnivores will come by themselves in due time and without that many active measures.

26. Are you against hunting and hunters?

We are not against neither hunting nor hunters. Hunting is a natural thing for humans to do; it is part of our DNA and our cultural heritage since the first humans ever arrived in Europe. Hunters are also one of the groups of people who will have the most to gain from a rewilding of Europe and increased wildlife numbers here. There will from their horizon simply be more wildlife in Europe to hunt – more species and higher densities of them. This is one good basis for common ground between our interests.Hunting tourism development is also a vital part of the new economy around Rewilding Europe’s rewilding areas and a wildlife comeback.

BUT, all the above considered, hunting does of course NOT need to take place on every square meter of Europe’s land surface. The legitimate interests of hunters do not always and in every single area by norm have to always have first priority. After all, hunters are just one of several important special interest and stakeholder groups in Europe.

We mean that there also needs to exist large, natural and wild areas where NO hunting at all takes place. Both as reference areas for us all to see, and as production areas for wildlife, that will spill over into the neighboring areas. This will even in the short-term perspective show to be very beneficial also for the hunting interests.

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