BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council have joined a desk study to document the comeback of a number of bird species in Europe.
In 2011, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) started this wildlife comeback study, commissioned by Rewilding Europe, which mainly includes iconic mammal and bird species covering different geographical regions and habitats in our continent. The main goal of this study is to generate a science-based overview of changes in abundance and distribution during the period 1960-2010 of wildlife species that have shown a considerable comeback in Europe. The study will create a better understanding of the dynamics causing these changes, both at a species level and in a consolidated way. This can provide important lessons for future conservation and might help to extrapolate these success stories to other species as well.
According to the 2012 “Living Planet Report”, the period 1970 to 2008 saw an average increase in animal population size of 6% in the Palearctic realm (which mostly includes data from Europe), in contrast to an overall decrease in biodiversity indices in tropical regions. Better environmental protection is one explanation put forward to be a contributing factor, but recent changes in land use with abandonment of farmland, reduced hunting pressure, and higher productivity of many ecosystems due to more nutritional input from human activities (e.g. eutrophication of lakes and coastal areas, nitrogen deposition from air, etc.) have probably also played an important role. Rewilding Europe is particularly interested how the wildlife comeback can be sustained and further promoted, and used for rewilding initiatives all over Europe. Apart from an important ecological role a lot of the species covered play in European ecosystems, they also have an economic value, e.g. as draw cards for wildlife based tourism that can provide new opportunities in many parts of Europe. Also, the wildlife comeback poses new challenges in terms of wildlife management, allowing populations to reach natural densities and natural dynamics.
The wildlife comeback in Europe encompasses a long list of species, particularly mammals and birds. In today’s Europe there are probably larger populations of certain species than we have had for many decades or even centuries, such as Roe deer, Moose, Wild boar, Chamois, Ibex, White Stork, Barnacle Goose, Common Crane, and White-tailed Eagle. With active protection and re-introductions, other species have also benefitted including Ibex, Beaver, Otter, Eagle Owl, Peregrine, Lammergeier and Black Vulture. And even the Iberian lynx has started to recover marginally from the worst situation, though long-term prospects remain unclear.
“The wildlife comeback that is happening in Europe is one of the main opportunities our initiative is building on,” says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. “More and natural numbers of wildlife provide great opportunities for many rural areas in Europe where land abandonment is taking place, in particular in the larger Natura 2000 sites. Rewilding Europe wants to promote the comeback of wildlife and we expect this study will help to recognise the opportunities and challenges this brings for us as Europeans.”
A first draft document covering 18 mammal species has been prepared by ZSL and is now being peer-reviewed by species specialists from all over Europe. BirdLife and EBCC are now synthesising data to describe and analyse the comeback of some 20 bird species that have shown a significant comeback over the past 40 to 50 years.
The wildlife comeback study will be a landmark report to be launched at the end of September 2013 during a seminar in London. Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Member of European Parliament and Rapporteur Biodiversity, will receive the first report.
The findings of the study will also be presented at the 10th World Wilderness Congress WILD10 in Salamanca, Spain, on 4th October 2013.
The Wildlife Comeback Study and Seminar are made possible by the generous grants of the Swedish Postcode Lottery (Svenska Postkod Stiftelsen), Liberty Wildlife Fund (The Netherlands) and ARK Nature (The Netherlands).