Held in the village of Pettorano sul Gizio, many of whose residents are already experiencing the economic benefits of rewilding, the event brought together entrepreneurs from across Italy.
What is rewilding and how can it stimulate economic development? These were the questions addressed in a pioneering four-day rewilding economy seminar held in the village of Pettorano sul Gizio in the Central Apennines rewilding area in the first week of October.
The aim of the seminar, which was organised by the Rewilding Apennines team and attended by 10 entrepreneurs and volunteers from across the Apennine region, was to educate participants about rewilding, equip them with the knowledge to advance their own nature-based businesses, and to demonstrate how rewilding can help to revitalise the socio-economic profile of rural communities.
The participants in the seminar enjoyed a varied programme. This included introductory presentations by Rewilding Europe’s Rewilding Area Coordinator Rob Stoneman and Enterprise Manager Helena Newell, as well as all members of the Rewilding Apennines team, who talked about rewilding in the Central Apennines, the development of nature-based economies in the area, human-wildlife coexistence, and communications.
There were also a range of walks, workshops and presentations on subjects such as agroecology, ethnobotany and the essential benefits that nature provides to people.
“One thing that impressed me about this seminar was the up-to-information and expertise that was on offer,” says Dara Brodey, who is based in Milan and is involved in work for several international NGOs. “I learned a lot from the diverse rewilding-related topics that were discussed, which covered everything from the practical and technical aspects of rewilding and nature-based economies to science and philosophy. The dedication of all those involved was really inspiring.”
Eugenio Vitto Massei, a seminar participant from Pettorano sul Gizio, was also enthusiastic.
“Although I live here I learned a lot of new things,” he says. “I have an economic background, so gaining more of an understanding of wild nature and rewilding was very important. To be sure this knowledge will guide my economic activities going forwards.”
Rewilding efforts in the Central Apennines have so far largely focused on protecting and enhancing the area’s population of endangered Marsican brown bears. Pettorano sul Gizio, the village which hosted the seminar, became the first so-called “Bear Smart Community” in the Central Apennines back in 2015 (there are currently three).
To be classified as “smart”, Bear Smart Communities – which are all located within wildlife corridors developed by the Rewilding Apennines team – have to follow best practice coexistence principles and employ a range of measures to minimise potential conflict with bears, such as the installation of electric fences and bear-proof doors, bear-proof organic waste management, the installation of signs and reflectors to prevent traffic accidents involving bears, and the restoration of abandoned orchards in the mountains.
Located at the centre of the Mount Genzana Alto Gizio Regional Nature Reserve, a vital wildlife corridor that connects the Abruzzo and Majella National Parks, Pettorano sul Gizio is typical of many small settlements nestled in the folds of the dramatic Central Apennine landscape, which have long suffered from rural depopulation and a challenging economic outlook.
Ensuring communities benefit economically from wildlife comeback has always been an integral part of the rewilding process, as it helps to further promote coexistence and generate additional support for rewilding. Pettorano sul Gizio exemplifies this dynamic, with villagers regularly hosting rewilding volunteers on a long-term basis, as well as their friends and family. This provides an invaluable income.
A replicable model
Rewilding is gradually breathing new life into the rural communities of the Central Apennines. The challenge now is to keep spreading the word and scaling up its positive economic impact.
“The bear smart community model is easily replicable,” says Rewilding Apennines Enterprise Officer Valerio Reale. “From Scotland to Germany, more and more people are coming to Pettorano sul Gizio to learn about our work and help us to develop the concept further. With the enthusiastic support of local people, we are demonstrating that it is possible to live alongside large carnivores and other wildlife, peacefully and profitably. In this regard, rewilding is playing an essential social role.”
The Rewilding Apennines team will continue to engage with entrepreneurs and rewilding initiatives, with a meeting of Italian members of the European Rewilding Network scheduled for early November.
The rewilding economy seminar was sponsored by Danish sustainable clothing brand Organic Basics, through the recently established Bear Fund, which works to support Bear Smart Communities. Holding the seminar raised around 1500 euros (through fees paid by participants) and some of this will be fed back into the fund.
About two weeks before the seminar was held the Rewilding Apennines team discussed cancelling it due to Covid-19. Valerio Reale is glad they decided to go ahead and hold the event.
“Our ambition is to start a rewilding entrepreneurship movement, and this seminar was a really positive step forward,” he says. “We have supported the participants in their ambition to develop nature-based businesses. But beyond this, we have raised the profile of the work of the Rewilding Apennines team and demonstrated that rewilding can take care of people as well as wild nature. This inclusive approach applies to all of Rewilding Europe’s operational areas.”