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Scientists suggest rewilding as land management for substantial areas in Europe

August 6, 2012

Rewilding Europe welcomes the publication of one of the first scientific papers on rewilding and land abandonment in Europe, written by Laetitia M. Navarro and Henrique M. Pereira. The article suggests a fourth option of land management policy in addition to agricultural intensification, extensification and afforestation – rewilding.

The authors suggest that traditional agriculture practices were not necessarily environmentally friendly, that globalization has created a “circle of decline” in marginal agricultural areas, especially in the mountain regions, where lack of services and opportunities for education and employment cause massive out-migration.

The European Common Agriculture Policy subsidies are not enough to keep the old system going and land abandonment is estimated to continue for decades. At least 10 million ha land will be released from agriculture between 2000 and 2030.

The paper sees rewilding, which restores natural ecosystem processes and reduces human control over landscapes as a suitable land management principle for those areas. Although rewilding is a passive form of land management, some intervention may be needed in the early stages of restoration.

While biodiversity consequences and the exact distribution of “winner” and “loser” species depends on geographical context, it is safe to say that several species that have become functionally extinct in agricultural landscapes, like large carnivores, will benefit from rewilding.

The paper also underlines the indirect and non-use ecosystem services that benefit from rewilding, but are often disregarded in policy-making – while intensive agriculture or forest plantations only focus on specific products, rewilded areas offer a wide range of services, such as tourism, hunting, soil recovery, water regulation, etc. In addition, the passive nature of rewilding means lower maintenance costs compared to other conservation policies.

The authors also point out the challenges of rewilding, such as conflicts between human activities and wildlife, fire, and lack of some ancient species, by offering solutions to each of them.

The full text of the study can be accessed free of charge at http://www.springerlink.com/content/h234866258407734/fulltext.html

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