The first edition of the Erasmus Intensive Programme “European Wilderness Entrepreneurship” was a great success for the Western Iberia rewilding area. During this two week event a consortium of thirty students and fifteen lecturers/researchers from universities in Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands looked at the role of entrepreneurship to promote the future wilderness of Western Iberia.
Continued land abandonment, marginalised agricultural livelihoods, new business opportunities to benefit from wilderness, aging populations and a magnificent natural landscape. These were sufficient ingredients for students and lecturers throughout Europe to travel to the Western Iberian rewilding area. Students were challenged to engage with local stakeholders in the Mediterranean landscape of Western Iberia. They were given the space to listen, discuss and work with a great variety of disciplinary perspectives to regional development (from biology to economic planning to sustainable tourism development). Using these various levels of knowledge students developed interdisciplinary and European visions for the Western Iberian landscape. They created innovative business models promoting ecological restoration and future wilderness to thrive as it did so thousands of years ago which students observed on the spectacular rock engravings in the Côa valley.
The program created enormous buzz on wilderness entrepreneurship, not only in municipalities like Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo where the group stayed for 10 out of the 15 days, but also in many Portuguese media outlets. It was prime time news on public Portuguese TV (please watch from 19 minutes) to see a group of 45 people travelling to one of the most abandoned regions in Portugal/Spain with an interest in wilderness based business development. They broadcasted that the economically depressed region was full of inspiration for the visiting group. The final presentations of students received special attention from stakeholders in the region. Some ideas are currently being thought through and are likely to have inspired future spin off developments for Western Iberia.
Wageningen University, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, and Rewilding Europe partner organizations in Western Iberia (ATN & FNYH) co-operated to design this unique learning experience on wilderness entrepreneurship. Funding from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme paid for travel, food, lodging and some organisational expenses. Funding from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs through the Green Knowledge Cooperative was used to cover hours invested by the two Dutch universities and Rewilding Europe to develop and coordinate the program. For more information, media and student output, please see the website of Wageningen University, lead partner of the first edition of the Erasmus Intensive Programme “European Wilderness Entrepreneurship”.