The Zoological Society of London has commenced a study for Rewilding Europe to examine the population trends of wildlife in Europe over the past 30–40 years. This has been an era of significant wildlife comeback.
According to the 2010 “WWF Living Planet Report”, the period 1970 to 2007 saw an average increase of animal populations of 43% in Europe. This encompasses a long list of species, particularly the larger mammals and birds. Rewilding Europe wants to draw attention to this conservation success, which has been hardly described to date and is little understood.
With this desk study, The Zoological Society of London and Rewilding Europe want to better understand the success factors for nearly a hundred species that have shown an increase in numbers and distribution in Europe since the sixties. ”Because,” as Ben Collen, Head of Indicators and Assessment Unit of the Society says, ”it is important to learn from positive developments in conservation, so that we can take lessons to protect and support other species’ recovery.”
Terrestrial species seem to have benefitted more than their marine counterparts with probably larger populations of certain species in Europe today than we have had for many centuries, such as Roe deer, Moose, Wild boar, Chamois, Ibex, Cormorant, Greylag goose, Barnacle goose, Mute swan, Common Crane, Black Stork, and White-tailed Eagle. With active protection and re-introductions, other species have also benefitted including Ibex, Beaver, Otter, Eagle owl, Peregrine, Bearded and Black vulture. And even the Iberian lynx has started to recover marginally from the worst situation, though long term prospects remain unclear.
Large carnivores also appear to show some recovery. From previous source populations in Eastern Europe in particular, wolves and brown bears are re-colonizing areas of the continent, notably in Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal, and some predict it will not be long before the first wolves turn up in the most crowded country of the continent – The Netherlands.
But what are the reasons for this wildlife come back? Is it a natural process? Is it a consequence of dedicated conservation measures? Is it reduced hunting pressure and the decrease in use of certain chemicals? Does land abandonment in large parts of Europe play a role?
”European land abandonment is taking place at a rate of 1 million hectares a year on average”, says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. ”This provides a historic opportunity for wildlife species to return to normal levels, if we allow them. Iconic European wildlife species can be economic draw cards for areas where land abandonment takes place, and can provide new sources of income from wildlife based tourism. Especially the larger species which represent the most important European ecosystems. We hope to show this in the five -and ultimately ten – model areas of Rewilding Europe”.
The results of this science-based overview are expected to be available in November this year. For each of the species, trends in numbers and distribution will be described and clarified. The key factors attributed to their come back will be analyzed to generate a broad overview.