Description: Among European countries, rural abandonment in France has resulted in one of the largest areas of natural habitat. Populations of large herbivores have increased dramatically, predators have come back and the same has happened in many rivers with the populations of otters, beavers, fish and other increasing. Although much more could be done, there is plenty of “rewilding” already going on in France. This dynamic, however, is at odds with the way many rural areas picture their agro-pastoral heritage and with negative messaging about biodiversity loss in the mainstream media. In addition to sharing an updated representation of their landscapes, people living among expanding forests and increasingly abundant large animals need business opportunities that can create jobs and incomes from nature’s renewed bounty. In this context, Rewilding France aims to disseminate a positive narrative around rewilding to help make France a wilder place, with more space for wild nature, wildlife and natural processes, and to generate opportunities for local people that will make them proud. Rewilding France project is led by Biotope, a firm created in 1993 in France to provide expertise and advisory services on biodiversity and ecosystem management, and to raise awareness through various media including natural history publications. Today, Biotope is actively involved in designing and implementing conservation and restoration projects that aim to offset impacts from development projects, with the purpose of generating no net loss or a net gain for biodiversity.
Aim: The project aims to identify and support initiatives across France that are consistent with Rewilding Europe's mission and objectives. It was initially developed by Biotope with input from several partners. Further collaborations will help the project evolve and continuously improve to achieve on-the-ground outcomes. Biotope is working with partners to identify rewilding areas and site-specific rewilding projects and raise funds to secure land (through purchases or contractual arrangements), undertake restoration or enable wildlife comeback, and ensure long-term management, in close partnership with local communities.
Vision: Our vision is to make France a posterchild for rewilding in Europe.
Accomplished in 10 years from now: Aim is to identify and develop various projects in at least 5 potential “rewilding areas” and enhance wildlife abundance, diversify communities through targeted reintroductions, generate entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for local people and/or reduce human-wildlife conflicts. Rewilding France aims to publish at least 10 books on rewilding and wildlife comeback to raise awareness on its value and potential in France and elsewhere. Where relevant, Rewilding France aims to leverage funding from biodiversity offsets to implement in rewilding projects as part of Biotope’s ongoing activities in this field, in partnership with local communities. Other innovative funding mechanisms such as payments for environmental services will as well be explored.
Uniqueness: Project focuses on working across the divide between traditional conservation and rural uses of nature, and natural processes and resources, to promote wildlife comeback and generate goodwill through economic opportunities in rural areas which express a need for more positive visions of their future with nature. As a business, Biotope and its Rewilding France project believes there is scope and opportunity for increasing private investment in conservation generally. Particularly in restoration and rewilding.
Results so far: Biotope has offices across France (including French overseas regions: French Guiana, Martinique and Réunion) and has been involved in numerous projects aimed at securing land, designing and overseeing restoration work and subsequent management of natural areas by third parties. Most of these have been financed by developers as part of offsetting requirements laid out in their permits. In the French context, these must demonstrate that they achieve no net loss or a net gain of biodiversity. Recent examples include: Protecting 31 ha of woodland – grassland mosaic for conservation in the Paris area, restoration of 160 ha of Mediterranean grassland and shrubland near Perpignan, to offset urban development and creation of a 20 ha wetland for migratory birds by converting cropland that had itself been reclaimed from coastal wetlands, near Gravelines. In addition to the above, Biotope is involved in developing landscape-level strategies for locating biodiversity offsets, in partnership with local governments and land-owners. This includes supporting investments in “habitat banking” whereby land is secured and restoration is initiated independently of a particular developer’s offsetting needs. Several books have been published in French on keystone species such as the brown bear, chamois, wild boar, golden eagle and, forthcoming, the capercaillie and otter. Coffee-table books about ecosystems or regions of particular interest for nature-based tourism have also been published (Cévennes, Pyrenees, Scandinavia, etc.). Finally, Biotope under the framework of Rewilding France project is working with partners to identify rewilding areas and site-specific rewilding projects and raise funds to secure land, undertake restoration or enable wildlife comeback, and ensure long-term management, in close partnership with local communities. The project is actively designing a rewilding project in the Cévennes area on the southern edge of the Massif Central mountains, together with a local NGO Houmbaba.
characteristics: Community involved, Eco tourism, Education, Recreational activities, Research, Sale of sustainable products
Inspirational value: Offering a vision based on rewilding provides a positive alternative to traditional conservation, and can serve, increase and diversify engagement by local communities and sectoral stakeholders (hunters, farmers, foresters, etc.).
Experience you would like to share: The project hopes to share lessons from the so far experiences in France in various facets of rewilding and communicate it to ERN members and European audience. We hope to share our business perspective on the topic of rewilding and nature based economies.
Experience you would like to gain: We hope to learn from experiences across Europe and use regular interactions within the network to generate new ideas and projects.