Site visits in the company of ecologists tend to be fun. If these ecologists come with a long-term vision on the landscape, the trip becomes wild. I had the pleasure of the company of Frans Schepers and Wouter Helmer in the Velebit mountains of Croatia, when we visited one of Rewilding Europe’s pilot sites, together with staff from the implementing office of WWF’s Mediterranean Programme.
During December, representatives of the Rewilding Europe enterprise team have visited the Eastern Carpathians, Southern Carpathians and Western Iberia project sites. Enterprise development within Rewilding Europe remains at a very early planning stage, however some clear conservation business development and financing possibilities are emerging.
„Look at how the bark beetle influences the spruce forests – the affected trees appear as small islands in the larger forest landscape”. Tea Silic, biologist at the Northern Velebit National Park, shows us around in the park in preparation for the start-up of one of Rewilding Europe’s field projects.
The disappearance of grazing herds of sheep and goats transformed large areas of the Mediterranean mountain landscape into forest with dense undergrowth and scrub. These landscapes are particularly susceptible to large fires and extremely dry summers due to climate change increase the chances of this. But with the return of native herbivores such as deer, ibex, wild horses and wild cattle, semi-natural landscapes, which are much less vulnerable to fires, are once again formed.
It was 25 years ago when I saw a tortoise for the last time, as a researcher of perhaps the richest area of reptiles in Europe: Thrace. Even Egyptian vulture, imperial eagle and black vulture fed on reptiles there. And it appeared that the majestic golden eagle, elsewhere picking young ibex and chamois off the rocks, was taking almost 100 tortoises a year per eagle chick back to the nest.
From the very fragmented, small-landowner landscape in northeastern Portugal, we suddenly come into a big, already quite raw and wild-looking area: the 600 hectare Faia Brava private nature reserve, in the dramatic Côa valley. This is Portugal’s first private reserve and it is owned by Associaçâo Transumância e Natureza, who is working to rewild it, taking away all extractive use and bringing back lost wildlife, as well as protecting the already existing precious locally breeding wildlife: the Bonelli’s eagle, the golden eagle, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, eagle owl etc. And taking care of the cultural heritage sites in the reserve as well.