The Benefits of Rewilding

Defining Rewilding

Rewilding is the passive management of ecological succession with the goal of restoring natural ecosystem processes and reducing human control of landscapes (Gillson et al. 2011). Note that although passive management emphasizes no management or low levels of management (for example, Vera 2009), intervention may be required in the early restoration stages.

Fig. 1.4  Localization of the hotspots of abandonment and rewilding in Europe. Those hotspots are areas categorized as “agriculture” in 2000 that are projected to become rewilded or afforested in 2030 and that are common to all four scenarios of the CLUE model (Verburg and Overmars 2009). Hotspots are expressed as a percentage of each 100-km2 grid cell. Agricultural areas correspond to “arable land (non-irrigated)”, “pasture”, “irrigated arable land” and “permanent crops”. Rewilded and afforested areas correspond to “(semi)-natural vegetation”, “forest”, “recently abandoned arable land”, and “recently abandoned pasture land”. Countries in grey have no data

In contrast, much of the biodiversity conservation efforts in Europe emphasize active management, by maintaining low-level agricultural practices (Fig. 1.1). Active management also differs in goals, targeting the increase of the abundance of specific taxa or the maintenance of particular habitats, using approaches such as vegetation clearing and construction of artificial habitats, often working against successional processes.

Natural succession on abandoned farmland and pastures often leads to scrubland and sometimes at a later stage, to forest (Conti and Fagarazzi 2005). Passive forest regeneration restores almost as much forested areas globally as active tree plantation (Rey Benayas and Bullock 2012). Nonetheless, “wilderness” is not a synonym of “continuous forest” (Sutherland 2002). The European megafauna played a role in maintaining open landscapes, before being brought to global or local extinction by humans and replaced by domesticated grazers (Johnson 2009; Vera 2000; Bullock 2009, see Chap. 8).

This does not mean that rewilding should aim at rebuilding Pleistocene ecosystems, an approach which has been proposed elsewhere (Donlan et al. 2006), but that faces many difficulties (Caro 2007), including the lack of many of the original keystone species, a different climate, and ecosystems modified locally (for example, changes in soil caused by agriculture) and regionally by humans (for example, the global nitrogen cycle). Instead, the emphasis is on the development of self-sustaining ecosystems, protecting native biodiversity and natural ecological processes and providing a range of ecosystem services (Cramer et al. 2008). These novel ecosystems may be designed to be as similar as possible to some historical baseline in the recent or distant past, but they will often involve the introduction of new biotic elements (Hobbs et al. 2009).

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