Most landscapes are evaluated and protected according to emotional and aesthetic values that societies attribute to them (Antrop 2005; Gobster et al. 2007) and conservation programs are determined by people's perceptions of what should be preserved (Gillson et al. 2011) and depend on shifting baselines of what nature should be like (Vera 2009). Thus, the values that Europeans give to farmland and wilderness landscapes are based on tradition and history but also on socio-economic backgrounds (Van den Berg and Koole 2006). Yet, considering that landscapes result from the dynamic interaction of natural and cultural drivers (Antrop 2005), they cannot be perceived as anchored in time and we should anticipate occasional changes that will force us to reevaluate their definition.
Rewilding appears to be a viable management option for some of these transitions with important benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services. At the local scale, some species will decline and other increase, eventually leading to local species diversity decreases in some taxa (Fig. 1.2). We lack research studies looking at the regional scale dynamics, but we hypothesize that no significant loss in species diversity is expected as long as mosaics of open spaces and forest are maintained, and that some dimensions of biodiversity may even improve, such as the average size of populations of wild species. At the global scale, many species have already gone extinct and it will be impossible to get them back, but the release into the wild of breeds of some domesticated species may allow recovery of some historical losses (Fig. 1.2). In terms of ecosystem services, rewilding allows for a wide range of regulating and cultural services (Fig. 1.5).
The extent and outcome of rewilding will be heterogeneous across Europe (Fig. 1.4) as different regions will have different departing points of post-farmland abandonment and varying limitations to natural forest regrowth. For example, on some abandoned areas of Southern Europe, the availability of forest tree seed banks can be a limiting factor due to little natural forest left and the frequent fire regime may delay ecological succession. In contrast, the relative scarcity of open areas in much of Northern Europe may render the intensification or reestablishment of natural perturbations, such as grazing by large wild herbivores and fire (for example, prescribed burns), priority goals for management. Rewilding can also be considered on available land that does not necessarily result from farmland abandonment, such as national forests previously managed for timber production, decommissioned military areas, salt ponds and other wetlands, thus increasing the level of heterogeneity of European wild landscapes.
From a conservation standpoint, the option between rewilding and active management will depend on the goals and the local context. Active management is likely to be preferred when the goal is to restore specific species or maintain early successional habitats and other habitats associated with human activities. Passive management emphasizes dynamic ecological processes over static patterns of species or habitat occurrence and can be more sustainable in the long term or at large spatial scales.
Despite many benefits, rewilding has been disregarded as a management option until recently. Initiatives such as Rewilding Europe (rewildingeurope. com, and see Chap. 9) and the PAN Parks Network (panparks.org) are now bringing rewilding to the forefront of the discussion of European conservation policies. Rewilding poses many challenges, but those are inherent to the implementation of any restoration plan. In a world wounded by biodiversity loss, farmland abandonment is an opportunity to improve biodiversity in Europe, to study the regeneration of vegetation, and even to test ecological theories (Hobbs and Cramer 2007). In the end, the question is not whether we prefer a domesticated or a wild European landscape but rather which management options (Fig. 1.1) at each place will be more achievable and sustainable.