Wilderness in Europe has been pushed into the high altitude areas of the mountain ranges and into the high latitude areas of Scandinavia. The metrics we use here agree on the general patterns of European wilderness but regional differences between our metrics emphasize the different factors that affect wilderness values regionally and locally (Fig. 2.1). New opportunities for wilderness expansion have appeared in Europe
Fig. 2.4 Species richness of European megafauna. We calculate it as the number of species of mammals with adult body mass equal or higher than 10 kg and birds with adult body mass equal or higher than 5 kg in each grid cell
due to farmland abandonment and a decrease of human presence can lead to a drop in several human footprint indicators and a recovery of natural trophic networks. Although management trade-offs have to be made in some places between intervening for a faster recovery and stepping back for an unrestrained adaptation of ecosystems, we favour an approach of minimum intervention and self-regulating ecosystems.
The next few decades are crucial for how wilderness will evolve in Europe. New research is necessary on how different dimensions of wilderness will change as a result of land use changes and what will be the effects on ecosystems and wildlife. Moreover, research is need on how to restore not only ecosystems but also the collective memory to encompass what wilderness may have been like, what it is and what it may or should be. This would help consolidate the crucial link between research on one hand, and management and policy on the other, an area that still requires substantial work (see Chap. 11). Challenges remain in bringing together rewilding views, and negotiating diverging social and economic interests. A focus on the benefits of natural ecosystem for the society at large can ease the tensions between different stakeholders in continental policy-making. From a global perspective, Europe will continue to be at the lower end of the wilderness continuum (Mittermeier et al. 2003) but favourable opportunities are arising at continental level to improve ecosystem functions and we should seize them wisely.
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