A New Vision for an Old Continent

The Initiative

In November 2010, Rewilding Europe, a new European nature initiative was launched in Brussels. To jump-start the initiative, the initiating partners, WWF Netherlands, ARK Nature, Wild Wonders of Europe and Conservation Capital agreed only a few months later to establish the Foundation Rewilding Europe as a separate legal entity. Together with the foundation, a limited company was registered, fully owned by the foundation. In this way Rewilding Europe is able to set up innovative conservation enterprises and participate in new forms of sustainable business development related to rewilding activities.

Rewilding Europe aims to rewild 1 million ha of land by 2020 (Sylven et al. 2010), creating ten magnificent wildlife and wilderness areas to serve as inspirational examples for what can be replicated and achieved elsewhere. These ten areas should serve as benchmarks for a large-scale shift in land use across Europe towards wilder nature and new ways to use that resource for employment and self-sustainability (Schepers and Widstrand 2012). To support this, a wider European Rewilding Network is under development[1] with the ultimate aim of influencing land use over a total of 10 million ha.

Nominations from all over Europe

In May 2009, the first ideas for a new European nature initiative were presented to a wide audience at the first European Wilderness Conference in Prague (Coleman and Aykroyd 2009). Organizations, governments, park managers and relevant stakeholders were invited to nominate areas to potentially be part of the initiative. In total, nearly 30 nominations were received for areas with high rewilding potential from all corners of Europe.

Out of these, five prime regions were selected to become showcases of how the Rewilding Europe vision can be put into practice (Fig. 9.1). These areas are located in Western Iberia (Portugal and Spain), the Velebit Mountains (Croatia), the Eastern Carpathians (Slovakia and Poland), the Southern Carpathians (Romania), and the Danube Delta (Romania).

By incorporating the next four rewilding areas into the initiative (Fig. 9.1), a diverse geographical representation of Europe will be achieved covering a broad array of different landscapes, from lowland river deltas to high mountains; from dehesa to tundra; from primeval beech forests to taiga; from upland river valleys to high cliffs. Each of these areas covers a minimum potential size of 100,000 ha.

Fig. 9.1  Map of Europe showing the existing five rewilding areas ( purple) and the four candidate areas ( grey) in 2013

The rewilding areas are guided by three main principles: (1) Every area should host complete and naturally functioning ecosystems specific to the region with a full spectrum of native wildlife typical for the region present; (2) The areas should be embedded within the social, historical and cultural fabric of their respective region; and (3) The new land use should be based on what nature can offer and be economically viable and competitive with other alternatives. These principles were defined in order to show that Europe can indeed deal in new ways with nature, within a modern society, that gives space for wild areas, wildlife and wilderness. It is about letting nature run more of its own business—and at the same time letting people create businesses, jobs and employment from it. These attributes and opportunities are communicated by the initiative across a broad spectrum of stakeholders from the European Commission to local landowners. This is a completely new conservation vision for Europe driving the ultimate goal: a wilder Europe in the twenty-first century.

  • [1] rewildingeurope.com/news/articles/rewilding-europe-starts-european-rewilding- network/.
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