Recommendations for Rewilding
The current European policy response to pressures on biodiversity can be either with site protection (e.g. SPAs SACs), or with the regulation of the activities of those exploiting the land, which can also be relying on voluntary actions, i.e. with Agri-Environmental Schemes (EEA 2004). Rewilding abandoned farmland can efficiently contribute to reaching European and global conservation targets. But in order to do so, a policy framework must be designed to include rewilding in the land management options given to practitioners (see Chap. 1). To that extent, European conservation policies must aim toward several goals.
In places where people still keep a strong link with nature, a wilderness comeback via natural regeneration should not be excessively problematic (McGrory Klyza 2001). Yet, when the link with traditional landscapes is the strongest, as in many regions of Europe, rewilding might be perceived negatively (Bauer et al. 2009; Hochtl et al. 2005). Communication between scientists, policy-makers, decisionmakers, and the public will be essential to allow the implementation of rewilding, and to promote the values of wilderness in a landscape. Development initiatives are also known to ease the transitions between one form of management and another, for instance by increasing the support of local communities for the protected area (Pinto and Partidário 2012). Giving the opportunities to populations to shift their activities from low-income agriculture to ecotourism in rewilded areas can be an efficient way to meet both ends (see Chaps. 3 and 9).
The proposed “greening” reform of the CAP could further compensate stakeholders maintaining low productive practices in order to preserve traditional agricultural habitats (Hochkirch et al. 2013). Another option is to maintain payments for farmers that apply environmentally friendly practices on productive soils, and redirect subsidies on less productive lands towards rewilding (Merckx and Pereira, in press). By doing so, Member States will still be able to meet the demands for agricultural goods, yet promoting responsible and green practices on productive soils, while the lands left abandoned due to their remoteness, their lower productivity, and the difficulty to cultivate them (MacDonald et al. 2000; Rey Benayas et al. 2007, and see Chap. 1) will be rewilded and managed for other activities linked with wilderness. Such approach can be seen as land-sharing at the local scale (with
environmentally friendly agriculture), while at a broader scale food production and wilderness will occur on different areas, i.e. land-sparing (Merckx and Pereira, in press; Phalan et al. 2011).
When a transition from “species conservation” to “species management” occurs, adapted policy tools will be needed (Henle et al. 2013). Some of the species benefiting from rewilding and showing positive population trends with land abandonment are large mammals, which are often associated with human/wildlife conflicts (see Chap. 1). If those populations were to increase substantially, it could be difficult to segregate them entirely to wilderness areas and mechanisms will have to be designed to allow for mitigation, compensation and/or cohabitation (e.g. large carnivores–see Chap. 4, and large scavengers–see Chap. 5). The set of policy instruments that can address human/wildlife conflicts are: regulatory (i.e. referring to the management and control of species); economic (e.g. compensations for damages caused by wildlife, subsidies for technical development for the prevention of damages); and educational, directed at the civil society (Similä et al. 2013).
Promoting rewilding to manage abandoned farmland means shifting the policies towards an ecosystem process-based conservation, rather than the static conservation of a set of species and habitats which is the current paradigm (Hochkirch et al. 2013). Assisted restoration can be needed in the early stages of conservation, depending on the ecological filters that could prevent and/or limit the return to self-sustaining ecosystems (see Chaps. 1, 7, and 8). For instance, the restoration of disturbance regimes to rewild opened landscapes following the abandonment of pastoral activities will mean the need of wild, or semi-wild grazers (see Chap. 8), which could be (re)introduced if no local population was present. Though the introduction of wild species is legally framed (IUCN 2013), it is not the case for domestic species, such as horses, which could be used to maintain the disturbance regime of abandoned pastures. This calls for a legal framework on their reintroductions and on the liability of the various stakeholders involved (Jones-Walters & Čivić 2010). Rewilding will help policy-makers and stakeholders in rethinking their relationship with nature. In particular, the opportunity given by farmland abandonment to passively restore millions of hectares of land could give Europe an occasion to end the trends of double-standards between developed and developing countries in regard to conservation policies. For instance, deforestation is (rightfully) considered as a major degradation of ecosystems in developing countries, yet EU countries subsidies the maintenance of low productive agriculture to limit secondary successions on their land (Meijaard and Sheil 2011). Rewilding thus needs to gain visibility in the public and political sphere, as saliency (e.g. mainstreaming the concept of rewilding) has proven to be essential to the integration of concepts and ideas into the policy agendas (Jørgensen et al. 2014; Rudd 2011). In particular, rewilding research should aim at having three important impacts on policy makers (Rudd 2011): a conceptual impact (to change the way policy makers think), an instrumental impact (to directly influence existing policies and managements), and a symbolic impact (to support established positions).
Changes in what societies want to preserve, and how they protect it have already been observed (e.g. Pinto and Partidário 2012). The conservation and management of the European biodiversity has evolved since the 1970s (Fig. 11.1), giving for instance increasing importance to the role of local communities in managing Protected Areas, and to the benefits that they should get from those (Jones-Walters and Čivić 2013). For better or for worse, throughout decades of transitions in the way biodiversity is preserved, conservation baselines shifted, decision makers and stakeholders adapted, and so did the management approaches. Bringing rewilding in the agenda of conservation policies by showing its potential to both tackle the issue of land abandonment and restore wilderness could lead the way to a new transition of biodiversity conservation in Europe.