Rewilding is an ambitious initiative to turn back Europe's ecological clock and is aimed at restoring both ecosystems and local economies.
Europe is already a far wilder place than many people imagine. While the word "wilderness" brings to mind Alaska, the Himalayas or Patagonia, there are still expanses of Europe where man's impact has been minimal and the environment remains more or less pristine.
In densely populated, highly urbanised western Europe, few significant tracts of land are truly wild outside mountainous areas, such as the Alps and the Pyrenees. Yet the recently released Wilderness Register for Europe, which maps out the "wildness" of the continent for the first time, reveals huge areas of true wilderness in eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Iceland.
Wild nature is benefiting from a burgeoning public appreciation. An ever-growing number of people enjoy hiking, hunting and fishing while wild plants, fruit and mushrooms are now a common sight on restaurant menus. On the back of this, the concept of rewilding is very much on the continent's conservation agenda.
Rewilding in Europe is not only about reintroducing charasmatic megafauna, it is also about man. By 2020, four out of five Europeans will live in urban areas. Huge areas of land are being abandoned, as traditional village life declines and cultural values are eroded. According to a 2010 study by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, another 12 million to 18 million hectares will have been deserted in Europe by 2030.
At its very heart, rewilding is about the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. Just like the people of Africa, America and Asia, Europeans need to understand that they are part of, not separate from, nature. That while rewilding may involve lost species and the restoration of habitats, it is not a step back. Well-managed, it offers a hopeful and exciting way forward.
Cain Blythe recently spent time in Romania to witness the release of the European Bison: