Rewilding is an ambitious initiative to restore both ecosystems and local economies.
Europe is already a far richer place than many people imagine, with large carnivores recovering in numbers quickly. 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 also 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. This is true in the UK with the establishment of Rewilding Britain in 2015 and an increasing belief that rewilding initiatives can benefit people, as well as biodiversity.
Rewilding in the UK 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 and Britons 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.
Ecosulis have been supporting a number of rewilding initiatives in the UK and are leading the way in terms of measuring the biodiversity impact of such programmes:
Cain Blythe recently spent time in Romania, Italy, Sweden and the Danube Delta to witness people putting their trust in nature and to see for himself the benefits rewilding can have for local communities: