"European land abandonment is taking place at a rate of 1 million hectares a year on average”, says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe , and this may provide a unique opportunity to allow native species with sufficient space to re-establish viable populations in Europe.
The Rewilding Europe initiative was launched in 2010 as a landscape scale ecosystem approach to creating more space for native European wildlife. Targeted 'rewilding' of large, abandoned agricultural areas could return them back to suitable habitat for many species and provide a use to humans through the economic benefits of tourism and ecosystem services. The project aims to rewild five initial areas spanning seven countries (Figure 1) as part of the general objective of creating at least 1 million hectares of new wildlands across Europe by 2020.
Figure 1. The five pilot areas for Rewilding Europe: Danube Delta, Eastern Carpathians, Southern Carpathians, Velebit and Western Iberia.
The last 30-40 years have witnessed a significant comeback of certain vertebrate species in Europe, while others have experienced dramatic declines in population abundance. The role of the Institute of Zoology in the project is to provide a detailed analysis and overview of this wildlife comeback in Europe and develop a broader understanding of the reasons for both positive and negative trends, and to identify potential strategies for increasing range and abundance of European wildlife species.
A preliminary report on vertebrate trends for some of the key Rewilding Europe species focused on populations of Brown bear, Grey wolf, Eurasian lynx, Roe deer, White stork and White-tailed eagle. Between 1960 and 2010, all of these have at least doubled in abundance, although some of the largest increases were seen in birds. Populations that were subject to management intervention showed the largest recoveries. In addition, as might be expected, protected areas are associated with the largest increases in abundance, while explicitly unprotected populations are generally decreasing.
Analysis is still in progress and a final report will be published later in the year.
This regional LPI was produced in collaboration with Rewilding Europe , an initiative by WWF Netherlands, ARK Nature, Wild Wonders of Europe and Conservation Capital.