Reversing trend of wildlife degradation - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Reversing trend of wildlife degradation

Veterinary Practice’s conservation correspondent reports on a vision to ‘re-wild’ a million hectares of land in Europe.

A few months ago I wrote about the potential for rewilding parts of the UK and the public resistance there was likely to be to such a proposal.

This month I’d like to talk a little about a Europe-based rewilding organisation that has a vision to rewild a million hectares of land in Europe by the year 2020, thereby creating 10 wildlife and wilderness areas.

Whilst such a vision might appear at first sight to be somewhat eccentric, the fact that the organisation has the support of groups such as WWF Netherlands and ARK Nature suggests that this might well become mainstream thinking in the not too distant future.

Capitalising

Rewilding Europe is seeking to capitalise on what it describes as the abandonment of agricultural land throughout Europe.

As more people move to the towns and cities to seek greater economic opportunities, so rural communities and the agricultural land that sustained them dwindle and die.

As an example, in 2011 the Portuguese government estimated that there were some two million hectares of abandoned agricultural land in Portugal alone. All of which adds weight to Rewilding Europe’s argument.

Put simply, the vision is to allow large areas of land to become “managed” by the large grazing herbivores that once roamed the continent of Europe; species such as bison, moose, red deer, ibex, wild boar and, even more ambitiously, wild horses and even aurochs.

Those championing the vision suggest that natural “management” of the land by wild herbivores would generate the open and semi-open landscapes that would maximise habitat development and biodiversity. At the same time the larger predators such as wolf, brown bear and lynx would find both the space and prey animals necessary for their own survival and expansion.

One of the most compelling arguments put forward by the proponents is that putting the land to the proposed use would generate economic benefits to those rural communities most affected by the policy. Namely, a huge increase in wildlife tourism, with the European equivalent of Yellowstone National Park or the Serengeti attracting visitors from around Europe and third countries further afield.

It suggests that the dual hooks of European culture and wildlife would be an unbeatable combination.

Staging a recovery

For any of you who doubt the effectiveness of such a scheme, it is worth pondering that some of Europe’s iconic species have been staging something of a recovery over the last few years. Wolves, lynx and brown bear are all increasing as a result of greater controls on hunting, and people moving out of rural areas into the cities.

In Croatia, for example, brown bear numbers are thought to have risen to about 1,400 individuals in recent years. Strange as it might seem to some people, this rise in population number is attributed largely to the designation of the bears in Croatia as trophy animals for hunters with the number allowed to be shot each year strictly controlled by licence.

Since the sale of the licences is a valuable money earner, the rural population in Croatia sees the bears as a genuine economic resource which greatly encourages a positive and tolerant attitude towards them. Which supports the view of Rewilding Europe that making provision for wild areas and wildlife can genuinely improve the economy of rural areas.

Rewilding Europe’s vision is not just about wilderness areas either. It suggests that even the most urban of landscapes can be made more wildlife friendly by a change in attitude and relatively minor accommodations on the behalf of humans. Which is something very close to my own heart and a subject which I wrote about several years ago.

With organisations such as that described above, which seem to be very proactive and well-staffed and resourced, there is certainly a lot of hope for the future that much of the environmental degradation caused by humankind can be put into reverse.

For anybody interested in finding out more, go to the website www.rewildingeurope.com.

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