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The power of pilots

  • Written by  Frans Schepers
  • Published in Wildlife
Reflooding in the Peene River valley near Anklamer Stadtbruch, Oder Delta, Germany Reflooding in the Peene River valley near Anklamer Stadtbruch, Oder Delta, Germany Zolvin Zankl/Rewilding Europe
28 Nov
Frans Schepers, the managing director of Rewilding Europe, outlines the actions and ambitions of the organisations plans for building a network of rewilding areas across Europe

Seeing, feeling, enjoying, smelling, learning. There is nothing more powerful than showing the bigger vision of rewilding in practical, real and tangible efforts on the ground. It opens the minds of people, helps to discover how wilder nature could look in a particular place, creates a strong learning base, breaks down fences between seemingly opposing actors, forges partnerships and inspires others to come on board.

This is the experience of Rewilding Europe and its partners after nearly five years of working in rewilding pilots across Europe.

KWO-2009-05-30-123014A roe deer in Slovakia (Image: Konrad Wothe/Wild Wonders of Europe)

No blueprints

Rewilding is a new approach in conservation gaining more and more interest in Europe. Rewilding Europe is pioneering how rewilding could be applied in different geographical regions, different ecosystems, and different socio-economic contexts across our continent. With numerous partners, we are working in ten larger landscapes across the continent to put our vision into practice, by supporting locally based and locally led rewilding initiatives who have the ownership and leadership in making it real.

Although rewilding comes with a certain approach and certain key principles, there are no blueprints as to how these can be applied in a continent with such a huge diversity in nature, culture, and social contexts. No place is the same, no country is the same, no landscape is the same.

Making it real’ therefore has to come with a strong entrepreneurial attitude, a steep learning curve and where we have to avoid becoming prescriptive or too academic. A good analysis and understanding of the local situation and dynamics in each area – in all its facets – is one of the key factors for success.

GLE 2010-02-22 022Wisent or European bison part of a freed-roaming population of over 300 animals, Bieszczady Mountains, Poland (Image: Grzegorz Lesniewski/Wild Wonders of Europe)

Creating a rewilding movement

Rewilding Europe sees itself as part of a broader European rewilding movement in which many great and inspiring initiatives have been developed over the last few decades, and where many new ones are being started all over our continent. In order to inspire others and to make a fair contribution to these novel efforts, Rewilding Europe has started a new initiative within its wider programme: the European Rewilding Network (ERN).

The ERN aims to establish a living network of ultimately 100 rewilding initiatives across Europe. Although every initiative is unique and has its own opportunities linked directly to the specific area and people involved, it is definitely worthwhile exchanging knowledge and experiences – and inspiring each other.

One could say that it would be a huge lost opportunity if rewilding initiatives across Europe did not use the possibility to connect and work together to learn from each other to further the rewilding agenda. It allows for authorities, politicians, stakeholders and many others to come and see the opportunities and challenges it brings, become engaged and start to imagine what rewilding means.

In fact, the ERN could serve the idea of a ‘network of experimental reserves’ that Paul Jepson (School of Geography, University of Oxford) has proposed in an earlier post in the Rewilding Week (‘Walk the Talk’). Rewilding experiments, conducted in public and with public input into their design, would generate huge interest and engage wider society in debate on the natures we want going ahead. In many of the ERN member sites, this is already happening.

SWD-2011-06-21-151323Making rewilding plans together with local stakeholders, Southern Carpathians, Romania (Image: Staffan Widstrand/Rewilding Europe)

42 members, 18 countries

At WILD10 in Salamanca, October 2013, Rewilding Europe officially launched the European Rewilding Network, announcing its first 20 members from 13 different countries, counting nearly 1.4 million hectares of land (this includes the Rewilding Europe areas). The network has been growing constantly, and new members are coming on board on a continuous basis. By November 2015, two years after the launch, the ERN membership more than doubled and now counts 42 members from 18 different countries, covering nearly 2.4 million hectares of land and water where rewilding is taking place in one form or another. The member sites are spread all over Europe; and as we know quite a number of areas have not joined yet and are in a pipeline process, there is a strong potential for further growth.

There is great diversity in the nature of the rewilding initiatives that are a member of the network. They range from restoring river dynamics, restoring food chains, promoting wildlife comeback, reintroduction of species, natural grazing, building networks of wildlife hides, changing forestry practices, enterprise development and applied research. Areas range from small to large, including complete national parks, but also small private reserves. Some of the areas are close to human settlements or even cities, while others are more remotely located.

ERN map 2015-10-13a

Sharing lessons and experiences

While the ERN continues to grow steadily, so the interaction between the members increases step by step. First of all, members can access an online network that is partly in the public domain, and soon partly only accessible by themselves.

Lessons learned and innovative approaches are exchanged, which broadens each others knowledge and stimulates the ongoing rewilding efforts in member areas. Every year, up to six web-based seminars (so-called ‘webinars’) are organised addressing specific rewilding topics. Each webinar attracts ten to 15 participants from across Europe, of which two present their case to the others, which then sparks questions and a lively debate. Peer-to-peer contacts after the webinars are often a result of this interaction.

A full overview of what each area has to offer for others to learn, and what each area wants to learn from others, is available on the Rewilding Europe website.

Next steps in sharing lessons are the facilitation of exchange visits between practitioners, and specific seminars about rewilding – this already happening more and more.

BDA-20110715-0587Apennine chamois herd of females and kids on altitude plateau of Majella Massif on summer evening in the Central Apennines, Italy (Image: Bruno D’Amicis/Wild Wonders of Europe)

Join the network!

The European Rewilding Network is an open network; we invite any rewilding initiative to become part of it. We encourage not only rewilding initiatives where natural processes and wildlife species are a key topic but also warmly welcome initiatives that have successful activities going on in water management, forestry, fisheries or hunting as well as examples of enterprises and businesses that connect to rewilding.

Rewilding initiatives that want to become a member have to meet a small number of criteria and should be clearly linked to at least one of the rewilding elements presented on the website, and can register online.

Rewilding Europe will work to further increase the membership of as many rewilding initiatives as possible, targeting at least 100 rewilding initiatives all across Europe and representing a wide variety of regions, landscapes, approaches, species and habitats.

We hope this will further stimulate a rewilding movement in many countries in Europe that will deliver powerful pilots of rewilding, showing benefits for both nature and people. Ultimately this is the way to inspire many others to follow.

Frans Schepers is the Managing Director of Rewilding Europe.

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