Rewilding Europe

The Team

Short biographies of staff of Rewilding Europe

Executive Team

Central Team members


Project leaders


Executive Team 

 Frans Schepers – Managing Director

Starting from a young age, Frans has been a passionate conservationist and was always ’out in the field’. He studied at the College of Forestry, Land – and Water Management in the Netherlands, where he graduated in 1985. After working in different governments on nature conservation in The Netherlands for 15 years, he joined WWF Netherlands in 2000. As an international programme manager, he travelled to many countries worldwide and, with local WWF offices and partners, worked extensively on a large variety of conservation programmes, in particular in Africa, Europe and Eurasia.

During his professional career, which now spans over 25 years, he specialized in developing conservation strategies, protected area management and financing, ecosystem restoration and rewilding projects, species conservation and establishing ecological networks. He has led a number of teams and initiatives, thereby focusing on empowering local organizations. In 2010, he published a book about his international conservation experiences. His special interest is in large wilderness areas dominated by natural processes, and associated megafauna and birds.

With his passions and experience, Frans is strongly committed to support the rewilding of large areas that have the potential to become showcases of a new conservation vision for Europe, in such a way that wildlife, wild areas and wilderness provide new economic opportunities for society.

 Wouter Helmer – Rewilding Director

Founder and Managing Director of ARK Nature. Since 1989 ARK already implemented hundreds of projects, based on people, planet and profit, throughout the Netherlands and later on all over Europe. Co-writer of visions like ‘Living Rivers’ and ‘Growing with the Sea’. Co-inventor of  new concepts for nature conservation and management like natural grazing, cyclic rejuvenation of floodplains, temporary nature in fallow areas, an international herd fund, landscape auctions and nature compensation in advance. Setting up campaigns about climate adaptation in natural buffer zones and ‘Missing Lynx’ about lacking connections in nature (conservation).

Bringing visions into practice, as was the case in areas like the Border Meuse, the Gelderse Poort, several coastal areas in the Netherlands and projects in Latvia (Letlands) and Bulgaria (New Thracian Gold). Involvement in European nature conservation goes back to a study on ecosystems in Thracia which ended up in a proposal for the Council of Europe to protect a biogenetic reserve in the northern part of Greece.  Winner of several prices on nature conservation in the Netherlands. Honorary Lector at the Forestry and Nature Management Program at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, part of Wageningen UR in the Netherlands.

 Staffan Widstrand – Marketing and Communication Director

Staffan is an independent photographer and writer specialising in issues about man’s relation to nature and the environment. He is a strong advocate for nature conservation, ecotourism and indigenous people’s rights. He has also worked for many years in the nature travel industry, and has been a tour leader, a tour production manager and a tour sales person. He is a founding member of the Swedish Ecotourism Association and was one of the leading forces behind its quality label ”Nature’s Best”. He also has a background as a tank officer and as a picture editor. Widstrand is the winner of numerous international photography and book awards, the author of 13 books, a founder of the Swedish National Carnivore information centre ”The Big Five”, a founding member of the ”International League of Conservation Photographers” and one of the founders of the conservation communication initiative ”Wild Wonders of Europe”, for which he is the managing director.

 Neil Birnie – Enterprise Director

Originally from the Highlands of Scotland, Neil is the Chief Executive of Conservation Capital, who are the business and finance partners of the Rewilding Europe initiative.  Conservation Capital focuses exclusively on linking private sector business and investment finance with global biodiversity conservation and in the last 5 years has raised and structured over 200 million Euros of private investment finance for conservation-based businesses across a diverse range of industry sectors.  Conservation Capital’s team is partnering Rewilding Europe in working towards a new nature-based economy in key areas of rural Europe where declining forms of economic activity (primarily agriculture) will be replaced with new wildlife and wilderness-based businesses.  Neil’s role involves identifying and structuring conservation-based businesses in the Rewilding Europe project areas and working with one of Europe’s leading financial institutions to create a dedicated investment fund for businesses in Rewilding Europe project areas and beyond.  Neil is an environmental lawyer who has worked in large commercial law firm contexts in the UK and was previously a legal assistant to the Chairman of the European Parliament Environment Committee in Brussels.  For the past decade he has been involved in the ecotourism industry, founding and managing Wilderness Scotland/ Wilderness Journeys, a former winner of the World’s Best Green Tour Operator and recently recognized as the Europe’s No 1 Adventure Travel Company by National Geographic Magazine.

 Ilko Bosman – Finance and Operations Director

As Director of Finance and Operations, Ilko Bosman (1978) has become a member of the senior management team of Rewilding Europe. Ilko studied at the Faculty of Management Sciences (Radboud University Nijmegen) and at the Institute for Auditing, Accountancy and Controlling (Erasmus University Rotterdam). He holds a Masters degree in business information management. His professional career with his own company started in university. After graduating, he had different functions in finance and operations in banking and investment management, e.g. with ABN-AMRO bank and Fortis Investments. After 8 years in banking, he pursued his love for building organizations and became partner in a fast-growing startup company, one of the pioneer companies in 3D printing. Here, he was responsible for Finance and Operations. This brought him a wide business experience that will be of use in the diverse and ever-changing environment of the Rewilding Europe initiative. Next to enjoying nature on a bicycle or on foot, Ilko has a passion for building teams and organizations and finding new ways to reach objectives and turn problems into opportunities. Being an entrepreneur in a rapidly growing company has allowed him to develop himself in a wide array of competences. Within the scope of Rewilding Europe, Ilko’s background will help further strengthening the institutional, financial and legal aspects of Rewilding Europe, developing businesses and investments, support fundraising, HR and ICT and help building a solid organization. Ilko is also very excited to help develop the business model of Rewilding Europe, bringing together non-for profit and for-profit components. In his free time, Ilko enjoys various sports (running, cycling, duathlon/triathlon, sailing). Next to practicing sports, he is active within his local triathlon club as a lead trainer/coach, and he is a member of the Triathlon Council of the Dutch Triathlon Union.


Central Team members 

 Deli Saavedra – Regional Manager 

Deli Saavedra was born in Figueres (Catalonia, Spain) in 1968. He is Ph.D. in Biology and Environmental Consultant and has worked in nature conservation during the last twenty years. He has coordinated several projects of reintroduction of endangered species (black vulture and otter) and planning and management projects of natural areas. He has collaborated on conservation projects in Costa Rica, Hungary, Venezuela, Poland, Australia, Morocco and Ethiopia, and has been a consultant at the Territory and Landscape Foundation (Catalonia) and the Observatory for Biodiversity and Ecological Processes in Rural Areas (Spanish Government). He has written a book about the reintroduction of the otter in Catalonia and another one about birds and mammals of northern Ethiopia. He has directed Sol Solidari (NGO for environmental cooperation in Africa) and is the director of SolucioNat company, dedicated to bird control and management activities in natural areas. He is a member of the Reintroductions Specialist Group of IUCN.

 Yvonne Kemp – Coordinator of the European Rewilding Network 

Yvonne spent her childhood between animals on her family’s farm. During her BSc Animal Husbandry she fulfilled an internship in Tanzania. Already equipped with a sound interest in nature conservation, the experience fuelled this even more. She studied MSc Ecology in Amsterdam and after analysing the molecular population genetics of Clouded Leopards, a research project on European bison and Konik horses in the Dutch Bison pilot gave her a fine example of bringing back wildlife species to a natural environment. After graduating she became member of the project and currently, she coordinates it. Yvonne is very excited to be involved in the European Rewilding Network, as she fully believes that sharing experiences enables each other to move forwards.

 Matthew McLuckie – Enterprise Development Manager 

Originally from South Africa and currently based in London, Matthew McLuckie is part of the Conservation Capital team working as the business and finance partners of the Rewilding Europe initiative. Conservation Capital focuses exclusively on linking private sector business and investment finance with global biodiversity conservation and in the last 5 years has raised and structured over 200 million Euros of private investment finance for conservation-based businesses across a diverse range of industry sectors. Matthew is Enterprise Development Officer for Rewilding Europe and is tasked with identifying and supporting - some through direct financing - relevant conservation enterprises that promote the goals of the initiative. This work includes investment management of Rewilding Europe Capital, a 'pioneer' debt fund operated within Rewilding Europe. Previously, Matthew completed his MA Hons in Geography from The University of Edinburgh before moving into a career in finance, initially working in venture capital for EFG Securities and subsequently for Credit Suisse in private client portfolio management.

 Barbara Mayer – Enterprise Administrator 

Passionate about travelling, Barbara graduated in Tourism from the Budapest Business School, where she specialised in ecotourism. She has worked for many years in conservation and ecotourism development, previously coordinating a network of over 25 national and international tour operators, supporting their work to develop nature tourism experiences in wilderness areas across Europe. Barbara’s role in Rewilding Europe involves providing administrative support to Rewilding Europe Capital and the enterprise programme, and working with our communications team to develop the Rewilding Europe Travel Club. Barbara is based in Budapest..

 Iva Tontcheva – Communications Manager 

Iva is graduated in journalism from the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication in Sofia University in 1988. She worked as journalist and editor for some twenty years in BTA, the Bulgarian News Agency and for - BBC World Service-Bulgarian Section correspondent. She is one of the first contributors to Gorichka, the first initiative in Bulgaria to promote green life style and she is a regular author of articles for several Bulgarian media. Since 2007 Iva works actively as a PR, media and communication expert in projects, mostly on sustainable development and nature protection and as an adviser in state institutions. Over the last three years she is part of the team of New Thracian Gold project in the Eastern Rhodopes (Bulgaria), one of the areas nominated for Rewilding Europe. Communicating to various audiences the new concept of rewilding and the role of the reintroduction of extinct species is not only her job, but also her passion. Rewilding Europe gives her the opportunity to work on a larger scale on this challenging topic. She will work with both our internal and external communications.

 Kristjan Jung – Communications Manager 

Coming from Estonia, one of the least populated countries in Europe, Kristjan has been amongst nature since he was a kid. Many of the species Rewilding Europe is trying to re-introduce in Southern Europe, are taken for granted in Estonia. A journalist by profession, Kristjan has spent most of his career trying to bring nature closer to people, either through print or electronic media. Before joining Rewilding Europe, he worked as a journalist for Estonian Public Broadcasting's program "Osoon", a weekly TV magazine on nature and conservation. Kristjan takes care of Rewilding Europe's internal and external communication.

 Violeta Giurgi  Finance and Administration Manager

Violeta grew up in a small village somewhere between the beautiful green hills of Maramures, Romania. Having been surrounded by overwhelming nature is the origin of her love for authentic nature.  She really experienced and saw how people can be part of this nature without disturbing  it too much. Furthermore she realized that without nature mankind eventually would be lost and protecting this nature is one of the biggest and most important challenges we are facing today.  Violeta works as a Financial Officer to keep a clear view on the available financial resources to guarantee maximum efficiency in using them for all projects Rewilding Europe is involved in.



Advisors are persons that are working on certain, specific products for Rewilding Europe, on a regular basis, in support of the central team and the local rewilding teams.

 Magnus Sylvén – Advisor Rewilding

Originating from Sweden, Magnus graduated with a PhD in Animal Ecology in 1982. Since then he spent most of his working life devoted to the conservation of nature, first as a Research Fellow at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Conservation Director of WWF-Sweden, but from 1991-2007 as Director of the WWF International Europe/Middle East Programme based in Switzerland. Since autumn 2007, Magnus works as independent consultant and advisor from his home outside Geneva. This provided extraordinary opportunities to learn about the situation of nature in different countries of the world – especially in Eurasia – and to meet people from all facets of society. The multi-functional character of the work included finding devoted local talents, setting up new institutions and programmes, bringing together experts and interested individuals to address issues of common passion (such as large carnivore and large herbivore conservation), and supporting campaigns to influence important policy developments in the European Union (for instance, Natura 2000, fisheries reform, and new chemicals legislation). He has been long-time promoter of the “ecological footprint” concept. To meet the aspirations, fundraising always played a critical role. He is a bird watcher, loves the solitude of the sea, mountains, forests, rivers, savannas, steppes and tundra – especially with a lot of wildlife – and is a consumer of contemporary art and books.

 Joep van de Vlasakker – Advisor Wildlife

Joep van de VlasakkerJoep has worked and lived in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Born in the Netherlands, he was raised among falcons, hawks, hunting dogs, horses and other animals, as his father practises falconry. It was the enjoyment of being out in the field working together with hawks and dogs that started his interest in nature and in predators; especially the wolf, still heavily persecuted at that time. He studied Forestry and Nature management and already as a student showed great interest in wilderness and giving more freedom to nature. After graduation in 1984 he worked for different governmental and non-governmental organisations in the Netherlands, but they could not offer work in his field of interest the restoration of the role of large mammals, both large carnivores and large herbivores and protecting and restoring areas untouched by man.

He chose to take control and became an independent consultant in 1992. It gave him the freedom to go away from home to study wolves in the wild, in the Canadian Parks, in the tundra of the North West territories and in the famous primeval forest of Białowieża in Poland. He worked for major NGO’s like WWF, PAN Parks, Large herbivore Foundation, Birdlife, United Nations, etc. His assignments varied from community based nature conservation, anti-poaching, re-introductions, protected area management to eco-tourism. He also initiates projects himself and for example nearly singlehandedly re-introduced the bison in Latvia, where they are now living in the wild. His work as consultant brought him from the tundra to the taiga of Siberia, the steppes of Mongolia and China, the semi deserts of Azerbaijan and to nearly every European country.

Over the years he worked on many bison projects and is still involved in several bison reintroduction projects. For Rewilding Euriope he will write the Rewilding Bison Action Plan. In Rewilding Europe, both his interests and experience come perfectly together. Joep is very keen to help the Rewilding team with putting a fantastic concept into practise and sharing a dream together; creating true wilderness areas in Europe, not managed by the hands of man but by the mouths of thousands of large herbivores, to be enjoyed by people and benefiting many generations to come.


Project Leaders 

 Erik Balaz  Project leader Eastern Carpathians

Erik grew up under the highest Carpathian mountain range - the Slovak Tatras - spending most of his youth in wild nature. In 2002 he graduated from "Forest Ecology" at the Technical University in Zvolen with a thesis on Brown Bear biology. Already during his studies, he became actively involved in campaigns of the “Wolf Forest Protection Movement” (VLK) aimed at conservation of natural forests and large carnivores. He lead a successful campaign to protect the Ticha (the Silent) valley in the Tatra Mountains, a re-wilded area, which nowadays represents the largest wilderness area in Slovakia. He is the co-author of a bestselling book on bears and wilderness: “The Last Stronghold”, and the wildlife film: “Keeper of the Wilderness”. Erik initiated the Eastern Carpathians project within Rewilding Europe, and will play a key role in running it.

 Alexandra Panait  Project leader Danube Delta

Alexandra was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1984 and stayed there until she eventually started to wander wherever her curiositiy leads her. Gradually, she became a mixed-breed of political and social scientist passionated about wildlife surveying (on low lands and high seas), with knowledge about why behaviour is rooted in biology and how some national and international (non-)governmental organisations work. She also holds a MSc in Conservation Science from Imperial College London. More than anything, she is quite convinced that sometimes in nature and between humans, collaboration is a more reliable driver for evolution than competition. Her first insight in Rewilding Europe was in the first stages of the initiative, when she conducted a comparative study about local attitudes towards beaver reintroductions. Now she is ready to moor in the muddy waters of the Danube Delta and to spend most of her time there seeing the initiative becoming real.

 Adrian Hagatis  Project leader Southern Carpathians

If I would have to describe myself I would simply say I am a Carpathian man. I grew up, lived most of my life, studied and worked in the Romanian Carpathians, so pretty much every detail of my life is related to these mountains. Since when I was a child, I have spent many months in the house of my grandparents, right in the middle of the mountains, where I have learned how to live a traditional life respecting and being devoted to the natural and cultural values. I studied geography and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Dynamics in 2005. I have worked a lot as a wildlife watching tour guide, and I have also worked for nearly two years for WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme, being involved in the management of a project which aims to establish a wilderness area in the Southern Carpathians. Within Rewilding Europe, I will be the Project Leader for Southern Carpathians and I will bring enthusiasm and knowledge of local ecological and socio-economic contexts. I am a strong believer in the overall Rewilding Europe vision and I am fully committed to helping accomplish it.

 Davor Krmpotić  Project leader Velebit

Davor (born 1975) is an engineer in forestry, who lives and works in Senj, a town located near Velebit Nature Park. He graduated from the Department of Forest Protection and Hunting, Faculty of Forestry, University of Zagreb. He is also a GIS specialist. After finishing his study, he has been employed in the Croatian Forests Ltd., where he still works on implementation of GIS solutions and GPS technology in forestry, drawing forest management plans and systematic collection of data and forest information. These data are necessary to evaluate the value and possible uses of timber as an important part of the broader information required to preserve forest ecosystems. Davor also works closely with the Department of Ecology on the protection against forest fires, drying out of submediterranean forests and phenological research. He is also actively engaged in the management in local hunting grounds. In 2011, he joined the rewilding team for Velebit through the WWF office in Zagreb as a rewilding officer. In that position, he was responsible for the identification and coordination of all rewilding and business opportunities in the Velebit rewilding area. Through his extensive networks in the Velebit Nature Park, he is the contactperson for all local stakeholders and rewilding partners. Since July 2013, Davor is working as the rewilding area coordinator, contracted directly through the central Rewilding Europe team. He is now responsible for coordinating all rewilding work in the area. Davor is very strongly connected with Velebit Nature Park, the forest, the mountains, the spectacular coast, its wildlife and people.

 Antonio Monteiro  Project leader Western Iberia, Portugal  

António Espinha Monteiro is a biologist, 40 years old, born in Lisbon-Portugal, place of origin Riba-Côa. António lives in the village of Castelo Rodrigo in north-eastern Portugal. Since 1995 he works as a technician for a Portuguese Governmental Nature Conservation organization. He is one of the founders and a volunteer of Associação Transumância e Natureza since 2000. Since 2010 he is president of its board.

António is a convinced nature conservationist who wants to help nature and it’s most emblematic wildlife, getting it’s course right again in the wild spaces of the Iberian Peninsula.

 Carlos Sanchez  Project leader Western Iberia, Spain

Carlos Sánchez Martínez is president and director of “Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre” since its inception in 1994. Through this entity he has prompted important environmental projects not just within Cantabria but in West Iberian too. Among others “the creation of a tree nursery” (of cantabrian foothills’ endangered forest species); the programme “Areas for Life”; the project Life Nature “Restoration and conservation of biodiversity in the Asón river basin”; the project “Interreg IIIb Waterwaysnet” or the “international cooperation project in the Caraca reserve” (Costa Rica). 

Carlos is the author of several books and articles related to fauna, flora and natural areas of the cantabrian region, and the alma mater of one of the main Spanish private biological reserves in Western Iberia, “Campanarios de Azaba”. Likewise, he has promoted the creation of several research, interpretation and educational environmental centers, like the biological station in Campanarios (Salamanca) and the Ecomuseum-Fluviarium in Liérganes (Cantabria).  

Recognizing the benefits of coordinated networking, he is a co-founding member of the Spanish Association for Private Foundations of Conservation and chairs since 2008 the Spanish Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), entity of which he has been vice president previously.


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