Rewilding Europe
 

Frequently asked questions

  1. What do you mean with “Wild” and “Wilderness”?
  2. Is “Rewilding” not the same as “Restoration” of nature from a certain time period in the past?
  3. Don’t you like forests?
  4. But are horses and cows really wild animals?
  5. What is the importance of rewilding horses and cattle when there are so many other, really wild herbivores?
  6. Do you want to bulldoze away our houses and farms?
  7. Isn’t forest the natural climax stage of vegetation on all land in Europe?
  8. But all wildlife needs to be managed - no?
  9. If deer and bison are not managed (which means hunted) and fed, they will either die or kill the forest – no?
  10. Why don’t you fight to save the ancient, traditional culture landscapes? For increased subsidies for old-style farming lands?
  11. How about land that is not abandoned, should we not be able to rewild some of that too?
  12. Are you against farmers and herdsmen and domestic grazing animals? Do you want to get rid of us?
  13. Why don’t you do this and this and this instead? And also there and there?
  14. Will you then buy my land and throw me out?
  15. Can we still hunt, fish and cut trees?
  16. Why do we need to rewild at all, since it will happen naturally?
  17. Why do you focus only on “Wilderness” and not also other natural lands? Since there is much more of them than of wilderness.
  18. Is rewilding only possible in the remote corners of the European continent?
  19. How can you talk about a new “nature based” economy? Nature conservation only costs money where forestry and hunting instead generate income.
  20. You say fire is one of the natural processes, but we have been fighting fires for generations, fire is one of the biggest problems in many Mediterranean countries!
  21. If cattle and horses run wild, isn’t there risk for the spread of diseases? Is it even legal?
  22. Is it ethical to trade in live wildlife species?
  23. Will not tourism destroy the original culture? And the wilderness?
  24. How will a few bison and deer be able to replace the grazing from millions of domestic sheep, horses and cattle of today?
  25. What kind of animals would you like to bring back? Dinosaurs? Cave lions, cave bears, mammoths, ...?
  26. Are you against hunting and hunters?

 


 1. What do you mean with “Wild” and “Wilderness”?

Wild basically means “not managed”. “Wild nature” or “wild lands” are here seen as “large landscapes that are governed by essential natural processes, which create the necessary space for all of our original biodiversity, including man”. “Wilderness” has often a more strict definition.

In short you can say that by wilderness we mean areas with wild integrity, where there is no extractive use – no logging, no hunting, no fishing, no ploughing, no heavy-handed management and no new major construction works (no windmill parks, solar energy parks, dams, roads, ski resorts etc.).

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 2. Is “Rewilding” not the same as “Restoration” of nature from a certain time period in the past?

Rewilding is really not about going back in time. It is instead about giving more room to wild, spontaneous nature to develop, in a modern society. Going back (to when?) is not a real alternative, it is just nostalgia. Rewilding is about moving forward, but letting nature itself decide much more and man decide much less. We think nature is perfectly capable of taking care of itself, if just given the opportunity and the spaces large enough. This will of course not work the same way everywhere, and often not in very small areas either. That is one reason why we are aiming for our rewilding areas to be of at least 100 000 hectares in size. On the other hand, these basic principles can be used in a lot of places. Letting nature be nature. The more natural, the better. For rewilding to really function to its full extent, nature will need to have all the natural original key building blocks and tools at its disposal. Large herbivores of all the original species. The carnivores. The carrion-eaters. Trees will have to be allowed to die and remain dead in place. Storms will take their toll and nothing done about it. Fires too. Insect and fungus outbreaks too. 

This all is a big mental step away from the old attitude that Man needs to manage everything in nature in detail.  Well functioning ecosystems are crucially important to a modern society, also from a number of socio-economic reasons: flood mitigation, avalanche protection, forest fire prevention, attractive resources for the hospitality/tourism industry, fitness and physical well-being, psychological well-being etc.

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 3. Don’t you like forests?

We love forests, the wilder and more natural the better. But forests are only a couple of the components of European wild nature, and we love all those other wild natural habitats too. Since massive evidence shows that Europe has had vast areas of open lands and mosaic landscapes all the time since the latest ice age, we don’t want every piece of wild land in Europe to become a closed canopy forest. That would not be natural. In some areas, open landscapes are the results of the natural processes, and then we love these open lands too, of course!  The fact that about 50% of Europe’s species biodiversity is connected to the open and semi-open landscapes strongly supports these reasons.

We are strongly against plantation forests – tree farms with trees of a single species, all of the same age, planted in straight lines and often with a lot of terrain-changing bulldozing and other heavy-handed “management” methods, because these methods severely damage the original biodiversity and the wild integrity of any landscape. We are strongly against exotic, non-indigenous trees like eucalyptus or out-of-place pine tree species – both of which are at the roots of many of the forest-fire problems in southern Europe over the last decades.

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 4. But are horses and cows really wild animals?

Well, both species were originally wild on this continent. And not so long ago. They were two of the most important keystone species for all the ecosystems of the time. The Aurochs (Bos primigenius) is the ancestor of all the different domestic cattle breeds of today. It was finally exterminated in 1627.

The different types of the wild horse, such as the Tarpan (Equus ferus), are the ancestors of all the domestic horses of today (Przewalskis horse is an Eastern, Asian steppe form/species). The Tarpan was exterminated in the wild in the 1880s and the last captive individual died as late as 1909. Many facts point at the probability that huge flocks of wild horses and Aurochs once lived across most of Europe. Some still into Roman times, ca 2000 years ago. Rock carvings, cave paintings and sculptures of both wild horses and Aurochs are quite common from many areas in Europe, over tens of thousands of years.

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 5. What is the importance of rewilding horses and cattle when there are so many other, really wild herbivores?

Wild horse and Aurochs were the two true grazing (grass-eating) species in Europe whereas most of the others are more browsing (bush and tree/leaf eating) herbivores, and therefore thousands of indigenous grassland species developed in co-evolution with Wild horse and Aurochs during 100 000s of years (continuing also with the domestic horses/cattle during the last 4000-6000 years).

Now much of that livestock is disappearing, especially from the marginal agricultural landscapes, and since the wild herbivores are not there to replace them, ecosystems that are a million years old are collapsing in just a few decades.

Bringing back horses and cattle in these abandoned landscapes is therefore of huge ecological importance. But it needs to be animals that are well adapted to these natural conditions. And best would be the original Wild horse and Aurochs. Thanks to modern genetics we are able to come close to the original genotypes by back-breeding programmes from primitive domestic breeds.

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 6. Do you want to bulldoze away our houses and farms?

No, not at all. Land abandonment is not our doing or liking, it is just a fact, driven by a complex series of socio-economic and cultural factors, with globalisation and modernity at the centre of the reasons. And the fact that most young people today don’t want to be shepherds, goatherds, olive-pickers or subsistence farmers any more.

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 7. Isn’t forest the natural climax stage of vegetation on all land in Europe?

That is indeed a hotly debated statement. Most probably all of Europe was not completely covered with forest, but rather by a mosaic landscape of forests, tree savannahs, bush and open grasslands of several kinds. Strong indicators of that are all the open- and semi-open land species that now live in the open landscapes – almost half of all species in Europe. Where would they have come from, especially all the endemic species, that have complicated symbioses with other species. That can simply not have developed only during the 5000-6000 years that man has been farming the land here.

The vegetation cover before man’s arrival was probably to a large extent influenced by the large herds of large herbivores of the time – aurochs, bison, tarpan, red deer, wild boar, roe deer, ibex, chamois and in south-eastern Europe also fallow deer, saiga and probably also wild donkey and water buffalo. But instead of fiercely debating what Europe might have looked like 100 000 or 6000 years ago, why don’t we just try it again and see? Let the natural processes continue unaltered, and reintroduce the missing wildlife species and let them multiply as they can, unmanaged. Then we will all see in a few decades time what those parts of Europe possibly may have looked like when man first came onto the stage.

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 8. But all wildlife needs to be managed - no?

No, not for the sake of nature or the wildlife itself. Nature can very well take care of itself without any human management at all. But certain management might be seen as needed, because of Man’s wishes, needs and expectations. But then it is not the wildlife that needs to be managed, or the forest. It is all only about us humans then, wanting/feeling we need to manage things in a certain way, so that they fit our needs – economy, road safety or various shifting public opinions, whichever those might be, which also tend to change over time and place.

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 9. If deer and bison are not managed (which means hunted) and fed, they will either die or kill the forest – no?

Herbivores will increase to the natural numbers that the productivity of respective type of terrain can sustain, counting in the natural limiting factors involved (food availability, cold winters, dry summers, floods, predators, diseases, competition between species etc.). By far, the most important limiting natural factor for wild herbivores is the combined productivity of the soil and climate, resulting in the yearly mass of vegetation that can be eaten. The size of a really natural population of wild herbivores in Europe is far, far larger than most people (including most biologists) would expect. In some areas in Europe’s lowlands, this natural population density is fully up to Serengeti levels of wildlife per square km. But this has not been seen by any human for thousands of years, since we brought their numbers down to a fraction of the natural densities in area after area after man’s arrival in Europe, and particularly so after the last ice age.

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 10. Why don’t you fight to save the ancient, traditional culture landscapes? For increased subsidies for old-style farming lands?

We are not against subsidies for certain old traditional farmlands. We just don’t believe that these will work everywhere and long-term. Reality already shows it doesn’t. It is not sustainable in long term. So we want to develop a new, parallel approach, that we call rewilding, which will work for many areas and develop new, modern ways to combine income and biodiversity conservation.

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 11. How about land that is not abandoned, should we not be able to rewild some of that too?

Yes, that is possible, of course, if the present land owners are in favour of it, or if the land can be bought and rewilded by the new owners.

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 12. Are you against farmers and herdsmen and domestic grazing animals? Do you want to get rid of us?

We are not at all against farmers or herdsmen or their livestock. On the contrary – we work together with them. The truth is that present economic and socio-cultural realities are making countryside people leave their land, and particularly so the young people. In the long run, all this cannot be compensated for with government or EU subsidies. So the question now is in many areas – what to do with the land instead, so that those farmers and land owners, who wish to, can stay in their area. And so that the rich biodiversity connected to these lands is not eradicated.

We are also not at all against domestic grazing animals. They do the same grazing job as wild herbivores, to keep open lands open. But much of the domestic animals are already disappearing from the landscape due to agricultural intensification and the changes in economy and lifestyle. We want to compensate for that loss of grazing in the landscape by letting the wild grazers come back again, and in natural numbers.

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 13. Why don’t you do this and this and this instead? And also there and there?

We can’t be held responsible for what we are not doing, or for what someone else is doing or not doing. We focus on what we think is most important and what we are reasonably good at, and try our best to make that happen. Others will have to take responsibility for other areas and other methods.

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 14. Will you then buy my land and throw me out?

Not if you don’t want to sell or if we don’t have the funds for it. Which we won’t have for more than a limited few strategically important core areas. We want to work together with you and lots of other private and public land owners and stakeholders to find ways to make these lands wilder.

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 15. Can we still hunt, fish and cut trees?

In the core areas there should be no hunting or logging.  We need to have a number of reference areas in Europe, where there is strictly no hunting or logging, so that we can see what a natural vegetation really looks like and what natural wildlife numbers really are in different areas and habitats.

But in the buffer areas and areas outside the core areas, there will probably quite quickly be more opportunity for quality hunting than almost ever before, since we will be helping up the numbers of wildlife in the core area, and the surplus will migrate into the neighbouring lands, if these are not fenced in. This can become a major local money-earner, as it has in many countries.

If fishing is going to take place in the core areas, it will have to be on a strict catch-and-release level.

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 16. Why do we need to rewild at all, since it will happen naturally?

Yes, but often in a synthetic, non-natural way, since most of the large herbivores and therefore also the large carnivores are often absent – two of the most important ecological factors among the natural processes.

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 17. Why do you focus only on “Wilderness” and not also other natural lands? Since there is much more of them than of wilderness.

We do focus on both “natural lands” and “wilderness”. We like both. We want to rewild all kinds of lands, into a wilder state than they are in now.

At the end station there is unmanaged pristine wilderness, which we of course would like to see both more of and much better protected. But we also want to see huge areas of quite natural lands become one or several steps wilder. Our special focus here is the abandoned land across Europe and on developing intelligent ways of how to let them become wilder, for the benefit of man and nature alike.

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 18. Is rewilding only possible in the remote corners of the European continent?

Today, the wildest areas are usually situated in the greater mountain chains and the most remote areas of Europe. But rewilding is above all a process of giving nature more space, and this process can take place even in the most densely populated areas of Europe. Not always aiming for complete wilderness as the end result, but at least something much wilder than today.

Even in many areas of North/Western Europe there are regions where people are leaving the rural areas, and the wildlife comeback to Western Europe is maybe even more spectacular than in other parts.

It seems that with lower hunting pressure and large amounts of possible food, even cities like London and Berlin attract large wildlife like foxes, martens, deer and wild boar, showing examples of rewilding also in a big city context. Berlin, for example, has 4000 wild boar living in the city.

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 19. How can you talk about a new “nature based” economy? Nature conservation only costs money where forestry and hunting instead generate income.

Here we can learn a lot from Africa, where wildlife has become a main factor in many regional economies and there are many examples of conservation enterprises, which show that wild nature really can provide the base for a flourishing economy.

Also in Europe, and even in the Netherlands with its high land prices, there are the first examples of competing economies based on nature development.

With these examples in mind it is not difficult to imagine that in the large scale abandoned landscapes of Europe, the comeback of wildlife in natural numbers could generate an economy that can compete with the current, often subsidized forestry and the hunting on marginal numbers. 2011, in the USA, the numbers of wildlife watchers were far bigger than the number of hunters AND sports fishermen combined! Wildlife watching also had a greater economic turnover than either the hunting or sports fishing did.

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 20. You say fire is one of the natural processes, but we have been fighting fires for generations, fire is one of the biggest problems in many Mediterranean countries!

Fire is a natural process in the wilderness, but natural fires are not very common. Today’s fires are in most cases caused by man, either deliberately or by accident. A very strong reason for the frequent fires in the dry south of Europe is the man-made tree plantations of mainly non-natural, introduced pine species and eucalyptus. Both these groups of species of trees are very flammable and very prone to catch fire. Another reason for frequent fires,and for more damage during fires,is the large amount of scrub and bush growing under the trees in the abandoned landscapes. Which is a direct result of the lack of grazing herbivores.

So bringing back the large herbivores is a huge fire-preventive action of great economic value. Oak and other broadleaf forests are also much less prone to burn and they are often the most natural forest types in Southern Europe. And if naturally grazed, the risk of fire diminishes a lot.

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 21. If cattle and horses run wild, isn’t there risk for the spread of diseases? Is it even legal?

Cattle and horses live wild or semi-wild in a number of countries in Europe already, without it being illegal in any way. In Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands, for example, they are given full wild status, owned by nobody and legally the same as other wildlife. In Camargue in France, the semi-wild black bulls and white horses are famous for centuries. Europeans are just not yet so used to looking at cattle and horses as truly wild animals. That will change.

Any wild living animals could, of course, have and spread disease, but in practice it’s rather the other way around. International transport brings force-bred domestic livestock and poultry from crammed animal production factories, with over-use of antibiotics etc., and spreads disease to wildlife. Take the Bird Flu as an example – that came from poultry in South-Eeastern Asia and spread to some wildfowl.

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 22. Is it ethical to trade in live wildlife species?

As with all discussions about ethics, that is of course in the eye of the beholder. Is it ethical to eradicate wildlife inalmost all their original homelands, as we have done in Europe with terrible efficiency? Perhaps it is more ethical to let wildlife come back and to let the animals take care of themselves again, to a much greater extent than before? If trade in live wild animals leads to much more space being made available for wildlife in society, and many 100 000s of hectares more of private land re-stocked with wildlife instead of used for industrial farming or domestic animal husbandry, is that then not a good thing for nature and biodiversity? As soon as you bring back the original fauna, interestingly enough, the rest of the original biodiversity comes back too – plants, insects, fungi, birds, etc.

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 23. Will not tourism destroy the original culture? And the wilderness?

Like all other human industries, tourism is a phenomenon that can come in several versions. Very beneficial to nature conservation, just as well as strongly destructive to it. Tourism is not neutral. It all depends on what kind of tourism and under which rulespeople promote. We are in favor of a long-term,sustainable and responsible tourism with as little negative impact as possible. There are already thousands of examples worldwide, of how such can contribute to both nature conservation and local economy in many different ways.

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 24. How will a few bison and deer be able to replace the grazing from millions of domestic sheep, horses and cattle of today?

They won’t. The wild grazers that come back (including wild horses and wild cattle) will also need to be in the millions, to have the same effect at the end of the day.

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 25. What kind of animals would you like to bring back? Dinosaurs? Cave lions, cave bears, mammoths, ...?

We think the most relevant and interesting species are the ones that man has exterminated or significantly reduced the distribution of, during the last 10 000 years that have passed since the last ice age. Muskox, bison, wild reindeer, wild horse, aurochs, etc. The herbivores are at the top of the list. When they are many enough, the carnivores will come by themselves in due time and without that many active measures.

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 26. Are you against hunting and hunters?

We are definitely not against neither hunting nor hunters. Hunting is a very natural thing for humans to do; it is part of our DNA and our cultural heritage since the first humans ever arrived in Europe. Hunters are also one of the groups of people who will have the most to gain from a rewilding of Europe and increased wildlife numbers here. There will simply be more wildlife in Europe to hunt – more species and higher densities of them.

Hunting tourism development is also a vital part of the new economy around Rewilding Europe and a wildlife comeback.

BUT, all the above considered, hunting does NOT need to take place on every square meter of Europe’s land surface. The legitimate interests of hunters do not always and in every single area by norm have first priority. After all, hunters are just one of several important special interest and stakeholder groups in Europe. We mean that there also need to exist large, natural and wild areas where NO hunting at all takes place. Both as reference areas for us all to see, and as production areas for wildlife, that will spill over into the neighbouring areas. This will even in the short-term perspective show to be very beneficial also for the hunting interests.

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