The last 30-40 years have been an era of significant wildlife comeback in Europe. According to the 2010 “Living Planet Report”, the period 1970 to 2007 saw an average increase of animal populations of 43% in Europe. A major contributing factor has been better “environmental protection”, but recent changes in land use with abandonment of farmland, reduced hunting pressure, and higher productivity of many ecosystems due to more nutritional input from human activities probably also played an important role. Land seems to have benefitted more than the sea - many marine species still struggle, often associated with the escalating overharvest of diminishing fish resources.
The wildlife comeback encompasses a long list of species, particularly mammals and birds. In today’s Europe there are probably larger populations of certain species than we have had for many centuries, such as Roe deer, Moose, Wild boar, Chamois, Ibex, Cormorant, Greylag goose, Barnacle goose, Mute swan, Common Crane, Black Stork, and White-tailed Eagle. With active protection and re-introductions, other species have also benefitted including Ibex, Beaver, Otter, Eagle owl, Peregrine, Bearded and Black vulture. And even the Iberian lynx has started to recover marginally from the worst situation.
The large carnivores are also doing better. From previous bastions in Eastern Europe in particular, wolves and brown bears are re-colonising all corners of the continent: Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal. This success has been both natural and as a consequence of dedicated conservationists and hunting organisations, which assisted the Eurasian lynx and the Brown bear in particular to reoccupy lost territories.
The significant comeback provides an important foundation for the successful “rewilding” of the European continent. However, the lack of wild living, large grazing herbivores - bison, wild cattle and wild horses – is a critical gap in the natural functioning of most European ecosystems. As key species, a strong resurgence in their numbers is vital for successful “rewilding”.