Perhaps surprisingly, the last 30-40 years has been an era of significant wildlife comeback in Europe. This comeback encompasses a long list of species, particularly among the larger and maybe more charismatic mammals and birds. A comeback that is strongly connected to nature conservation decisions taken, especially over the last 4-5 decades.
A substantial comeback of a number of iconic and keystone wildlife species
Larger wildlife populations than we have had for centuries
In today’s Europe there are probably larger populations of certain species than we have had for many centuries, such as roe deer, elk, wild boar, chamois, ibex, cormorant, greylag goose, barnacle goose, mute swan, whooper swan, common crane, black stork, and white-tailed eagle. Through active legal protection and re-introductions, many other species have also benefited, including beaver, otter, eagle owl, peregrine falcon, bearded vulture and black vulture.
The large carnivores are also doing better.
From previous bastions in Eastern Europe in particular, wolves and brown bears are slowly 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 work from nature conservationists and hunters, which assisted in particular for example the Eurasian lynx, the brown bear, the Alpine ibex, the Iberian ibex and the chamois to reoccupy lost territories. Even the Iberian lynx has started to recover slowly from an all-time low just a few years ago.
The Wildlife Comeback Report
Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) worked with experts from across Europe to gather relevant data about the distribution and abundance of selected species. The resulting report, ‘Wildlife Comeback in Europe’, describes how, why and where 37 mammal and bird species have recovered over the past 50 years, providing important lessons for the conservation of these and other species. Continued and strong legal protection, active boosting of existing wildlife populations and reintroductions to bring back lost species, combined with an increasing tolerance towards wildlife were identified as the main drivers for this wildlife comeback. The report not only shows the amazing resilience of nature, it also emphasizes the importance of EU policy: the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Natura 2000 Network and the Water Framework Directive are all explicitly credited for supporting this impressive return of wildlife. The wildlife comeback is not limited to the species presented in this study; there are many more that are showing similar patterns of recovery.
Wildlife numbers yet far too low
Despite the return of this impressive number of European birds and mammals, biodiversity is still being lost. The results of this report must be viewed in the context of large historical declines. For carnivores like the Eurasian lynx and Grey wolf, and many bird species including the Red kite, distributions and abundances had already declined dramatically from their historical levels by the mid-20th century. Wildlife resurgence must therefore be assessed cautiously, as many species have not yet reached the level necessary to secure sustainable populations.
The Wildlife Comeback Report (published 2013) can be downloaded here.