A historic opportunity

Conservation in Europe has since long been a bit different to that in the rest of the world. Because most of the wilderness was lost a long time ago, nature conservation focused on cultivated lands, ancient farming systems and semi-natural, managed habitats, often depending on public subsidies and private engagement. We mean that there is need for a certain shift of focus here.

Wild Brown Bear in Bieszczady Mountains, Poland.

Wild Brown Bear in Bieszczady Mountains, Poland
Grzegorz Leśniewski / Wild Wonders of Europe

 

The wild was almost forgotten

This so-called “compensatory habitat approach” definitely has its value and it has certainly rescued many species from extinction. However, an important part for conservation and biodiversity protection was almost left out: the preservation of wild nature, wilderness and natural processes. Europe is highly diverse in its landscapes, habitats, cultures and development. While we are still rapidly losing species and natural ecosystems through urbanisation, infrastructure development, industrialisation of agriculture, forestry and fishery – new conservation opportunities are also emerging. Additionally, there is a growing understanding of the real need for wilderness and the potential within rewilding.

Wilderness protection and rewilding at the core of sustainability

We have, as a society, begun to recognise the need for wild land to provide us with ecosystem services like: clean water and air, base-line scientific reference areas, areas for recreation and economic development… and indeed, to help refresh our human spirit and well being. People have begun to understand that wilderness protection and rewilding are actually at the core of sustainability – handing over a healthy environment to coming generations and not limiting their choices. The comeback of species like the wolf, beaver, vultures and white stork gives hope. Initial approaches in rewilding have shown that European ecosystems have a high potential for regeneration, while existing wilderness benefits from strict protection. Europe now has the chance to catch up with the more global approach, where nature conservation is inseparably linked to wilderness protection and wild nature.

Towards a more development oriented approach

By changing our perspective from traditional nature conservation towards a more development oriented approach, the reference point for European nature changes too. A reference point that is no longer based in the past but in the future, towards landscapes that are governed by essential natural processes, which create the necessary space for all of our original animals and plants, including man. With species that survived for thousands of years in the more agricultural landscapes, instead reclaiming their place in a natural setting.