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General brochures

Policy Brief – Making Space for Rewilding

Written by Frans Schepers and Paul Jepson, the ‘Policy Brief’ is calling for an enabling policy space for rewilding as a new and complementary conservation approach in Europe.

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Rewilding has caught the scientific and public imagination but needs a more supportive policy environment to achieve its conservation impact. Rewilding is a logical next step in an on-going process of EU nature policy development and the ‘Policy Brief’ identifies areas where rewilding principles can extend and reinvigorate European nature policy.

Rewilding is a powerful new term in conservation. This may be because it combines a sense of passion and feeling for nature with advances in ecological science. The term resonates with diverse publics and seems to have a particular feel to a younger urban generation and among those who want a voice in shaping a new rural environment. It has attained a significant scientific, practical and media presence during the last few years.

In late 2o15 and 2016, the authors of the ‘Policy Brief’ conducted interviews with experts in EU nature policy and legislation, in rewilding science and practice to explore opportunities to create a policy environment that would support fuller expression of emerging rewilding visions and examples. The result is a paper that describes rewilding and its key principles in the perspective of current and possible future relationships with EU politics, the Nature Directives, wilderness and ecosystem restoration. It also identifies existing and new policy frames and how rewilding can contribute to these, such as the Water Framework Directive, and a Trans-European Green Network (TEN-G).

The Policy Brief presents the latest thinking on how rewilding is unfolding in a European context, and how it can contribute to the 15% restoration target that the EU committed to in the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. The rise of the rewilding visions and practice across Europe coincides with the Fitness Check of the EU nature legislation. There is a strong and agreed view that the Nature Directives must be kept intact and that the focus should be on better implementation, where rewilding can play a significant role.

The Policy Brief includes a request to policy makers and proposes several ways to start with creating an enabling policy space for rewilding in Europe.

A Vision for a Wilder Europe –
Second edition

Eleven organisations from across Europe reconfirmed their ambition to make Europe a wilder place by signing the new edition of the ‘Vision for a Wilder Europe’ in March 2015.

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The goal of the ‘Vision for a Wilder Europe’ is ‘to build on the significant conservation achievements in Europe over the past decades and to launch and promote a new paradigm in management and view of wild nature in European conservation’. It was first launched in 2013 at Wild10, the World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain, where nine environmental leaders signed the document and presented it to senior representatives from the Council of Europe and the European Commission. Two new organisations have now joined the signatories of the vision.

Rewilding Europe, Wildlands Research Institute, John Muir Trust, Zoological Society of London, Frankfurt Zoological Society, European Wilderness Society, Fundació Catalunya- La Pedrera, Rewilding Britain, Wilderness Foundation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Wild Wonders of Europe have worked for over a year on this vision. The organisations put emphasis on recognizing, restoring and allowing natural processes, which ultimately could create more robust ecosystems and more cost-effective conservation management systems, reduce the loss of biodiversity across the continent, provide scientific knowledge about natural developments without human interventions, give more people a closer relationship with nature in contrast to our highly technological worlds, increase resilience to the effects of climate change, and generate new economic opportunities and better services for society.

The ten action points the updated Vision calls upon all social change-makers and leaders from all European governments, businesses, communities and organisations, to adopt and work on:
– Existing wilderness: ensure full protection of all existing wilderness areas across the European Continent, both on land and at sea, as an immediate step;
– Natural processes: allow nature to take care of itself in wider land/seascapes;
– Large apex consumer species: recognize the underestimated ecological and economical value of wildlife and the importance of ensuring its continued comeback;
– Rewilding: support the rewilding of Europe;
– Business case for the Wild: invest in businesses linked to the values of wild nature and wildlife;
– New stewardship of land, water and sea: invite and inspire land owners, communities and managers of land/water/sea and natural resources to embrace “A Vision for a Wilder Europe”;
– Financial mechanisms: inspire and invite all funding institutions to support this vision;
– Public support: Reach out to large constituencies across Europe through communications and education programmes;
– Monitoring, research and compilation of existing knowledge: learn from existing knowledge, experiences and new research;
– Leadership& strategy: promote the new conservation vision vis-à-vis key constituencies and develop an action-oriented strategy.

Species publications

Bison Rewilding Plan 2014–2024

Rewilding Europe’s vision of achieving its goal of viable populations of free-ranging herds of bison being established and restored across Europe.

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In the Bison Rewilding Plan, Rewilding Europe sets the ambition to establish at least five new herds, each of more than 100 individuals, in up to five selected areas in Europe, including at least one meta-population of at least 500 individuals in the Southern Carpathians by 2025 and to increase the European bison population living in the wild from 2,371 animals (2013) to more than 3,500 in 2018 and over 5,000 in 2022.

“This will help lead the bison out from the risk of extinction,” says Wouter Helmer, Rewilding Director at Rewilding Europe. “The European bison is a strong symbol for the promotion of a wider ecological restoration of European landscapes. Bison-related tourism will provide opportunities for new economic development in our rewilding areas, with local businesses and people actively involved.”

Rewilding Europe will apply the “IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations” (2012) for all bison reintroductions and population reinforcements. The Bison Rewilding Plan is fully in line with the IUCN Species Action Plan and it is in fact Rewilding Europe’s contribution to it. Advice on the selection of animals comes from the European Bison Conservation Centre (EBCC) and our recently signed memorandum with the Center ensures the genetic viability of the herds and the opportunity to establish viable herds in all areas where Rewilding Europe is working.

The “Bison Rewilding Plan 2014–2024” was made possible through financial support from the Swedish Postcode Lottery. It was developed in cooperation with the Zoological Society of London. The Plan will be reviewed and updated after five years (in 2019) to include lessons learnt from the first period of work.

Rewilding Horses in Europe

Rewilding Europe’s study is the first of its kind on this exciting topic, providing the necessary background information as well as practical guidelines.

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This well illustrated, 48-page study was presented at the Eurosite workshop “Living with wilderness” in Haarlem, The Netherlands on September 17, by Rewilding Director Wouter Helmer.

The European wild horse is strangely enough both extinct and at the same time still present. Officially it is extinct since the early 1900s, but at the same time its genome is not lost and still exists across several types of old, original horses: from Exmoors in the west to Huculs in the east of the old continent.

”This document guides the reader through the rich world of European horse types, makes a first selection of which horses that are suitable for rewilding and then gives guidance on how to rewild horses in the best possible way, according to the latest scientific and practical knowledge”, says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. ”Since this kind of knowledge is developing rapidly, this document must first and foremost be seen as a living document and this is also how Rewilding Europe will use it. It reveals our practical experiences from rewilding horses in different ecosystems in Europe and at the same time presents the latest scientific research finds. With it, we hope to contribute to an ultimate rewilding goal: well-functioning European ecosystems, with the full range of keystone wildlife species present, and the wild horse being one of them”.

Several primitive horse types still have many of the characteristics and genetics from the original wild horse and are very fit for rewilding, regaining their rightful place in the European ecosystems: The Exmoor pony for Northwest Europe and England, with possibilities to add the Dartmoor and Welsh ponies to restore genetic diversity or the Eriskay pony in harsher climates; the Yakut pony for harsh climates in Northernmost Europe and Siberia; the Konik Polski from Latvian or Dutch/Belgium free ranging herds in the lowland areas of Northern/Central Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Northern France, Germany, Poland and the Baltics); theHucul in the Central and Eastern European mountains, ranging into the Alps; the Pottoko can be used in the mountains of South-Western Europe, such as France, Spain and Portugal; the Asturcon, Losino, Monichino, Cabalo Galego/Faco or Garrano/Minho/Geres can be mixed to improve genetic diversity as they have equal rewilding qualities and comparable characteristics. The long-legged Retuertas should be used in the more or less open steppe and dehesa areas of Central and Southern Spain; the Przewalski’s horse for the large East European continental steppes; and in the Balkans a number of ancient horse types are suitable, such as the Karakachan horse, the Bosnian and Serbian mountain ponies, the Myzegea horse and the Pindos pony/Thessalier.

Rewilding horses means to work towards a future wild horse and should not be mistaken with rebuilding extinct wild horses from the past. The rapidly growing knowledge about the many types of the extinct wild horse will be used to choose the right breeds and characteristics of existing horses for rewilding purposes.

Leo Linnartz from ARK Nature and Renee Meissner from Herds & Homelands are the authors of “Rewilding horses in Europe”. The report was made possible by a generous grant from the Liberty Wildlife Fund in The Netherlands.

Aurochs – Born to be Wild

The 160-page book is about the aurochs and the plan to bring it back: the Tauros Programme. You will never look at cattle again in the same way.

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It starts at a time in Europe before man was here: a continent with big herds of large herbivores, in a far wilder landscape than today. This was the realm of aurochs, the King of the Wild, Europe’s heaviest land mammal, after the rhinos and mammoths had disappeared. The original wild animal was hunted to its extinction in 1627, but its genes are still alive and kicking. Several old cattle breeds are proven to still be very close to the aurochs, genetically. The Tauros Programme will use these breeds to breed the animal back, build wild populations and in the end release them in rewilded areas. ‘The Aurochs – Born to be Wild’ tells this story: with text and fantastic photos.

The aurochs was a keystone species in Europe’s ecosystems, but it also became man’s most valuable animal, as the ancestor of all the 1 billion cattle in the world. Europe’s history is very closely connected to the aurochs. Not only because of the Greek myth of the founding of Europe, where the God Zeus in the shape of a bull seduces and kidnaps a beautiful virgin princess called Europa from the Middle East, and brings her to Crete – a symbolic way to explain that the taming of these wild cattle was one of the most important steps in the economic history of our continent. Ever since, domesticated cattle have been the most valuable of all animals for mankind. Often forgotten, however, is that the wild aurochs also played a key role for Europe’s biodiversity, greatly impacting on the vegetation where it lived. Hundreds of plant and animal species developed in co-evolution with the vast herds of these Europe’s heaviest land mammals and other large grazers. For hundreds of thousands of years Europe’s ecosystems benefited from and were shaped by the strong influence from wild and free living herds of aurochs, together with other large herbivores, like European bison, wild horses, deer or ibex.

The aurochs stands at the very roots of the whole idea of our continent but was sadly driven to its extinction by man. Luckily, it can also be brought back by man. In 2008, the Taurus Foundation decided to give the re-breeding of the aurochs a serious try. It has since grown into a joint effort together with Rewilding Europe and the Dutch organization ARK Nature. The end result will look like an aurochs, live like an aurochs, behave, eat, mate, defecate and eventually die like an aurochs. For the time being, this animal will be called the Tauros, the Greek word for the bull.

A hardcover copy can be ordered by clicking the link below. The price is EUR 29.95 plus postage.

Practical guides

Wildlife watching hides –
a practical guide 2.0

The only available publication on the market for info about how to design and build professional wildlife watching hides.
Annex – technical drawings

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This practical guide dives into the details of the typical user groups and the different types of wildlife watching hides. It also offers a lot of planning and construction advice, and gives suggestions on ownership, maintenance and on if and how to do baiting, or not.There is also a dedicated section for case studies, where a variety of existing hides from all across the world have been analyzed in clear bullet-point style and color codes. An extremely useful special chapter presents technical drawings of a first proposed standard wildlife watching hide. The Rewilding Europe team members Staffan Widstrand, Neil Birnie and Matthew McLuckie are behind the text, and the technical drawings are made by Mattias Pedersen.

The 78-page-booklet is an expanded update of the brochure which was released in December 2012. The 2.0 version has many more and new facts, more hide image examples from Europe and further best practices from across the world. It contains a set of technical drawings of a proposed standard cabin hide which makes the book very useful and practical for any nature entrepreneur who is planning to start up wildlife watching, using hides.

Wildlife watching tourism is constantly increasing in Europe and for Rewilding Europe it is a business case that we give great priority to help develop, especially when based in hide solutions.

Imaginative, well-designed and practically useful wildlife watching hides will help bring not only better wildlife experiences for the visitors and significant business for local entrepreneurs, but also possible finance for further rewilding actions and many new ways to engage a wide group of local stakeholders – in guiding, transfers, deliveries, construction, food and lodging.

Natural Grazing – Practices in the Rewilding of Cattle and Horses

The publication will help rewilding initiatives to learn and adopt some of the latest lessons and practices on setting up and developing natural grazing initiatives.

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The publication includes experiences from more than 25 years from all over Europe. The focus is on cattle and horse breeds, as ecological replacements of the wild horse and aurochs.

After two major background publications about the role of Europe’s most important bovine (The Aurochs – Born to be Wild, 2013) and wild horses (Rewilding Horses in Europe, 2014), this newest publication of Rewilding Europe provides a lot of information on how to successfully develop natural grazing projects in practice. This publication therefore targets area managers, reserve authorities, private landowners and other interested parties that work or have plans to start natural grazing on their lands.

Roeland Vermeulen, the main editor of the publication, is director of FREE Nature – an organization with some 25 years of experience on rewilding of horses and cattle in tens of thousands of hectares in different parts of Europe. Rewilding Europe has asked FREE Nature to unlock its knowledge and experience through this publication to practitioners from all across Europe.

How to help herds to become self-supporting, human versus natural selection, avoiding inbreeding, dealing with water shortage, damage control dealing with predators, how to achieve natural densities, veterinary aspects, natural grazing and public – this is just a brief selection of the subjects addressed in the report. Public safety is another important issue on which the brochure gives useful information and instructions.

The information in this brochure will not only serve as guidelines for local area and herd managers with whom Rewilding Europe has already set up large-scale projects on natural grazing in different rewilding areas. Understanding all these aspects will help all practitioners across Europe to set the right steps in the rewilding process and become successful in developing natural grazing initiatives in their areas.

The use of wild and semi-wild herbivores is an important part of the rewilding concept – and supports natural processes such as natural grazing. Rewilding Europe recently presented a working definition of rewilding, which describes in more detail the concept in the European context.

Circle of Life cover

Circle of Life – a new way to support Europe’s scavengers

Rewilding Europe and Dutch NGO ARK Nature want to help Europe’s scavengers by encouraging a fresh look at how herbivore carcasses are managed across the continent.

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The brochure provides a practical overview of the possibilities for such an approach, addressing relevant stakeholders such as those managing nature, fauna and roads. The background information it contains is intended to inform policymakers, as well as other parties interested in expanding their knowledge about this fascinating, essential and often overlooked link in the food chain.

Scientific reports

Wildlife comeback in Europe

The publication describes how, why and where 37 mammal and bird species have recovered over the past 50 years, providing important lessons for the conservation.

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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.

“Wildlife will bounce back if we allow it to – this report shows that,” says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe who initiated and commissioned this study. “With 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, more species will surely follow.”

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Member of the European Parliament and Rapporteur for Biodiversity says: “This report shows first of all the amazing resilience of nature. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of EU policy: the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Natura 2000 network of protected areas and the Water Framework Directive are all explicitly credited for supporting this impressive return of wildlife. The rewilding of Europe exceeds nature protection, because these iconic species create unique opportunities for rural development.”

“I firmly believe that smart investments in nature create huge economic opportunities and I will continue to work vigorously in Brussels to turn the rewilding of Europe into reality,” MEP Gerbrandy added.

The report was funded by valuable grants from the Swedish Postcode Lotteries, the Liberty Wildlife Fund and ARK Nature.

Printed copies are unfortunately sold out by now.

WILD10 proceedings

The proceedings are the result of a full-day seminar organised by Rewilding Europe on October 9th, 2013 at WILD10, the World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain.

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Thirteen speakers from a range of different backgrounds presented their views and experiences during this seminar, working on ambitious rewilding visions, plans and actions to an audience of about 200 people. Many new facts about rewilding, wildlife and related enterprise development were presented during four specific sessions: ‘Wilder Landscapes and Ecosystems’, ‘Resurrection of three European Icons’, ‘How could Europe move up the wildness scale?’ and ‘The Wild Business Case’.

During the seminar, a number of new initiatives in support of rewilding were launched: the European Wildlife Bank, the European Rewilding Network, the Rewilding Bison Action Plan, the Wild Horse Action Plan and the Tauros Programme.

The proceedings of “Making Europe a Wilder Place” communicate the key messages from this inspirational day and aim to encourage rewilding throughout Europe. The proceedings also address a broad range of factors of success that must be considered when working on rewilding, from restoring natural processes to developing rewilding-related enterprises.

The leading author of the proceedings is Chris Sandom, who was also the convener and the facilitator of the symposium. In his concluding remarks, he states “Making Europe a wilder place can only be achieved by the collective effort of functioning communities of species, businesses and societies throughout Europe. We hope these proceedings will inspire you to be an active part of the European rewilding community”.

Aurochs Genetics study

The study provides additional scientific backing to the Tauros Programme that aims to breed a suitable replacement for this lost species.

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The research confirms that certain so-called Podolian breeds (from Italy and the Balkan countries) show a close relationship with the aurochs. These results are based on the analyses of a greater number of aurochs individuals (since it’s far easier to reconstruct these small fragments of DNA, than to reconstruct the complete genome). New information also shows that Iberian breeds in general show a closer relationship to the aurochs.

The leading practice in the Tauros breeding programme so far – combining Iberian and Podolian breeds with aurochs-like physical properties – is being confirmed by the combined results of the study.

The research also identified a number of breeds that are genetically close to the aurochs, but are not yet used in the Tauros Programme. The reason for this was that by phenotypical features (the way the animals look) better breeds were available. Future studies will determine if some of the newly identified breeds should be included in the programme.

On the short run, the results of the research can be used to develop practical guidelines as the base for future selection of breeds in the Tauros Programme.

Authors of the study are Ronald Goderie (Taurus Foundation), Johannes A. Lenstra (Utrecht University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine), Maulik Upadhyay (Wageningen University), Richard Crooijmans (Wageningen University, Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre) and Leo Linnartz (ARK Nature).


Executive summary

European Rewilding Network

European Wildlife Bank

Rewilding Europe Capital

Bison action plan

Tauros programme

Wild horses