What is Rewilding Europe Capital?
REC is Europe’s first ‘rewilding enterprise’ funding facility that provides development loans to new and existing businesses that leverage opportunities created by the emerging rewilding movement across Europe.
Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) is part of the enterprise component of Rewilding Europe, which is working to build a business case for wild nature in Europe. REC was established to positively stimulate and mature enterprise economies connected to natural landscapes in Europe, and directly supports businesses fostering new and sustainable nature-based economies. REC achieves this by providing commercial funding to businesses that can:
- Positively address negative socio-economic impacts caused by rural land abandonment that is happening in many areas in Europe;
- Directly and indirectly support rewilding processes and activities in Europe;
- Deliver economic returns from nature and wildlife related sectors that also work to conserve natural landscapes and rural cultures and heritage connected to them.
We believe the enterprise component differentiates Rewilding Europe from any other conservation initiative in Europe. Our enterprise team, which brings together significant international experience in this field, is dedicated to revitalising rural economies by pioneering and incubating the emerging rewilding enterprise movement in Europe.
This is achieved best by creating new nature and wildlife focused economies in key areas of rural Europe where declining economic productivity connected to historic agrarian use will be replaced with dynamic and contemporary wildlife and wilderness based businesses that benefit societies reliant on natural environments. To achieve this, Rewilding Europe works with a three-pronged approach:
through the provision of business development advice, product diversification, client targeting and partner introductions to relevant enterprises in our rewilding areas.
primarily through REC, but also through efforts helping local businesses access regional, national and international enterprise funding support.
through marketing and other relationship development activities including business-to-business and business-to-consumer linkages.
Why Rewilding Europe Capital?
There are four main reasons why Rewilding Europe started REC:
- In Europe there is virtually no consciousness around the potential for, or strategic sense of, commercial enterprise actively engaging with and supporting the conservation and rewilding of natural landscapes.
- Europe’s nature based enterprise sectors remain thinly represented – despite the significant wilderness values across Europe and the accelerating ‘wildlife comeback’ now occurring which is creating distinct opportunities for enterprise opportunities
connected to it.
- In rural areas where the commercial value of natural capital is poorly understood, access to third party development finance for enterprises working with nature and natural landscapes is virtually non-existent.
- With its accessibility, security and close access to significant markets, Europe provides a landscape and infrastructure with significant scope to sustain rewilding enterprise markets that can make a meaningful difference to natural environments and
those relying on them.
Hence, despite its nascent status, the scope for positive change in Europe is very high compared to other continents where the discipline of rewilding enterprise is more advanced. REC is well placed to manage this development because of five main factors:
The REC investment team has unparalleled practical transaction experience in developing and investing in conservation / rewilding enterprises in relevant natural contexts across both Europe and Africa.
REC has already raised €500,000 and committed €420,000 of loans which are currently performing positively and where key management and risk mitigation efficiencies have been honed.
The investment team has a clear strategy to mature and migrate REC into a commercially viable rewilding enterprise facility that is anticipated to generate both economic and impact returns for commercial investors.
REC is embedded as a core component within Rewilding Europe, which is a well-established, European-wide conservation initiative that has a clear development strategy, established processes, a strong core objective and theory of change.
REC has open access to the full resources of the Rewilding Europe initiative both in skill specific expertise and dedicated in-country ‘on-the-ground’ resources.
Opportunities in Europe
Wildlife and nature tourism is growing rapidly throughout the world and is a major economic contributor to many economies, contributing in some countries over 10% to the GDP. In Scotland for example, 56% of all tourist travel is wildlife and nature related and generates £65 million per year to the economy.
While Europe and the rewilding areas present world leading natural and wildlife attractions accessible via high quality infrastructure, European nature and wildlife tourists are missing many opportunities. Initiatives such as ‘Natura 2000’ ensure that approximately 18% of Europe’s land surface area is prioritised for nature and related economic activities, creating environments where tourists are foregoing the Serengeti, Masai Mara and Yosemite for attractions closer to home including the Carpathians, the Velebit mountains and Central Apennines.
Wildlife is playing its part with iconic wildlife numbers at their highest levels in over a century with more than 17 000 bears, 12 000 wolves, and 9 000 Eurasian lynx found throughout Europe, not forgetting many other mammals and rich bird species diversity. The challenge now being faced is that as yet there are very few good quality tourism operators within Europe servicing these wildlife and nature attractions.
The first rewilding tourism enterprises
Rewilding Europe has set out to widen the growing nature and wildlife tourism market in Europe. This sector, which we are investing in and stimulating in the rewilding areas, provides direct employment, local economic growth and tax revenues whilst indirectly engaging other businesses which supply goods and services to tourist operators and customers, for example local food producers, guesthouses and restaurants.
Over the past year, Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) has provided 251 000 euros of loans to 13 tourism related businesses in our rewilding areas. We are also spearheading five of these products and partnering with private local operators to manage them. For example we are launching four mobile, tented safari camps (‘Rewilding Flycamps’) in the Velebit mountains, Western Iberia, the Central Apennines and the Southern Carpathians, together with wildlife watching hides and other nature tourism products.
The Faia Brava Star Camp, a 12 bed semi-permanent tented lodge set for launch in 2015, will be the first of its kind in Europe where a tourist lodge has been designed and developed in a private protected nature reserve, Reserva de Faia Brava, with the intention of generating revenues and communication opportunities that will directly conserve and sustain the protected area. This is being achieved through a rewilding levy and lease payment mechanism, which is also applied in other REC loan contexts.
Nature based tourism
The financial and technical support provided by Rewilding Europe to nature and wildlife tourism enterprises is creating wider positive impacts for the rewilding areas and their communities.
Rewilding tourism promotes the natural attractions of the rewilding areas by marketing them as leading wildlife destinations, whilst also highlighting their cultural, historic and gastronomic attractions. Nature and wildlife is a base attraction, which connects enterprises operating in all of these sectors, increasing the widespread engagement of key local stakeholders through employment, and other social and economic benefits, which in turn encourages local and wider initiatives to conserve and enhance the natural and wildlife attractions of the rewilding areas.
These networks are now facilitating direct access to and enjoyment of nature in the rewilding areas and are showcasing a model of innovative wildlife tourism that will be replicated in other important natural areas in Europe. It is these networks that create benefits and an appreciation for rewilding that defines the rewilding enterprise movement.
This process is set to continue in 2015 with the launch of the European Safari Company, further tourism enterprise support through REC, the inclusion of new rewilding areas and an extension of the European Rewilding Network.
Threats and opportunities of rural land abandonment
Rural economies, societies and landscapes across much of Europe are changing as rural to urban migration intensifies. By 2020 four out of five Europeans will live in urban areas.
Drivers of this transition include demographic changes as younger generations increasingly migrate to urban regions drawn by better employment prospects, education, healthcare and social life; a consequent decline in the provision of rural goods and services; lack of public and private investment; increasingly limited employment opportunities exacerbated by the mechanisation of agrarian and forestry production processes (traditionally significant job creators) – all twinned with a fall in the relative production values of marginal rural land driven by dynamics such as degrading soil nutrients, volatile local climates and poor accessibility.
The net result of land abandonment is threefold:
- Open habitat biodiversity is being lost resulting in a rapid decline of species, biodiversity and natural ecosystems.
- Populations of many species (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants) dependent on open and half-open (mosaic) landscapes are declining and loosing terrain.
- Experienced labour forces and associated enterprises are diminishing.
- Employment prospects are worsening.
- Rural areas are becoming less economically productive and increasingly dependent on subsidy support.
- Rural economies are becoming less attractive for investors that cannot see the opportunities they present.
- Rural populations are becoming aged as younger community members move to urban areas.
- Cultural heritage and traditional skills of rural areas are being eroded.
- Families are fragmenting also resulting in associated land marginalisation.
Although land abandonment can and does have a number of negative consequences including biodiversity loss and acute socio-economic decline, it is also presenting a number of compelling new opportunities that Rewilding Europe is creatively leveraging to build new nature driven economies that can serve to reverse these damaging trends. With its enterprise component, Rewilding Europe is working to turn these problems into opportunities.
What has Rewilding Europe Capital achieved so far?
Since its formal launch in September 2013, REC has already demonstrated significant potential through a ‘pilot’ incubation phase which Rewilding Europe now aims to extend with the ultimate goal of launching an independent for-profit development finance facility attracting commercial investors to finance a new nature-driven rewilding enterprise sector in Europe.
Since the launch of its pilot phase in 2013, REC has provided €420,000 of loans to 16 enterprises in four different countries (Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Romania). Summarized, these are collectively leveraging the protection of 20,000 ha of natural landscapes and will inject over €25,000 of direct cash funding per year towards protecting and sustaining these host natural environments and their wildlife, whilst also directly and indirectly stimulating local socio-economic growth and employment. With these results after just a short period of its existence, REC has made a good start and shows both an encouraging and promising future.
The track record and current portfolio of REC over its first ‘pioneer’ phase is well diversified across sectors, size of loan and rewilding areas. The ‘pipeline’ for the next loan phase is growing and the ambition for 2015-2017 is for Rewilding Europe Capital to have issued at least 20-30 new loans to businesses relevant for rewilding across Europe.
This will create a significant impact in terms of total annual revenues generated, number of jobs created, annual rewilding levies generated and annual government tax generated – thus contributing to pioneering new nature based economies in the areas we work. Raising a growing capital base for REC is crucial to achieve further impact.
Three successful cases of Rewilding Europe Capital
Casa de Cisterna: expanding the business thanks to rewilding
Casa da Cisterna, a boutique bed & breakfast in the Western Iberia rewilding area was the first beneficiary of Rewilding Europe Capital. Ana Berliner and António Monteiro, owners and managers of this fantastic Bed & Breakfast had the chance to expand their project thanks to the REC loan in 2014.
The Bed & Breakfast, located in the historic village of Castelo Rodrigo, one of the most well preserved rural villages in the region, opened to the public in 2004 with four bedrooms. Ten years later, due to great demand, Ana and António decided to expand the Bed & Breakfast and renovated a neighbouring house. Now they offer five more bedrooms than before, where tradition, elegant design and modern functionality come together beautifully, to provide guests with a unique experience.
“With the support of the Rewilding Europe Capital we could attain the co-finance needed for the expansion of Casa da Cisterna,” says Ana Berliner. “Besides infra-structure, it enables us to increase our energy efficiency.” Casa da Cisterna now has an ecological heating system – a heating pump – and solar panels for heating water, reducing the electricity consumption.
“In 2014, the occupation rate of visitors from Central Europe increased 35%,” Ana says. “Some visitors also came through the Rewilding Europe Travel Club. Rewilding Europe, with their different approaches – from funding to promotion – are great partners, supporting the growth of our business.”
Guslice & Melnice: rewilding helps business, business supports rewilding
Pollination is a key ecological process in natural systems: more than 70% of flowering plant species rely on animal pollinators, primarily bees, for reproduction. Rewilding efforts to keep the grasslands open by the natural grazing of large herbivores contributes to the sustainability of this essential element of the ecosystem, because without bees there would be no fertilisation, thus no fruits and no seeds leading to widespread instability of our ecosystems.
Ines and Sanjin Žarković, honey producers in Velebit, were one of the first local entrepreneurs who received a Rewilding Europe Capital loan (30 000 euros in total). Rewilding Europe supports the family to expand their business and develop new products, including several types of honey, the breeding queen bees, and the collection of bee venom for medical use. These are products and activities that all benefit rewilding processes. “Driven by our love of nature and bees, we started to explore bee keeping seven years ago and installed four bee hives next to our house. With learning by doing, our honey business grew and this was a great opportunity, because we needed a loan to develop it further,” Ines says.
The REC loan was secured after several meetings and discussions of their business plan. The support does not only have financial dimensions. “Rewilding Europe not only offered us financial help and a loan, but also provided us with business advice and promotion,” says Ines.
The relationship is reciprocal: Guslice & Melnice Honey contribute towards rewilding as the business has pledged 2.5% of their future total gross income to directly help support rewilding activities on Velebit.
Since receiving the REC loan Guslice & Melnice honey continued to develop their infrastructure, expanded their product line, developed several types and sizes of packaging with Rewilding Europe’s logo on their label, and are now also set to start the production of raw propolis and higher quantities of bee venom.
Ines and Sanjin are successfully selling their honey at many local and national festivals of natural products, in shops in central Zagreb, and online from their web page. Guslice & Melnice honey is also well known in the local community, and their gift packages are used for the promotion of the town of Senj. As Ines says: “Honey and rewilding – maintaining biodiversity and developing local business for the benefit of nature and people.”
Wildlife Adventures: Wildlife watching creates incentive for rewilding the Central Apennines
Wildlife and adventure is an appealing combination for a business if you have a passion for experiences in wild nature. A young guy from the Central Apennines has made it his destiny – “Wildlife Adventures” – became the name of his tourist business. Umberto Esposito is an experienced mountain guide, a dedicated environmentalist, an experienced wildlife photographer and moreover, a passionate promoter of the wild beauty of the Central Apennines.
Born in the town of Pescasseroli in the heart of the picturesque Abruzzo Park, Umberto has explored the beautiful mountains in the area since his childhood. A close encounter with a brown bear family some ten years ago shaped his life and he made the courageous decision of becoming a professional guide. Since then he has been working towards his dream: to take people out to discover “his” wild mountains. It was in 2009, Umberto started his company “Wildlife Adventures”, alongside managing two mountain refuges: “Prato Rosso”, a romantic hut in the middle of an old beech wood, and the stunning “Refugio del Falco” in the Molise sector of Abruzzo.
Rewilding is not only for nature, but also for people who truly understand and share its values, like Umberto. No surprise then, that Rewilding Europe supports him and his mission of life: to encourage more people to come to see the Central Apennines. Wildlife Adventures received the first Rewilding Europe Capital loan in the Central Apennines.
“In cooperation with Rewilding Apennines and through the REC loan I am improving the promotion of our activities with the aim to attract more international and Italian tourists to discover and experience the unique nature of the Apennines,” says Umberto. More and more people discover the rare Marsican bear, deer, Apennine Chamois, the unforgettable flowers and scents of the Apennines all the year around.
Umberto concludes: “Showing nature tourists our special wildlife and beautiful nature, in special arrangements, will make the local people benefit from living with these wild animals and support their survival and return to the area, thus creating an incentive for rewilding the Central Apennines.”
How does Rewilding Europe Capital work?
Criteria for ‘rewilding enterprise’
Enterprises and financial capital can be part of the rewilding of Europe in many different ways. REC has to date operated under an investment mandate focused on providing loans to ‘rewilding enterprises’ which are defined as ‘any commercial activity or businesses that generates economic or social benefits in ways that support and achieve rewilding outcomes’.
To qualify as a ‘rewilding enterprise’ a business must be generating or capable of generating in the short term one or more of the following rewilding outcomes:
up-front capital or on-going operating finance (or both) that can support a rewilding area or initiative.
demonstrating and increasing the economic benefits derived from wildlife and wild nature to relevant stakeholders (landowners, local communities, public authorities) that incentivises them to conserve it and to rewild.
reshaping commercial activities that threaten nature towards more sustainable alternatives.
increasing the economic productivity of ‘buffer’ landscapes to reduce encroachment into high value natural landscapes.
enabling direct access to or enjoyment of nature in manners, which fosters the engagement of wider constituencies in its conservation or rewilding.
Rewilding Europe Capital investment approach
To date REC has focused primarily on debt finance as, over equity, it optimises the relationship between the lender and borrower in that:
- It is compliant with incubation rather than ownership;
- Removes complex discussions on equity valuation (most investees within rural European landscapes do not fully understand equity dynamics);
- Enables REC to enforce and maintain pressure and risk on the investee;
- There are almost no viable exit options for equity in these contexts at this scale in Europe;
- Debt optimises capital protection whilst providing some income – by applying debt in these contexts the localised natural and economic impacts and their resultant by-products, for example growing enterprise capacity and the return of younger working
generations to rural areas, can be significant.
REC provides loan to rewilding enterprises that can be engaged to meet the objectives of Rewilding Europe. Loans are normally provided on the following basis:
- Term: 3–8 years
- Interest rate: 5%–8%
- Loan amounts: €1,000 – €80,000
- Currency: Euro (€)
REC does not have any sector restrictions. However, to date REC has focused on sectors and themes identified by Rewilding Europe to have the greatest positive economic and rewilding impact at a local scale. Demand for REC funding so far has been strongest in rural areas – this ‘demand’ over ‘supply’ led dynamic is vital to success. These sectors and themes have included, but are not limited to:
- Consumptive and non-consumptive tourism: nature, wildlife and adventure including accommodations, wildlife watching hides, guides, and safari operators;
- Natural products: producers of local natural products firmly associated with nature e.g. honey;
- Sustainable natural resource use / management: sustainable forestry, hunting and fishing;
- European Wildlife Bank.
Rewilding levies are cash balances retained by businesses that receive REC funding, which are subsequently granted directly by these enterprises towards supporting a local rewilding activity. This process is managed and coordinated by Rewilding Europe who works with the businesses and local rewilding partners to determine suitable rewilding activities the levies should support.
Rewilding levies are applied using rewilding covenants in REC financing agreements. Examples of rewilding levies may be a €2.50 fee per guest per night staying in a tourism lodge, or a % of annual net revenue.
The application and subsequent distribution of rewilding levies is unique to REC within a European context and is a critical dynamic of the facility. The levy mechanism works to build synergy and linkages between investment activities of REC and the rewilding outcomes it strives to generate.
Contact us for more information
REC is interested in partnering with and investing in both new and existing enterprises that can support rewilding in Europe. We not only provide investment, but we can also provide wider support to these enterprises. For example by helping businesses to align their operations towards rewilding and, for those that do this well, by also making use of Rewilding Europe’s very powerful and far-reaching communications platforms for promotion.
REC is also interested in co-investment from and partnerships with funding or financing institutions and individuals to support rewilding enterprises in Europe.
If you own or know of a business that you believe can be developed in partnership with REC; or if you would like any further information: please contact us.