Rewilding for nature and people: World Rewilding Day 2024

Posted: 20th March 2024

Photo: Juan Carlos Muñoz Robredo / Rewilding Europe

On World Rewilding Day we are showcasing ELSP-supported projects that are led by Rewilding Europe and its partners. Rewilding Europe describes rewilding as “A progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats”. The following landscapes are examples of projects that use rewilding principles to restore ecosystems for nature and people.

Greater Côa Valley

Rewilding Portugal are working in the Greater Côa Valley to restore biodiversity and create new opportunities for both wildlife and local people. The steep valley, connecting the Malcata Mountain range in the South with the Douro Valley in the North, is characterised by pastureland and forests, historically shaped by large grazers like cattle. However, overhunting and persecution have led to the decline of apex predators and disrupted food chains. Rural depopulation and land abandonment have created an opportunity for large-scale landscape restoration. The valley’s potential as a wildlife corridor and its orientation makes it ideal for species adapting to climate change. Embracing alternative land-use models like natural grazing can create mosaic landscapes, improving wildlife diversity and encouraging the return of species like the Iberian wolf.

In 2023, after more than a century of absence, red deer are making a comeback providing evidence that the Greater Côa Valley is functioning as a corridor, that core sites are offering refuge to the species and the importance of building relationships with the hunting community. “The comeback of red deer is just the beginning. I’m confident that more species will follow. It’s a sign that the landscape is getting wilder and the corridor of coexistence is working as intended” says Pedro Prata, Team Leader, Rewilding Portugal.  Other achievements include the strategic aquisition of land, with the recent addition of 120 hectares in Ermo das Águias, bringing the total area secured to 744 hectares. Rewilding Portugal is providing support to 52 livestock farmers to foster coexistence with wildlife. This includes developing nature-positive enterprises, such as the “Perto” shoe, crafted in collaboration with Wildling Shoes, which provides sustainable incomes to farmers who coexist with wolves. The Wild Côa Network now has 47 members, promoting nature-based enterprises like honey and olive oil, available through Rewilding Portugal’s online store and the Rewilding Centre. The CÔA – Corridor of Arts – event held last July showcased the creative spirit of the Greater Côa Valley, featuring artist residencies and collaborations with municipalities, engaging 254 artists and 21 Wild Côa Network members, with an estimated 8,300 participants. “The CÔA – Corridor of Arts carries a deeper meaning in the realm of artistic expression within this landscape, inviting individuals to express naturalist views about a wilder nature, marking not just the land, but hearts of people. It’s an evolving part of the local identity, from the paleolithic to today” explains Pedro.

Credit: Blue Nomads / Rewilding Europe.

Danube Delta

The Danube Delta is the second largest river delta and largest wetland in Europe, extending mainly over Ukraine and Romania.  Over the last year in challenging circumstances, Rewilding Ukraine have delivered some notable achievements including the reconnection of the Danube River and the giant Katlabuh Lake via the Staronekrasivski Wetlands. Together, they form a wetland area of over 8,500 hectares, one of the major lake systems on the Ukrainian side of the delta.

Wildlife reintroduction initiatives have continued, with the release of twenty fallow deer and twenty red deer into the outer delta of Ukraine in spring 2023. These animals, equipped with radio tags, are under careful observation to monitor their movement and habitat preferences. Additionally, 38 water buffalo were acquired for release in the Romanian delta. In Tarutino Steppe, eighteen European hamsters have been reintroduced into a designated pre-release area in collaboration with Kyiv Zoo. Furthermore, progress has been made towards establishing the “Budjak Steppes” National Park in Tarutino, covering 9,700 hectares and contributing significantly to ongoing rewilding efforts, with the park slated for official establishment in 2024. Rewilding Ukraine has engaged with local schools through educational activities. These efforts seek to revitalise the delta’s dynamic ecosystem while promoting sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

Photo: Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe.

Iberian Highlands

The Iberian Highlands, spanning 850,000 hectares in Spain, are crucial watersheds and ecosystems hosting diverse habitats and sparse human populations. Since the 1950s, rural-urban migration has led to economic stagnation and environmental challenges, including land abandonment and increased fire risks. However, this scenario offers a unique opportunity for large-scale rewilding efforts.

Over the past year, progress has been made in natural grazing, with 7,645 hectares of grazing rights secured and 73 animals sourced, including Tauros, Pottoka horses, Przewalski’s horses, and Serrano horses. Fourteen cinereous vultures were released, most remaining in the area and thriving despite occasional long-distance movements. Mapping of old-growth forests is informing a collaboration with the government of Castilla-La Mancha that is exploring legal agreements with municipalities to establish forest reserves and compensate for lost revenue. Additionally, the inaugural Naturtajo: Nature Observation Tourism Fair held in June 2023 attracted over 2,000 visitors, showcasing the region’s natural beauty and establishing a national association for ecotourism in Alto Tajo to encourage cooperation among operators and promote sustainable tourism in the landscape.

“Restoring populations of large herbivores and scavengers in the Iberian Highlands, as well as protecting old-growth forests will enhance the health and resilience of the local ecosystem,” explains Rewilding Spain team leader Pablo Schapira. “The presence the Przewalski’s horses and also local breeds such as Pottoka and Serrano horses, as well as a range of vulture species will support essential natural processes and the development of more complex food webs. It will also contribute to the growth of nature-based tourism in the area, which can provide much-needed economic and cultural benefits to local communities.”

Photo: Staffan Widstrand.

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