Letting Nature Take the Lead

Nature is our best ally when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, revitalizing local economies, and stabilizing the environment. This basic principle is fundamental to the unique Dutch non-profit organization Rewilding Europe, which works across 18 countries with a mission to make Europe a wilder place, with more space for wildlife, wilderness, and wild values. Many of us living in the United States think of Europe as a densely populated land of cosmopolitan cities. The idea of wilderness, we think, is more Montana than Scotland, more Alaska than the Danube Delta. But there are truly inspiring projects underway on “The Continent,” and groups like Rewilding Europe are steadily gaining ground in the larger effort to breathe life back into our landscapes through a process known as rewilding. 

What is rewilding? 

Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation that embraces nature’s ability to manage itself. This process can be guided by the right conditions – by removing dykes and dams to free up rivers, reducing active management of wildlife populations, allowing natural forest regeneration, and by reintroducing species that have disappeared due to human actions. Some components of rewilding include bringing back wildlife, connecting people to rewilded landscapes, and protecting areas where rewilding can occur. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.

“[Rewilding] is about understanding that we are just one species among many, bound together in an intricate web of life that connects us with the atmosphere, the weather, the tides, the soil, fresh water, the oceans and every other living creature on the planet.” 

Rewilding In Action 

Founded in 2011, Rewilding Europe has grown to work in nine large rewilding landscapes across Europe, with staff, board members, ambassadors, and volunteers from 18 European countries. The group enacts its mission through a variety of initiatives and rewilded landscapes, including:

Through a place-based approach to rewilding landscapes, Rewilding Europe promotes natural processes through various kinds of agreements with landowners, local park and reserve authorities, area managers, and concession holders. The organization has established dozens of rewilding agreements, with numerous pilots and initiatives demonstrating rewilding. These landscapes are spread across Europe, from Romania to Croatia, and act as an inspiration and demonstration for rewilding initiatives across the continent. Fundamental to their work is the development and maintenance of the rapidly growing European Rewilding Network, a collective of nearly 80 member organizations 

“Dynamic and contemporary wildlife and nature-based businesses can benefit local societies by creating new economic opportunities that are more closely tied to natural environments.”

As a result of its rewilding initiatives — including increased legal protection, reintroduction and population support measures, and corridor creation — Rewilding Europe has seen a marked increase in the populations of many species that were once in decline. Species such as beaver, elk, and ibex are starting to make a comeback. Overall, the organization claims 6.5 million hectares of land and water as part of the initiatives it has launched or supported. 

“Rewilding can create favourable conditions for the spontaneous comeback of numerous wildlife species – this is by far the most important tool for wildlife recovery in our operational rewilding landscapes. This can involve reducing hunting quotas or creating hunting-free areas, combatting poisoning and poaching, mitigating conflict and damage, protecting nesting, denning or breeding sites, and by creating incentives for people to appreciate local wildlife.”

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