Rewilding Europe strives to create wilder landscapes on a large scale in at least 10 major areas across Europe. These landscapes must demonstrate how the vision of Rewilding Europe can be put into practice for an even larger area. Their mission? Reconnecting people and nature in a modern, wilder Europe. Rewilding Europe was founded 10 years ago, celebrating many successes along the way. One of the founders, Wouter Helmer, tells us more about this great initiative.
In what ways are you making Europe wilder again?
We look at what’s going on in modern society and how nature can be its ally. This may concern climate change or how the environment can better retain carbon and water. We also ask ourselves how people can attain sustainable incomes along the way. We believe that restoring natural processes is very important. As an example, we are currently involved in a European program called Dam Removal Europe, with the aim of getting rivers flowing again. We do so by clearing thousands of old dams, so that fish can move freely again and people living longside the rivers can achieve an income again from sustainable fishing. We call this restoring natural processes. But animals themselves are also crucial for creating a landscape. Large herbivores, for example, usually play a major role. If species such as wild horses or European bison are missing, we bring them back to these areas. Together with great natural creative forces such as the rivers, wind, and – sometimes – fire, these plant eaters will provide natural European landscapes again.
We often start in response to a concrete social problem, such as a flood risk or forest fire hazard. Doing so gives us the support of local parties and / or governments to tackle projects. Southern Europe, for example, is increasingly facing massive forest fires because areas are becoming deserted. Younger generations are moving away from the countryside, because they see a different future on their smartphones than between the goats and cows of their parents. A demographic landslide is currently underway. It’s happening in many places across Europe, causing these areas to grow dense with shrubs or be filled with monotonous forest – all very flammable if there are no open areas in-between. If you let wild herbivores roam in these areas so they can create mosaics in the landscape, you limit the spread of the fires enormously. Doing so creates a very simple measure to make a natural system less vulnerable to a disaster.
We can also show that nature can be an important ally in solving the climate crisis. The retention of carbon in an aging forest or natural grasslands are good examples. Of course, fewer forest fires also mean less CO2 emissions. We are also working on peatlands in Scandinavia to ensure that peat oxidation is prevented so as to retain carbon in the soil.
Why is it now more important than ever that an initiative like Rewilding Europe is committed to a wilder Europe?
I believe that there will always be an urgency to do something for the earth. Yesterday’s solution is not tomorrow’s solution, and what we come up with today will be outdated in ten years. It’s not now or never, it’s always. What we have to watch out for is that we don’t just come up with technical solutions. We must engage nature itself to store water, and to create space for the rivers. It’s nice to see that bald eagles and wolves return: apparently, people are much more relaxed than 100 years ago. Vegetarianism is emerging, a very important development for our relationship with nature. All this is desperately needed, we have to constantly be alert. As humans, we must not think that we can take care of everything ourselves in this world. We must continually question human conceitedness, because that is where things largely go wrong. Over millions of years in Europe, we have built a team of hundreds of thousands of species that are well attuned to each other. We also play a role in this, but let’s not forget that a lot more is possible in that interaction than if we wanted to do it alone.
How can someone reading this help Rewilding Europe?
Rewilding Europe can be helped in various ways. People can go to our donation platform and support various projects through a donation. But you can also sign up as a volunteer, add one of our projects to your holiday destination or you can simply promote us on one of your social media channels. You will find more information here!
The interest and support in Rewilding Europe is great, but I also hope that people will look for what they themselves find really important. That they become motivated by these kinds of stories to think for themselves how they themselves can play a role. Not by following someone, but by thinking for yourself – what do I really think is important?
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