Until recently, wildlife conservation efforts have typically focused on maintaining what already exists in the natural environment in order to avoid further losses to ecosystems and declines in biodiversity. However, recently the notion of 'rewilding' has gained support at a European level because it serves as a means of letting nature shape itself, instead of people designing it. Specifically, rewilding describes the process whereby landscapes become wilder more naturally, whilst also providing opportunities for modern society to reconnect with such wilder places. It aims to ensure natural processes and wild species play a much more prominent role in the land and sea environments, meaning that nature is allowed to evolve naturally, much like would have occurred historically before extensive human intervention to ecosystems during the last 250-300 years.  Rewilding often demands some initial supportive measures, to facilitate natural processes again, or to help wildlife species return in more natural numbers, but always has a goal of less intervention after that point (Rewilding Europe, 2018).

Rewilding Europe

Whilst the concept is relative new, rewilding efforts are already underway across many European countries. For instance, in the Central Appenine mountains in Italy a recent rewilding strategy aims at connecting existing protected areas (Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise National Park and Sirente-Velino Regional Park) with corridors for large mammals, especially brown bear, red deer and wolf, in addition to supporting an increase of wildlife populations. Griffon vultures have been reintroduced in the area to support rewilding efforts and five small colonies now exist.

In Portugal's Iberian peninsula, rewilding has begun through the purchasing of important core areas, reintroducing missing species to bring back natural grazing systems, promoting the return of iconic and ecologically important species, and enhancing the conditions for the rabbit – a crucial species in ecological systems of the Iberian Peninsula. For the natural grazing regimes, red deer, Iberian Ibex, primitive horses and cattle adapted to the local situation are also being reintroduced. Diverse cattle breeds (Maronesa and Sayaguesa) native to the Mediterranean have also been cross-bred in an attempt to reintroduce an animal that as closely as possible resembles the original wild bovine species that once roamed Europe, the Aurochs.

Rewilding Europe have also released wild bison near the Carpathian mountains in Romania. It is also helping local partners increase deer numbers in a Bulgarian rewilding area, where wolves are making a comeback. More information on various rewilding efforts across Europe can be found here.

Rewilding Ireland

In Mayo, Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have developed a similar rewilding project in the Nephin Beg mountains. Plans are underway to rewild thousands of hectares of land to provide a more natural wilderness experience within Ballycroy National Park. This includes the transfer of 4,400 hectares of Coillte commercial land to the rewilding efforts. Plans for rewilding here include cutting down some conifers and replanting with native species like rowan and birch to enhance biodiversity. Over the next 15 years the project aims to naturalise native plantations. The project also plans to thin existing forest cover to let more light into the understory, create more clearings, restore bogland areas, and plant other native species in an attempt to rewild the landscape.

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