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Rewilding European Landscapes

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About this book

Some European lands have been progressively alleviated of human pressures, particularly traditional agriculture in remote areas. This book proposes that this land abandonment can be seen as an opportunity to restore natural ecosystems via rewilding. We define rewilding as the passive management of ecological successions having in mind the long-term goal of restoring natural ecosystem processes. The book aims at introducing the concept of rewilding to scientists, students and practitioners. The first part presents the theory of rewilding in the European context. The second part of the book directly addresses the link between rewilding, biodiversity, and habitats. The third and last part is dedicated to practical aspects of the implementation of rewilding as a land management option. We believe that this book will both set the basis for future research on rewilding and help practitioners think about how rewilding can take place in areas under their management.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

The Theory of Rewilding

Frontmatter

Open Access

1. Rewilding Abandoned Landscapes in Europe
Abstract
For millennia, mankind has shaped landscapes, particularly through agriculture. In Europe, the age-old interaction between humans and ecosystems strongly influenced the cultural heritage. Yet European farmland is now being abandoned, especially in remote areas. The loss of the traditional agricultural landscapes and its consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services is generating concerns in both the scientific community and the public. Here we ask to what extent farmland abandonment can be considered as an opportunity for rewilding ecosystems. We analyze the perceptions of traditional agriculture in Europe and their influence in land management policies. We argue that, contrary to the common perception, traditional agriculture practices were not environmentally friendly and that the standards of living of rural populations were low. We suggest that current policies to maintain extensive farming landscapes underestimate the human labor needed to sustain these landscapes and the recent and future dynamics of the socio-economic drivers behind abandonment. We examine the potential benefits for ecosystems and people from rewilding. We identify species that could benefit from land abandonment and forest regeneration and the ecosystem services that could be provided such as carbon sequestration and recreation. Finally, we discuss the challenges associated with rewilding, including the need to maintain open areas, the fire risks, and the conflicts between people and wildlife. Despite these challenges, we argue that rewilding should be recognized by policy-makers as one of the possible land management options in Europe, particularly on marginal areas.
Laetitia M. Navarro, Henrique M. Pereira

Open Access

2. European Wilderness in a Time of Farmland Abandonment
Abstract
Wilderness is a multidimensional concept that has evolved from an aesthetic idea to a science-based conservation approach. We analyze here several subjective and ecological dimensions of wilderness in Europe: human access from roads and settlements, impact of artificial night light, deviation from potential natural vegetation and proportion of harvested primary productivity. As expected, high wilderness in Europe is concentrated mainly in low primary productivity areas at high latitudes and in mountainous regions. The use of various wilderness metrics also reveals additional aspects, allowing the identification of regional differences in the types of human impact and a better understanding of future modifications of wilderness values in the context of land-use change. This is because farmland abandonment in the next decades is projected to occur especially at intermediate wilderness values in marginal agricultural landscapes, and thus can release additional areas for wild ecosystems. Although the subjective wilderness experience will likely improve at a slower pace due to the long-term persistence of infrastructures, the ecological effects of higher resource availability and landscape connectivity will have direct positive impacts on wildlife. Positive correlation between megafauna species richness and wilderness indicate that they spatially coincide and for abandoned areas close to high wilderness areas, these species can provide source populations for the recovery of the European biota. Challenges remain in bringing together different views on rewilding and in deciding the best management approach for expanding wilderness on the continent. However the prospects are positive for the growth of self-regulating ecosystems, natural ecological processes and the wilderness experience in Europe.
Silvia Ceauşu, Steve Carver, Peter H. Verburg, Helga U. Kuechly, Franz Hölker, Lluis Brotons, Henrique M. Pereira

Open Access

3. Ecosystem Services: The Opportunities of Rewilding in Europe
Abstract
Halting the degradation and restoring the full capacity of ecosystems to deliver ecosystem services is currently a major political commitment in Europe. Although still a debated topic, Europe’s on-going farmland abandonment is seen as an opportunity to launch a new conservation and economic vision, through the restoration of natural processes via rewilding as a land management option. Despite the ecological interest of restoring a wilder Europe, there is a need to develop evidence-based arguments and explore the broad-range impacts of rewilding. In this chapter we study the spatial patterns of ecosystem services in the EU25 and their relationship with wilderness areas. Next we perform a quantitative analysis, at the scale of the Iberian Peninsula, of the supply of ecosystem services in the top 5 % wilderness areas, on agricultural land, and on land projected to be abandoned. We find that high quality wilderness is often associated to high supply of ecosystem services, mainly regulating and cultural. Assuming that high quality wilderness is a good proxy for the future of areas undergoing rewilding, our results suggest that rewilding efforts throughout Europe will enhance the capacity of ecosystems to supply regulating and cultural ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and recreation.
Yvonne Cerqueira, Laetitia M. Navarro, Joachim Maes, Cristina Marta-Pedroso, João Pradinho Honrado, Henrique M. Pereira

Rewilding and Biodiversity

Frontmatter

Open Access

4. Bringing Large Mammals Back: Large Carnivores in Europe
Abstract
The last century has seen a dramatic reversal in the status of large carnivores in Europe. A suite of co-occurring factors has permitted a large-scale recovery of most populations. We currently recognise 10 populations of each species, most of which are transboundary in nature. The sizes of these populations vary from some tens to many thousand, with current estimates being around 17,000 bears, 10,000 wolves and 10,000 lynx in Europe (excluding Russia). As the situation moves from averting extinction to planning recovery it is logical to ask how far the recovery can go, and what our conservation goals should be, especially in light of the emerging rewilding discourse. For a variety of ecological, practical and strategic reasons, it seems unlikely that restoring “wilderness” or “natural ecological processes” (in the sense that human activity and influence are excluded) will serve as general models for large carnivore conservation on a large scale. We suggest a focus on developing a “coexistence” model that aims to create a sustainable interaction between humans and large carnivores by encouraging conservation of these species in very large areas of the European landscape, encouraging the development of a wide range of ecological processes, including predation and scavenging, while accepting that human influence on all trophic levels is pervasive, legitimate, necessary and often even desirable. This constitutes a desire to create a new form of relationship between humans and wildness that has never existed before, and therefore does not fall within the conventional meanings of the rewilding paradigm.
Luigi Boitani, John D. C. Linnell

Open Access

5. Top Scavengers in a Wilder Europe
Abstract
The concept of rewilding should not only be applied to recovering habitat and vertebrate populations but also to the restoration of complex ecological processes. Large avian scavengers are the target of restoration programs including conservation measures linked to the manipulation of food resources but we lack of a general approach to understanding how scavengers and the ecosystem services they provide will fit into a rewilded Europe. Carcasses play an important role in ecosystem functioning and in the energy flux within food webs. Large ungulates carcases availability, in particular, has, through the course of evolution, given way to the appearance of “true” scavenger strategies, displayed by large body-sized avian organisms (vultures) whose guilds are structured by complex interspecific relationships. Yet, livestock raised in traditional agro-grazing systems have historically replaced wild ungulates as the main food source for vultures. More recently, modern farm intensification, stricter European Union legislation that banned the abandonment of carcasses, and increasing human-vulture conflicts contributed to plunging vulture populations, leading to an unprecedented crisis. Consequently, supplementary feeding became a management tool used worldwide to aid in the recovery of their decimated populations. These so-called vulture restaurants, however, alter the spatial-temporal nature of trophic resources with strong consequences at individual, population, community and ecosystem levels. The conservation of these charismatic species in rewilded European landscapes should rely on wild ungulate expansion, the recovery of large carnivore populations and, in more humanized areas, the promotion of traditional extensive agro-grazing systems limiting artificial feeding activities. In this way, it may be possible to combine both the historically recognized ecosystem services provided by vultures (elimination of undesirable remains, nutrient cycling) with new recreational services (conferring aesthetical value to the environment) while providing economic benefits to rural societies. Vultures and other scavengers, because they exploit space at a huge scale, are singular actors within a rewilded Europe. Their conservation, and that of the ecological processes in which they are involved, requires large-scale approaches surpassing those limits imposed by administrations, habitats and even biomes.
Ainara Cortés-Avizanda, José A. Donázar, Henrique M. Pereira

Open Access

6. Rewilding: Pitfalls and Opportunities for Moths and Butterflies
Abstract
Small organisms provide the bulk of biodiversity. Here, we look at rewilding from their perspective. As an umbrella group for other terrestrial invertebrates, we focus on the diverse group of Lepidoptera. More specifically, we set out to explore their response to farmland abandonment. So far, studies have warned against farmland abandonment, which is for instance listed as one of the key threats to European butterfly diversity. Here, partly based on a case study within the Peneda mountain range, we argue (i) that the majority of Lepidoptera is to a greater or lesser extent forest-dependent, (ii) that effects on species composition should be considered at regional rather than smaller scales, and (iii) that habitat resource heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales is key. As such, we believe that rewilding does offer opportunities to Lepidoptera. However, we recommend rewilding not to be equalled to a hands-off approach, but rather to a goal-driven conservation management approach. It should monitor, and where necessary intervene to provide habitat heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales, in order to cater for the whole gradient of sedentary to mobile species. Given that sufficient levels of habitat heterogeneity are maintained, Lepidoptera are one of probably many taxa that are likely to benefit from rewilding processes on European marginal farmland. The resulting improved species composition will help achieve European species conservation targets. It may also lead to more viable populations of moths, butterflies and other invertebrates, which will foster more resilient food-webs and increased ecosystem functioning.
Thomas Merckx

Open Access

7. Vegetation Restoration and Other Actions to Enhance Wildlife in European Agricultural Landscapes
Abstract
Intensive farming practices are a major cause of destruction and degradation of natural vegetation throughout the world. However, in some regions including Europe, semi-natural vegetation and farmland systems harbour wildlife of conservation concern and other values. We propose widespread strategic revegetation—a type of restoration related to wildlife-friendly farming or land sharing with little competition for land—by planting woodland islets and hedgerows for ecological restoration in extensive agricultural landscapes. This approach allows wildlife enhancement, provision of a range of ecosystem services, maintenance of farmland production, and conservation of values linked to cultural landscapes. In contrast, vegetation restoration by land separation, namely secondary succession following farmland abandonment and tree planting, would provide all these benefits only at the landscape or regional scales as this restoration type is at the expense of field-level agricultural production. Furthermore, seed dispersal from revegetated elements favours passive restoration of nearby abandoned farmland and, consequently, rewilding. Revegetation of riparian systems and other actions that do not compete for land use such as introduction of bird perches, refuges for wildlife or creation of ponds would provide similar benefits. Revegetation of roadsides and roundabouts may support dispersal and spread of species but may function as ecological traps for wildlife. We provide a practioner’s perspective related to land-sharing restoration actions in central Spain. We conclude that practical restoration projects—particularly strategic revegetation- are essential if we want to halt biodiversity loss and encourage the return of wildlife in agricultural landscapes.
José María Rey Benayas, James M. Bullock

Open Access

8. Maintaining Disturbance-Dependent Habitats
Abstract
Natural disturbances, or the lack thereof, contributed to shape Earth’s landscapes and maintain its diversity of ecosystems. In particular, natural fire dynamics and herbivory by wild megafauna played an essential role in defining European landscapes in pre-agricultural times. The advent of agriculture and the development of complex societies exacerbated the decline of European megafauna, leading to local and global extinctions of many species, and substantial alterations of fire regimes. Those natural phenomena were over time gradually and steadily replaced by anthropogenic disturbances. Yet, for the first time since the Black Death epidemic, agricultural land-use is decreasing in Europe. Less productive marginal areas have been progressively abandoned as crop and livestock production has become concentrated on the most fertile and easier to cultivate land. With little or no substitute for the anthropogenic disturbances associated with these abandoned agricultural practices, there is growing concern that disturbance-dependent communities may disappear, along with their associated ecosystem services. Nonetheless, rewilding can give an opportunity to tackle the issue of farmland abandonment. This chapter first depicts the historical European landscapes and the role of two natural disturbances, herbivory and fire. The importance of disturbance-dependent habitats is then highlighted by drawing attention to the alpha and beta diversity that they sustain. Finally, the chapter investigates options for rewilding abandoned land to maintain disturbance-dependent and self-sustained habitats for which we suggest active restoration in the early stages of abandonment. This may be achieved via prescribed burning and support or introduction, when necessary, of populations of wild mammals.
Laetitia M. Navarro, Vânia Proença, Jed O. Kaplan, Henrique M. Pereira

Rewillding in Practice

Frontmatter

Open Access

9. Rewilding Europe: A New Strategy for an Old Continent
Abstract
The European landscape is changing and new opportunities for conservation are arising. The main driver of this change is an unprecedented shift in agricultural practices that started in the mid-twentieth century. As a result, shepherds and small-scale farmers release nearly 1 million ha of land from agriculture, each year. Although land abandonment is often seen as a major socio-economic problem, it could also be an opportunity for a new rural development based on nature and wild values. This idea can be further enhanced by the comeback of a number of iconic wildlife species, by an increased network of protected areas, by better legislation and enforcement, and a more favourable environment policy. Rewilding Europe responds to these major changes in the European landscape by ceasing this opportunity for both the European natural heritage and Europeans. The initiative aims to rewild 1 million ha of land by 2022, creating ten wildlife and wilderness areas all across Europe. Besides the ecological benefits of rewilding abandoned landscapes, wild values can create new opportunities for entrepreneurship in these areas, while a restored and preserved wildlife will attract many visitors to watch, enjoy and experience the wild. Ultimately, a large-scale shift in land use across Europe towards wilder nature and innovative ways to use this resource for employment and subsistence could be achieved, thus turning threats and problems into opportunities.
Wouter Helmer, Deli Saavedra, Magnus Sylvén, Frans Schepers

Open Access

10. Preparing a New Generation of Wilderness Entrepreneurs
Lessons from the Erasmus Intensive Programme ‘European Wilderness Entrepreneurship’ 2013
Abstract
This chapter discusses the role of education in the preparation of the next generation of entrepreneurs in nature conservation. Departing from the traditional conservation education, which emphasizes ecological management, the chapter is a plea for incorporating entrepreneurship in the curricula of educational programmes on rewilding ecosystems. An Erasmus Intensive Programme on European Wilderness Entrepreneurship is presented as a case study. A set of competences is defined and operationalized based on the evaluation of the first edition of the programme undertaken in Rewilding Europe’s pilot area in Western Iberia. Aspects of the learning strategies and learning environment are presented and reviewed. The conclusion of this chapter is that to learn wilderness entrepreneurship competences, an environment should be created in which students, teachers and stakeholder co-learn at the boundaries of their comfort zones.
Judith C. Jobse, Loes Witteveen, Judith Santegoets, Derk Jan Stobbelaar

Open Access

11. Towards a European Policy for Rewilding
Abstract
Millions of hectares of agricultural land could be released from human pressure within the next decades in Europe. Rewilding presents a great opportunity to restore the abandoned landscapes, along with the biodiversity and the supply of those ecosystem services that were until now restricted to the remaining few wild areas of the continent. As a result, rewilding is in a dire need of a policy framework in the European Union, to promote its implementation as a land management option, to evaluate its outcomes, and to share knowledge and good practices among stakeholders. In this chapter, we review the history of conservation policies and protected areas in the EU, the implementation of the Natura 2000 Network being one of the major milestones. We also discuss the role of conservation in sectoral activities such as agriculture. We present the growing importance given to wilderness areas and the inclusion of wilderness management into European policies. We then evaluate the contribution of wilderness and rewilding to the achievement of global and EU targets. Finally, recommendations are made to efficiently and adequately include rewilding into the European framework of conservation policies.
Laetitia M. Navarro, Henrique M. Pereira
Backmatter
Metadata
Title
Rewilding European Landscapes
Editors
Henrique M. Pereira
Laetitia M. Navarro
Copyright Year
2015
Electronic ISBN
978-3-319-12039-3
Print ISBN
978-3-319-12038-6
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-12039-3