As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe

As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
An abandoned village in the Huesca Pyrenees has undergone ‘passive rewilding’. Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Rewilding is often thought of as a fantastical vision of the future. One day we might share the landscape with wolves and bears, but in the present day, it seems unlikely. For many people in Europe though, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for at least the past decade.

Rewilding means bringing back the species and habitats which have disappeared from a region. Initially, conservationists imagined creating vast nature reserves which could be connected by “wildlife corridors” of forest, so that carnivores such as lynx could be reintroduced and thrive in a landscape that’s been heavily altered by humans.

But that idea is changing. The current emphasis goes beyond just restoring habitats for reintroduced species and considers ecosystems as a whole, and how they can be helped to recover. Better yet, much of this involves little human effort and could have positive consequences for society and ecosystems.

As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
The difference between the restored (yellow pyramid) and the degraded ecosystem (orange pyramid) indicates the effects of rewilding on an ecosystem. Rewilding can help shift social expectations (dashed lines) toward the ecological potential (orange arrows). Perino et al. 2019. Author provided

From agricultural land to forest

The cheapest and most effective way to rewild a landscape is to eliminate or reduce as much as possible the causes that have contributed to degrade it. For the last 12,000 years in Europe, these causes have largely involved agriculture and grazing livestock which have destroyed natural vegetation, especially forests, grasslands and wetlands, and replaced them with cropland and pastures.

But as people have migrated from rural areas to cities, large areas of farmland – especially isolated patches in remote areas – have returned to nature. This has been happening in Europe since the second half of the 20th century.

As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
Land cover of Europe in 1900. Department of Geoinformation Science and Remote Sensing, Wageningen University, Netherlands. As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
Land cover of Europe in 2010. Department of Geoinformation Science and Remote Sensing, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

As crops and pastures are abandoned, shrubland and forests naturally regenerate. Despite 40% of the world’s land being cultivated or grazed permanently by domestic herbivores, there has been a big increase in the area occupied by forests in recent decades, explained mainly by these habitats naturally regenerating as humans have left.

Forests returned at a rate of 2.2m hectares per year between 2010-2015 alone. Spain, for example, has tripled its forest area since 1900 – increasing from 8% to 25% of its territory. The country gained 96,000 hectares of forest every year from 2000-2015.

As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
Natural regeneration of Mediterranean woodland in La Mancha, central Spain, due to the abandonment of fields and extensive farming. Author provided

All this new habitat has been recolonised by wildlife. Populations of large carnivores such as the brown bear, the wolf, the Eurasian lynx and the wolverine have all increased in Europe. Populations of large and medium-sized herbivores, such as the red deer, the wild boar, the roe deer and the Iberian ibex, have also increased. Other species, such as the Iberian lynx and the European bison, have been reintroduced on purpose.

Restore as much as possible

The same strategies cannot be generalised everywhere, nor should the aim always be to recover pristine ecosystems, which is often simply impossible in today’s world.

The goal in most cases should be to improve the ecological condition of landscapes as much as possible and ensure they can serve multiple functions for people and wildlife. Ecological restoration should be flexible and pragmatic without losing awareness of what the natural ecosystem originally looked like, so as to regain the highest possible levels of biodiversity.

As Farmland and Villages Are Abandoned, Forests, Wolves and Bears Are Returning To Europe
Small pond created in an olive grove in Noves in Toledo, Spain. The pond has been colonised by multiple aquatic species. Author provided

In Europe, around 30% of the land is cultivated for crops and another 15% is covered by pastures or heath and moorland. Around 10% of the territory is made up of towns, cities and roads. More wilderness could be encouraged in all these environments, which could allow agriculture and livestock production or residential areas and industry to coexist with higher levels of biodiversity.

Large parts of Europe have been passively rewilding for decades as people have moved out of rural areas. Reintroducing species more widely can only be done with the approval of the different people likely to be affected. Due to the low densities of people in the remote fringes of Europe’s rural areas, they remain the best options for places to reintroduce wild herbivores and carnivores which would restore natural processes thanks to their key role in food webs.The Conversation

About the Author

José M. Rey Benayas, Catedrático de Ecología, Universidad de Alcalá

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

by Mark W. Moffett
0465055680If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…
How To Make Floating Wind Farms The Future Of Green Electricity
How To Make Floating Wind Farms The Future Of Green Electricity
by Susan Gourvenec
Since 2010, wind energy has seen sustained growth worldwide, with the amount of energy generated by offshore wind…
What If We Took All Farm Animals Off The Land And Planted Crops And Trees Instead?
What If We Took All Farm Animals Off The Land And Planted Crops And Trees Instead?
by Sebastian Leuzinger
I would like to know how much difference we could make to our commitment under the Paris Agreement and our total…
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
How Banks Are Trying To Capture The Green Transition
How Banks Are Trying To Capture The Green Transition
by Tomaso Ferrand,and Daniel Tischer
Private sector banks in the UK should have a central role in financing climate action and supporting a just transition…
To Build A Better Canada After COVID-19 Launch A Fossil-free Future
To Build A Better World After COVID-19 Launch A Fossil-Free Future
by Kyla Tienhaara et al
Demand for fossil fuels collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdown measures were introduced. In the second…