Rewilding: Restoring Ecosystem & Community

The jaguar Isis in her pre-release pen; she is part of a rewilding project in Iberá National Park in Argentina.

Rewilding, once a novelty idea, has been scaling and we are gratified to see Argentina’s progress:

‘Fixing the Damage We’ve Done’: Rewilding Jaguars in Argentina

Bringing back the top predator to Argentina’s wetlands could restore the health of an entire ecosystem. But inducing five felines with troubled pasts to hunt, and mate, is not easy.

IBERÁ NATIONAL PARK, Argentina — They had a big job to do, drafted as the first few jaguars to be reintroduced to Argentina’s wetlands after more than seven decades of absence.

Capybaras, a giant rodent, at the park.

But they were a troubled bunch.

Tobuna came from an Argentine zoo and was fat and lethargic, in the twilight of her reproductive life. Her daughter, Tania, had been hidden from view in the same zoo because a tiger had mauled one of her legs as a cub. Continue reading

Rewilding, A Good Idea Scaling

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Hugh Somerleyton, right, and Argus Hardy on the Somerleyton estate in Suffolk. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

This idea has caught on, spreading like a good alternative to wildfire:

Farmers hatch plan to return area the size of Dorset to wild nature

WildEast aims to convince farmers, councils and others across East Anglia to pledge land to wildlife

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View over the Somerleyton estate. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

Returning an area the size of Dorset to wild nature, reintroducing extinct lynx, pelicans and beavers and championing regenerative farming to restore soil health are the radical aims of a new charitable foundation.

But the most revolutionary feature of WildEast may be that it is founded by three farmers in the most intensively farmed region of Britain.

Hugh Somerleyton, Argus Hardy and Olly Birkbeck, who own more than 3,200 hectares (8,000 acres) on their family farms in Suffolk and Norfolk, are seeking to persuade farmers and also councils, businesses, schools and ordinary people across East Anglia to pledge a fifth of their land to wildlife. Continue reading

Rewilding & The Wilder Blean Project

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Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones

Rewilding started featuring in our pages with a bison story in 2013, and one year later a book review made the concept clearer. Since then dozens of related stories have fueled our imaginations, and understanding of how this makes sense.

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Blean woods, near Canterbury. The Wilder Blean project aims to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands. Photograph: Ray Lewis/Kent Wildlife Trust

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor, Damian Carrington, for bringing this new initiative to our attention:

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Release of a small herd of endangered animals in Kent is planned for spring 2022

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A herd of wild bison is seen in the Białowieża forest, Poland. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Wild bison are to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years, with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022.

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe. Continue reading

Alladale’s Entrepreneurial Conservation Accomplishments

Alladale first came to my attention in 2017, several years after I had started reading about rewilding. It came to my attention because of an introduction, through a mutual friend, to the founder of Alladale. I recall finding his description of what he was doing as identical to our own work in entrepreneurial conservation. I cannot recall why we have only two prior links to Alladale in our pages, but here is one more, in the form of a 30 minute podcast and its descriptor page:

How to bring back a forest, and a Scotland of the past, one tree at a time

Listen to the latest episode of THE WILD with Chris Morgan!

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Scottish cow at the Alladale Wilderness Reserve.

The wind is really ripping through this valley in the remote Scottish Highlands as I’m zipping along in an ATV. I’m with highlander Innes MacNeil. He’s showing me a few remaining big old trees in the area.

The trees appear like something from a Tolkien novel — remnants of a forgotten time, like a magical connection to the past. There used to be a lot more trees like these across the Highlands. These are anywhere from 250-400 years old — and many are too old to reproduce.

“So these, we would describe them as granny pines,” MacNeil says. “The ones down here in front of us are about 250 to 300 years old, just sat in the bottom of the glen.” Continue reading

Restorative Stories Are Welcome Here

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Tamara and Steve Davey’s woodland, on the fringes of Dartmoor national park. Photograph: Courtesy of Woodland Wildlife

Thanks to the Guardian for this story about the contentments of ecosystem restoration:

‘It’s good for the soul’: the mini rewilders restoring UK woodland

By buying and managing small wooded plots, enthusiasts are bringing biodiversity back to the countryside

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Woodland owners Steve and Tamara Davey. Photograph: Patrick Greenfield/The Guardian

Tamara and Steve Davey cannot help but grin at the suggestion they are “miniature rewilders”. Standing proudly in the weak sunlight on the fringes of Dartmoor national park, the full-time grandmother and taxi company owner delight in their eight-acre woodland.

Robins, tits and siskins chortle in the trees. Nightjars are welcome visitors in the summer. Seven bat species have been recorded in their small plot. There’s a badger’s sett somewhere in the hillside scrub. And the couple feel at peace.

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 The Daveys, like many woodland owners, are replacing fast-growing conifer trees with diverse native species to support wildlife. Photograph: Courtesy of Woodland Wildlife

“It’s good for the soul,” says Tamara, speaking before the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Steve agrees. “If we can make a difference and help what’s here, I’ll be happy.” Continue reading

Rewilding Considered, And Reconsidered

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The Scots pines near Glenfeshie. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Rewilding continues to intrigue me, as it has since my first introduction to the concept and the practice. Thanks to Christopher de Bellaigue for this long-read addition to the intrigue:

The end of farming?

For decades, the way we farm has been degrading land and destroying wildlife. Now there’s a revolution coming – but is it going to create more problems than it solves?

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John Cherry of Weston Park Farms inspects and smells the soil in one of his fields. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

In the last years of the 20th century, Glenfeshie, a 17,000-hectare estate in the Scottish Highlands, was in steep decline. Decades of overgrazing by deer had reduced its hillsides to clipped lifelessness. Denied the protection afforded by tree roots, the banks of the River Feshie were losing soil each time it flooded, the water depositing silt downstream. Those few Scots pines that had survived the browsing of the deer were nearing the end of their lives; soon there would be no seed source for the next generation. Continue reading

Eyes On Prize, Do Not Get Numbed

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An elephant herd in Kenya. PIETER RAS / 500PX / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360 for the reminder that, as trouble rumbles, there is more need than ever for keeping our eyes on the prize:

Psychic Numbing: Keeping Hope Alive in a World of Extinctions

The litany of lost species can be overwhelming, leading to what has been called “psychic numbing.” But as the recovery of species from bald eagles to humpback whales shows, our actions do matter in saving species and the aliveness and beauty they bring to the world. Continue reading

Big Money, Big Park, Big Questions

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American Prairie Reserve’s Patchwork Of Properties
American Prairie Reserve’s purchased and leased land is shown in green with white borders adjacent to Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these parcels complete a network of land larger than Yellowstone National Park, the second-largest national park in the Lower 48 states. Source: American Prairie Reserve, Montana State Library, U.S. Geological Survey 1 Arc-Second SRTM, Natural Earth, Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service
Credit: Daniel Wood/NPR

Hats off to Sean Gerrity, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who have kept the native prairie grasses intact in recent generation, and to the native communities who stewarded these lands long before all this became a story. Our thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for sharing the story:

Big Money Is Building A New Kind Of National Park In The Great Plains

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Bison walk on American Prairie Reserve land. The organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Claire Harbage/NPR

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

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Sean Gerrity founded the American Prairie Reserve more than 18 years ago after he moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple.
Claire Harbage/NPR

But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more.

“I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” says ranch owner Conni French. “For them to be successful in their goals, we can’t be here, and that’s not OK with us.”

She isn’t alone. Driving around, you see signs everywhere that say, “Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve.”

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A “Save the Cowboy” sign is posted along a fence. The “Little Rockies” on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are seen in the distance. Claire Harbage/NPR

But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Continue reading

Rewilding’s Latest Live Case Study

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European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the UK in the Middle Ages, will share a paddock with wolves, lynxes and wolverines. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Thanks to Steven Morris (yet again) for another excellent nature story in the Guardian:

Bears and wolves to coexist in UK woods for first time in 1,000 years

Bear Wood near Bristol aims to spark debate about rewilding of ancient woodlands

For the first time in more than 1,000 years native bears and wolves are coming snout to muzzle with each other among towering oaks and ashes in a slice of British woodland.

European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the British wilds in medieval times, and grey wolves – which roamed free until the 17th century – are to coexist in a project called Bear Wood near Bristol.

The idea of the scheme – which is part of Bristol Zoological Society’s Wild Place Project – is to give visitors a glimpse into life in the woods and forests that used to cover much of the UK.

It is also intended to initiate a debate about rewilding schemes, which could reintroduce animals such as lynxes – and perhaps wolves and bears. Continue reading

Rewilding in an Unexpected Landscape

Elk are the most common mammals at the reserve. Photograph: Valery Yurko

Most examples of rewilding are defined as human intervention to return wildlife back into habitats where they’ve long disappeared. Thanks to the Guardian for this highly unusual one where the human population are the ones who have left – due to bizarre circumstances, to be sure – and the wildlife have slowly returned to reclaim the habitats left behind.

It’s heartening to believe that the animals may illustrate Nature’s power to heal where human’s have so severely faltered.

Chernobyl: the wildlife haven created when people left

Rare and endangered animals have thrived in the Chernobyl disaster zone since it was evacuated in 1986, as a new wildlife tour in southern Belarus shows

It is 5.30am in southern Belarus. A pink moon hangs over flat fields tinged with frost, and as we arrive at the checkpoint on the edge of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, five hours’ drive south of the capital, Minsk, a dawn chorus of cranes and hoopoes is in full swing.

This may seem an unlikely place to come wildlife watching, but I’m here with the first eco-tour of the Palieski state radioecological reserve (as the Belarusian section of the zone is called).

It was in April 1986 that probably the world’s worst nuclear accident happened, just over the border in northern Ukraine – a dramatisation of the disaster is currently showing on Sky Atlantic. Chernobyl town was evacuated and the exclusion zone today covers 2,600 sq km in Ukraine and 2,100 sq km in Belarus.

Ukraine turned its part of the zone into a tourist attraction several years ago – 50,000 people visited the nuclear reactor and ghost town of Pripyat last year, and it has even hosted a rave. But Belarus didn’t open its Palieski reserve to visitors until last December.

The Ukrainian site is now popular for its eerie ghost town and reactor ruins, but on this side of the border it’s all about the wilderness, and our tour will be a nature-watching trip like no other. The reserve claims to be Europe’s largest experiment in rewilding, and the unlikely beneficiaries of nuclear disaster have been the wolves, bison and bears that now roam the depopulated landscape, and the 231 (of the country’s 334) bird species that can also be found here. Continue reading

Horses Reversing Domestication

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The group of 23 wild Konik horses which arrived in the Ukrainian village of Orlovka on March 26 represents the first translocation of such animals into the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Thanks, as always, to our friends at Rewilding Europe for another story about an animal we always think of as one of the oldest examples of domestication, and its role in rewilding:

Natural grazing in the Ukrainian Danube Delta boosted by arrival of Konik horses

Representing the first ever translocation of Konik horses into the Danube Delta, the shipment of 23 animals travelled by road from Latvia to the Ukrainian village of Orlovka. By helping to create and maintain mosaic landscapes, their grazing will help to boost biodiversity in the Danube Delta rewilding area.

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The sturdy Koniks, which lived over 20 years in the wild in Latvia, are well-suited to life in the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Two herds of wild Konik horses will soon be roaming the landscapes of the Ukrainian Danube Delta, boosting the area’s biodiversity through their natural grazing. A shipment of 23 horses (made up of two family groups) arrived in the small delta village of Orlovka on March 26, having made the long road journey from Latvia. Despite the lengthy trip of around 1800 kilometres, which took nearly two days and two nights, all of the animals were pronounced fit and well on arrival by a veterinarian. Continue reading

Kittens Born At Alladale Wilderness Reserve

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Photographs © Innes MacNeill

Thanks to our friends at Alladale for sharing this with us yesterday. (to not disturb the kittens at this time, these photos by Innes MacNeill are from an earlier litter and further content will follow will about the new ones, so we recommend you subscribe here to their newsletter):

We have some wonderful news to share with you.

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Photographs © Innes MacNeill

Conservation efforts for the critically endangered Scottish wildcat have had another boost as Alladale Wilderness Reserve welcomes the arrival of two kittens. These kittens, who are part of the captive breeding programme and whose parents were given the go-ahead for breeding following genetic testing by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), have the potential to play a key role in the long-term conservation of this near-extinct native species.

Working together with RZSS, Scottish Wildcat Action and other wildlife conservation organisations across Scotland, Alladale Wilderness Reserve and The European Nature Trust (TENT) are supporting the development of effective, long term plans focused on wildcat recovery through reintroductions. This work follows other successful models of endangered cat conservation, like that of the Iberian lynx in Spain and Portugal whose population has been saved in recent years following numerous reintroductions. Continue reading

Rewilding Croatia’s Velebit Mountains

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Davor Krmpotić
Team leader of Velebit Mountains

VelebitMap.jpgCroatia, playing in its first World Cup final today, makes this rewilding story from the Velebit Mountains, and interview with its team leader, timely:

This dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean. A region where wild nature is really coming back.

Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx…

Velebit hosts a diversity of habitats

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Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems and alpine grasslands at higher altitudes. Outside protected areas in the south and east there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands. Apart from its fantastic wildlife, Velebit is also a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Rewilding The Farm, An English Experiment In Entrepreneurial Conservation

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Starting in May, Amie and I have been living on a dairy farm in the mountains on the northern side of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. We will be here until at least the end of July, brainstorming about the dairy’s future. There is already much to say about that, but we will share that soon enough. For today, just a shout out to fellow brainstormers across the Atlantic. When we first learned of Paul Lister’s initiative, it sounded like a far-fetched experiment. Now we see another experiment further south on the same island:

The magical wilderness farm: raising cows among the weeds at Knepp

You can’t make money from letting cows run wild, right? When Patrick Barkham got access to the sums at a pioneering Sussex farm, he was in for a surprise.

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Wild ponies at dusk. Photograph: Anthony Cullen for the Guardian

Orange tip butterflies jink over grassland and a buzzard mews high on a thermal. Blackthorns burst with bridal white blossom and sallow leaves of peppermint green unfurl. The exhilaration in this corner of West Sussex is not, however, simply the thrilling explosion of spring. The land is bursting with an unusual abundance of life; rampant weeds and wild flowers, insects, birdsong, ancient trees and enormous hedgerows, billowing into fields of hawthorn. And some of the conventional words from three millennia of farming – ‘hedgerow’, ‘field’ and ‘weed’ – no longer seem to apply in a landscape which is utterly alien to anyone raised in an intensively farmed environment. Continue reading

Alladale & Apex Wildlife

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Eurasian grey wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, Scotland.
Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Kevin McKenna and the Guardian for this profile of an entrepreneurial conservation project that is quite in the spirit of our work over the last two decades. We salute Paul Lister and his team for this wonder:

One man’s plan to let wolves roam free in the Highlands

The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve

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The Alladale estate. Photograph: Alamy

The echoes of Scotland’s predator prince faded into silence three centuries ago. The wolf was once lord of these Sutherland slopes and the forest floors beneath and now a voice in the wilderness is calling him home.

Paul Lister acquired the Alladale estate, 50 miles north of Inverness, in 2003 and immediately set about creating a wilderness reserve according to his perception of what these wild and beautiful places ought to look like. He can’t imagine them without the packs of wolves that once roamed free here.

But his views are considered eccentric by ramblers and conservationists, who view them as a rich man’s caprice, centring their objections on his plans to fence off the vast reserve. Continue reading

Rewilding In New Jersey

It has been some time since we featured a story on rewilding, which occasionally involves iconic urban areas. New Jersey may not sound iconic, but it is the home to one of the masters of long form so we are happy to share this late great masterpiece of his:

Direct Eye Contact

The most sophisticated, most urban, most reproductively fruitful of bears.

Improbably, I developed a yearning, almost from the get-go, to see a bear someday in the meadow. While I flossed in the morning, looking north through an upstairs bathroom window, I hoped to see a bear come out of the trees. If this seems quixotic, it was. This was four miles from the campus of Princeton University, around which on all sides was what New Yorkers were calling a bedroom community. Deer were present in large familial groups, as they still are in even larger families. They don’t give a damn about much of anything, and when I walk down the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper I all but have to push them out of the way. Beforehand, of course, I have been upstairs flossing, looking down the meadow. No bears. Continue reading

Rewilding Minelands

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A contractor for Green Forests Work plants native hardwood and evergreen seedlings on a reclaimed mine site in Dorton, Kentucky. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Thanks to Yale 360 for this story about Green Forests Work, in a part of North America that is often considered lost, from an ecological perspective:

Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country

Previous efforts to restore former coal mine sites in Appalachia have left behind vast swaths of unproductive land. Now, a group of nonprofits and scientists are working to restore native trees to the region — even if it means starting the reclamation process from scratch.

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Volunteers fan out over a recently bulldozed plot on Cheat Mountain to plant red spruce and other native seedlings. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Near the top of Cheat Mountain in West Virginia, bulldozer operator Bill Moore gazes down a steep slope littered with toppled conifers. Tangled roots and angled boulders protrude from the slate-colored soil, and the earth is crisscrossed with deep gouges.

“Anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” Moore says, “if I did what I did here, I’d be fired.” Continue reading

Rewilding Europe, Alive & Well

 

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Salviamo L’Orso is committed to conserving the critically endangered Marsican brown bear (pictured here in its central Apennines habitat), and has already won many grants for its grassroots projects. Bruno D’Amicis / Rewilding Europe

It has been some time since we regularly featured news on the topic of rewilding. This announcement is as good a reason as any to revisit rewilding:

A Salviamo l’Orso project titled “Let’s take action for the Bear” was approved for funding by members of EOCA in early November, together with four other proposals from around the world.

With only 50 to 60 individuals remaining, all living in a relatively small area of the Central Apennines, the endemic Marsican brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) is today critically endangered. The Salviamo l’Orso project, which comprises four conservation activities, will enhance the habitat of these magnificent animals and hopefully help them to expand their home range. Continue reading

Bison Awareness In Europe

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European bison near the town of Bad Berleburg, Germany, in 2013. Credit Marius Becker/Picture Alliance, via Associated Press

Bison in Europe have not been on our agenda for a while, though rewilding in Europe remains a topic we monitor and share here with regularity. Progress seemed more the rule than the exception; so this recent story from Germany takes us by complete surprise:

Last week, a rare wild bison was spotted wandering alone near the town of Lebus in eastern Germany. A local official, alarmed that the animal could be dangerous, ordered hunters to shoot it and one of them did, using a rifle to kill an animal that had not freely roamed Germany for several hundred years, conservationists say.

The killing of the mature male European bison on Sept. 14, which was first reported by local news outlets, set off an outcry among conservationists, who have worked to protect the species and increase its population. The World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany has begun a lawsuit against the local official who gave the order, Heiko Friedemann, setting off a state investigation before it goes to court. Continue reading