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Towards a European Policy for Rewilding

Laetitia M. Navarro and Henrique M. Pereira

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.

Keywords Nationally Designated Protected Areas Natura 2000 High Nature Value Farmland Agri-Environmental Schemes Wilderness Conservation targets Land management policies

Introduction: A Historical Perspective

Though evidence of land conservation goes back several thousands of years in Europe, the concept of protected areas was first implemented across the continent by the fifteenth century, when poaching and logging were banned from royal hunting forests by the nobility in order to protect the game (Jones-Walters and Čivić 2013; Possingham et al. 2006; Ramão et al. 2012). Those protected areas (PAs) were designed to preserve a given resource (e.g. timber or game), rather than to preserve nature in general. It was not until the nineteenth century that landscapes would be preserved for their “natural beauty”, following a movement initiated in Germany to preserve Naturedenkmal, i.e. nature monuments (Jones-Walters and Čivić 2013). At the same time, the first “National Parks” (NP) were designated in the USA, in Yosemite NP, in 1864, then Yellowstone NP, in 1872 (Possingham et al. 2006), with the aim of preserving nature for recreational, cultural and ethical reasons (BorriniFeyerabend et al. 2013). In 1909 the first European park was created in Sweden (Pinto and Partidário 2012; Ramão et al. 2012). Yet, it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that the official definition of “National Parks” was given by the IUCN as the first resolution of its 10th assembly (IUCN 1969).

The 1970s later mark a change in the way Protected Areas were managed in Europe, shifting from strict protection to the acknowledgment of the role and needs of local communities and other stakeholders, and their integration in the management of the landscape (Jones-Walters and Čivić 2013; Ramão et al. 2012). In 1971, the UNESCO launched the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, leading to the concept of Biospheres Reserves in 1974 (Coetzer et al. 2014). It was followed, 20 years later, by the establishment of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (UNESCO 1996), with a particular focus on the involvement of local communities, and their sustainable use of the resources present within the area. 1971 is also the year of the signature of the Ramsar Convention, for the global cooperation and conservation of wetland habitats (Possingham et al. 2006). In 1972, the UNESCO also signed the “Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” (World Heritage Centre 2013). The first EU Natural Heritage Sites were established in 1979, in Croatia (Plitvice Lakes National Park) and in Poland (Białowieża Forest). In 2013, the EU28 counted 27 “natural” and 6 “mixed” Heritage sites (whc. More recently, wilderness areas have been given more importance in the EU, including with the acknowledgment of their role in biodiversity conservation (European Parliament 2009), while the abandonment of remote agricultural areas can be seen as an opportunity to increase the area of wild land via rewilding (see Chap. 1).

In this chapter, we first present the status and trends of current biodiversity conservation in the European Union, via the national designation of Protected Areas, the Natura 2000 network, and agri-environmental schemes. We then discuss the recent integration of wilderness in the EU conservation framework, along with the potential of rewilding abandoned farmland. We evaluate rewilding and wilderness conservation in regards to the achievement of the global and European conservation targets set for 2020. This chapter only discusses continental conservation and marine protected areas were removed from the analysis.

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