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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Croatia, 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
How would you characterise your rewilding area?
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
Intelligence 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:
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
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:
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.
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
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:
The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve
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
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:
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
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:
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.
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
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 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
Thanks to Ted Williams at Cool Green Science for this story:
Stunned but delighted is how Dr. Robert McDowell, Director of Wildlife at the University of Connecticut, sounded when I arrived at his office to learn about New England cottontail rabbits.
Finally someone other than himself was interested in these vanishing natives. We pored over skulls and skins and vainly patrolled early successional woods for live specimens. McDowell seethed about the mindset of state fish and game bureaucrats: we can’t waste time on a few native rabbits when we have so many look-a-like non-natives and when license buyers want more pheasants, ducks and deer. Continue reading
Thanks again to one of our most reliable sources for the summary of conservation-oriented science, and specifically to Brandon Keim for this one:
Even in one of the most densely urbanized places on Earth, wildness and natural abundance may yet flourish again, sustained by both neglect and stewardship. Continue reading
Rewilding is a topic I started linking to as a matter of solidarity. While based in south India, I had plenty of exposure to residual evidence of the complicated–sometimes resplendently beautiful and other times brutally tragic–relationship between mankind and wild animals as played out over millennia, and still evolving. So I have kept an eye open for these stories, and have posted so many times on the topic that it might give the impression that it is a thing. As if it is happening more or better than it is really happening. But it is happening so I will keep the links coming.
Now I am in Belize most of the year, where the man-cat relationship is also millennia old, and as constant challenge as ever. But I am seeing it from well within the confines of Chan Chich Lodge and its surrounding hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy cat habitat. I know there are big cats in the USA, but not enough. That is why this story is a thrill. Dexter Filkins, never yet cited in these pages but whose reporting I depend on for other kinds of stories, was not a byline I expected to see on this story, but thanks to him for it:
For years, the Florida panther, a majestic creature that lurks in and around the forests of the ovbnm,./, has teetered on the edge of permanent disappearance. Closely related to the mountain lion, the panther once roamed across much of the South, but the ever-advancing modern world pushed it into a tiny corner of Southwest Florida. By the late nineteen-seventies, fewer than thirty survived.
Since then, the panther has been coming back, helped by a government- and privately backed expansion of its habitat. Florida panthers are now thought to number around two hundred. Indeed, there are so many big cats in the Everglades that they are venturing out in search of new territory. Continue reading
Thanks to Anthropocene:
We would much rather that original nature was protected in its original state, but that does not keep us from celebrating the various efforts we see to reintroduce species, especially when they show signs of success as in this case from South Carolina, USA:
For the first time since the Upstate was Cherokee territory, a wild elk has been seen roaming the woodlands of South Carolina. Continue reading
I admit to being partial to the idea of rewilding, as I have come to know about it, which I admit is limited; but with our bias for restoration of wildlife habitat clearly stated I find this story worth sharing:
THRELKELD, England — It was to have been a grand gesture, a deal that would transfer a mountain in the fabled English Lake District from the landed gentry to those who roam its heights, reversing a centuries-old pattern of ownership by the upper-crust few. Continue reading
Although he may not use the term, George Monbiot believes in biophilia. His devotion to the concept of rewilding is evident in both his actions and his words, and his expressive writing about nature’s resilience and the richness of “ecological interactions” prove the point. His description of a recent trip to the Scottish highlands exemplifies both the draw of nature and his response to it:
As I came over a low ridge, I noticed a disturbance in the water below me, a few metres from the shore. I dropped into the heather and watched. A moment later, two small heads broke from the sea, then the creatures arced over and disappeared again.
After another moment, the larger one – the dog otter – scrambled out of the water with something thrashing in its mouth. He dropped it on to the rocks, gripped it again, then chewed it up. Then the bitch emerged from the sea beside him, also carrying something, that she dispatched just as quickly. They plunged in again, and I watched the trails of bubbles they made as they rummaged round the roots of the kelp that filled the shallow bay. Continue reading