Mapping opportunities and challenges for rewilding in Europe

Silvia Ceausu, Max Hofmann, Laetitia M. Navarro, Steve Carver, Peter H. Verburg, Henrique M. Pereira

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Farmland abandonment takes place across the world due to socio-economic and ecological drivers. In Europe agricultural and environmental policies aim to prevent abandonment and halt ecological succession. Ecological rewilding has been recently proposed as an alternative strategy. We developed a framework to assess opportunities for rewilding across different dimensions of wilderness in Europe. We mapped artificial light, human accessibility based on transport infrastructure, proportion of harvested primary productivity (i.e., ecosystem productivity appropriated by humans through agriculture or forestry), and deviation from potential natural vegetation in areas projected to be abandoned by 2040. At the continental level, the levels of artificial light were low and the deviation from potential natural vegetation was high in areas of abandonment. The relative importance of wilderness metrics differed regionally and was strongly connected to local environmental and socio-economic contexts. Large areas of projected abandonment were often located in or around Natura 2000 sites. Based on these results, we argue that management should be tailored to restore the aspects of wilderness that are lacking in each region. There are many remaining challenges regarding biodiversity in Europe, but megafauna species are already recovering. To further potentiate large-scale rewilding, Natura 2000 management would need to incorporate rewilding approaches. Our framework can be applied to assessing rewilding opportunities and challenges in other world regions, and our results could guide redirection of subsidies to manage social-ecological systems.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1017-1027
    Number of pages11
    JournalConservation Biology
    Issue number4
    Early online date21 May 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015

    Bibliographical note

    Working title [?]: Framework shows potential for rewilding abandoned European farmland.


    • Biodiversity policy
    • Conservation management
    • Farmland abandonment
    • Land-use change
    • Natura 2000
    • Rewilding
    • Wilderness


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