I have just watched an interesting video from the US about creating bison preserve (an “American Serengeti”) by buying up ranch land, pulling down fences and creating a vast swathe of territory for bison to roam. The news triggered my to write this short post on restoring wilderness attributes in Europe.
There seem to be a fundamental difference between protecting open habitat types in the US and in Europe. What’s done in the US? The prairie (grassland) is recreated on spaces, which used to be prairie. What’s happening in Europe? ‘Natural’ grassland habitats are often created on areas, which used to be forest.
Most of the scientific articles agree that Europe was once covered by forest, from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The original forest covered probably around 80% of the continent. The open lands were cultivated by our ancestors. This cultivation was of course at that time very extensive! As the population started to grow in Europe, more land was needed for food production (including pastures). As the result of this process, over half of Europe’s original forest cover has disappeared. On average, the forest cover is 1/3 of the total land area (from 11% in Ireland to 72% in Finland).
Nowadays most of the agriculture land is intensified, food production is very efficient and due to economic reasons natural reforestation on marginal land started. But we are still very, very far away from the original forest cover.
However the natural reforestation is somewhat demonised in Europe. As species, which are dependent on open habitat types decline, some blame the increase of forest cover and want to keep former forest areas clean and open. Large herbivores are used as marketing tools to support this theory.
My suggestion is simple:
- preserve species dependent on open habitats through making agriculture on former open habitats more sustainable (extensive agriculture),
- re-introduce species dependent on open habitat types only on areas where science proves the historic natural existence of open habitat types, and
- let the forest to come back on former forest areas in order to support the sustainable comeback of forest dwelling species
The natural reforestation in Europe offers a unique opportunity to recreate wilderness attributes linked to forests. Don’t stop this process but let it happen!
by Zoltan Kun, Chairman