COS 137-4 - Rewilding abandoned landscapes in Europe

Friday, August 12, 2011: 9:00 AM
18A, Austin Convention Center
Laetitia M. Navarro and Henrique M. Pereira, Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciencias da Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal

For millennia, mankind has shaped the landscapes that it occupies, particularly through agriculture. In Europe, the age-old interaction between humans and their habitat shaped the cultural heritage and the perceptions of nature. Yet, since the mid 20th century, European farmland is being abandoned, especially in remote and mountain areas. The loss of the bucolic European landscapes and the resulting opportunities for rewilding is generating controversy for both the scientific community and the public. As a result, rewilding, as an alternative to abandonment, is seldom considered. Here we attempt to provide an objective review of the consequences of farmland on biodiversity. In particular, we ask to what extent farmland abandonment can be considered as an opportunity for rewilding in a European context. We first studied the perceptions of both traditional agriculture and wilderness and how those perceptions can influence land management policies. We then reviewed past, present and future trends of agriculture and the resulting land-uses in order to understand how these impact European landscapes and biodiversity. Finally, we assessed the value and sustainability of rewilding for human society from both an economy and ecosystem services perspective.


Our review shows the evolution of European agriculture and its impact on both the landscape and the way they are perceived. We also illustrate the extent of past abandonment, its inexorability and the projections for the upcoming decades. It appears that several species, amongst which some large mammals, could benefit from land abandonment and forest regeneration. Moreover, the “wild” landscapes will provide several ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil recovery and recreation. Rewilding is also an interesting economic option especially in comparison to the subsidies dedicated to maintain populations in remote areas by the European Union. We thus believe that rewilding should be considered as a sustainable landscape management option that will benefit several species, including humans.

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