Suston Magazine | The return of the desert
Recently, the UN called on its members to rewild an area the size of China during this decade. The possible? The Rewilding movement, which started in Holland in 2011, has many responses.
“We want to recreate a balance between predators and prey,” says Aaron Smith as he moves as if he is accustomed along the trails through the dry vegetation of the bush of Innes National Park. The national park covers approximately 100 square kilometers of the Yorke Peninsula in the state of South Australia.
As a park warden, Aaron Smith is part of a larger WWF project that began in 2019 to rewild the Yorke Peninsula with 27 endangered endemic animal species, while also expanding the area of the national park. .
Elsewhere in Australia, similar projects are underway by environmental organizations in cooperation with state governments. Among other things, Tasmanian devils were reintroduced to the mainland, where they became extinct about 3,000 years ago.
Work to reintroduce animal species to their original habitats is underway around the world. The movement has recently been aided by powerful political actors who want to protect immense natural spaces, both on land and at sea. Here, 2030 is supposed to be a milestone.
“30 by 30” – protect 1 billion hectares by 2030
On January 27, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order ordering that 30% of the country’s marine and aquatic areas be protected by 2030. Compared to today’s 12% and 26%, respectively, the increase is in significant effect. In May, it joined other G7 countries in a similar global “30 by 30” initiative. And on World Environment Day on June 5, the United Nations called on governments around the world to reclaim one billion hectares of land by 2030, an area the size of the United States. China.
In addition to functioning as carbon sinks in an increasingly warmer climate and extending a lifeline to rapidly declining global biodiversity, functioning ecosystems and their services generate enormous sums of money. The report “The United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030” states that if the world manages to restore a third of a billion hectares, it would already generate nine trillion dollars in ecosystem services while eliminating a substantial amount. of greenhouse gases from atmosphere. According to the report, “Restoring coastal and marine ecosystems helps protect and restore some of the richest biodiversity hotspots on the planet.”
However, the UN report goes on to implore that the world must do more than just plant more trees. The UN calls on all governments, businesses and residents of the world to restore nature in urban environments, to cultivate more sustainably, to restore savannas and other landscapes while protecting marine areas.
“The beauty of ecosystem restoration is that it can happen at any scale, where anyone can participate,” the report says.
Failure to act, on the other hand, is expensive. Estimates show that it will cost global economies $ 10 trillion in broken ecosystem services by 2050 if we continue to act like nothing has happened.
Take charge of rewilding
However, a seasoned environmental movement that looks at decades of major unfulfilled climate commitments cannot back down just yet. Until the governments of the world decide to turn words into action, it is largely up to organizations and individuals to initiate rewilding projects. Many philanthropists are already spending their money to buy land – to rewild or preserve unspoiled areas – free from human interference. One of them is Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of clothing brand Patagonia, who now runs Tompkins Conservation – an organization that purchases land in the Patagonia region of South America and Chile.
His organization has purchased 57,000 square kilometers of wilderness, the equivalent of Croatia’s land area, from Chile over the past 27 years to leave the wilderness as wilderness.
The same goes for the Dutch foundation Rewilding Europe, founded by four nature lovers in 2011 and has since grown into an international movement. For the moment, the Foundation is working on eight major European rewilding projects. This includes Rewilding Lapland in northern Scandinavia, with the aim of putting Europe’s largest unbroken wilderness on the map and expanding ecotourism. Here the visitor can experience species such as the brown bear and wolverine up close, while the project simultaneously extends the protection of endangered species and virgin forest.
Another successful project supported by Rewilding Europe is the reintroduction of the European bison, in the Southern Carpathians of Romania. Previously endangered, the continent’s largest mammal is no longer considered endangered in Europe, and it is considered important for biodiversity because the species prevents the landscape from proliferating.
The return of the desert
The Côa Valley in northeastern Portugal is another rapidly changing landscape. It is a sparsely populated rural area which, as in much of the world, experiences significant emigration. The landscape seems deserted with its brick houses and dilapidated walls. Wild olive groves, almond trees and wild vines climb the cliffs.
Here, conservationists recreate environments that existed during the Pleistocene era, when herds of herbivores such as mammoths, giant deer, aurochs, and wild horses shaped the landscape by keeping it open. Garrano horses and Maronesa cattle have replaced the original species and now keep the grasslands open. The region attracts tourists, who come for a European jeep safari to see the large herbivores. The Côa Valley project demonstrates that rewilding can also raise funds through tourism.
Another successful rewilding project is Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, which, unlike the Amazon, is increasing in size. In two decades, a tropical forest the size of the Netherlands has reclaimed its ancient lands along the Atlantic Ocean, along with a range of endangered animal species such as the lion tamarin.
This was achieved through the hard work of several environmental organizations who, along with the local population, planted native tree seedlings. At the same time, 70% of people in Brazil live where forests used to grow, in mega-cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so this job is not entirely straightforward. Nevertheless, the goal of environmental organizations is to continue to recreate the Atlantic rainforest by the equivalent of about three more Netherlands by 2050.
Tim Christophersen, the UN Decade of Rewilding coordinator, believes the goal of rewilding an area the size of China in the 2020s is both educational and realistic.
“For a lot of people, I think restoring a billion hectares is a bit abstract,” he recently told The Guardian, adding:
“We have space programs and nuclear weapons. It’s possible.”
About the rewilding movement
The Rewilding movement started in the Netherlands in 2011 and now operates across the world. It is a way of allowing nature to reclaim old territories or to repair damaged ecosystems. It can be about reintroducing an animal or plant species that lived there before, or sometimes just letting nature take care of itself.