Today, global warming is increasingly affecting people and nature across the world. Rewilding is a great way of enhancing the climate change resilience of landscapes and communities.
The rapidly changing climate that the world is now experiencing is intimately connected with the health and functioning of wild nature. Today, ecosystems are increasingly being impacted by changes in average temperature, shifts in seasons, and a growing number of extreme weather events – as well as other associated trends, such as increasing levels of ocean acidification and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Climate change also interacts with other pressures on ecosystems, such as degradation, defaunation, and fragmentation.
Climate change affects the wildlife within ecosystems in myriad ways. It may force species to migrate to higher latitudes or higher elevations where temperatures are more conducive to their survival (although often there is nowhere left for species to move to). As sea levels rise, saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats may lead to the migration or mortality of important species, thereby disrupting entire food webs. It may enable invasive plant and animal species to move into completely new areas, outcompeting naturally resident flora and fauna. In short, global warming is a pervasive and growing threat to nature and, by extension, to humanity.
But if this is the bad news, then the recovery of nature offers significant hope for the future. It has already been demonstrated that rewilding at scale is an immediate, practical and cost-effective solution for mitigating global warming, enhancing the ability of ecosystems to capture and store millions of tonnes of atmospheric carbon. But more than this, rewilding can also help to boost climate resilience, enabling communities – both ecological and human – to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change.
Rewilding works at nature’s scale – and that includes timescales. Long-term thinking ensures rewilding efforts have a sustainable impact, helping to build robust ecosystems that can benefit nature and people for generations to come.
Going forwards, climate change will increasingly impact all the rewilding landscapes where Rewilding Europe operates. In the Danube Delta the milder winters are expected, as well as less precipitation in summer and longer droughts. River discharge will fluctuate more widely, and also the salt levels on land and in aquifers will rise. These effects will negatively impact nature and peole. Droughts will stress wetlands and related wildlife. Annual floods will become more rare and wildfire outbreaks will become more frequent, particulary in extensive reedbeds, as we witness this year in Stentsivsky-Zhebriyansky floodplains that were burning over the course of several weeks being a disaster for nature and local communities. Artisanal fisheries and agriculture will also be influenced quite heavily.
Rewilding activities in the Danube Delta are contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation at a local level. These include wetlands restoration, the introduction of natural grazing, wildlife comeback, dam removal, natural forest regeneration and more.
Rewilding boosts the resilience of animals and plants to climate change by not only enhancing species abundance – through reintroduction and restocking, for example – but also by creating healthier and more functional landscapes where species can exist and flourish. Examples of this include river and wetland restoration in the Oder Delta in Germany and Poland and in the Ukrainian Danube Delta, riverine woodland restoration in the Affric Highlands of Scotland, and various vulture-focused rewilding interventions in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.
For many species, particularly larger-bodied animals, the ability to move within landscapes is vital. With Europe’s network of protected areas currently far too fragmented, the lack of connectivity within European landscapes presents a major obstacle to such movement. The creation of wildlife corridors in Europe is therefore critical. These should substantially increase habitat quality and connectivity in a way that allows species to disperse and migrate as climate zones shift, emphasising movement towards cooler latitudes and topographies.
Rewilding Europe is currently developing wildlife corridors in a number of its operational landscapes, such as the Greater Côa Valley in Portugal and Central Apennines in Italy.
Rewilding not only boosts the climate change resilience of wildlife populations and landscapes, but communities too. Nature-based climate solutions, such as the regeneration of natural forests and increased natural grazing, can help people and businesses by minimising the risk and impact of global warming-related events, such as floods, droughts, and outbreaks of disease and catastrophic wildfire. They can also enhance recovery rates afterwards.
Nature-based solutions represent an integrated way of boosting climate change adaptation, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity. They can also provide a range of co-benefits for sustainable economic development, health, and societal wellbeing.
Yet the huge potential of rewilding to deliver such solutions remains largely untapped. This is one of the reasons why Rewilding Europe is working so hard to scale up rewilding as quickly as possible – by demonstrating the benefits through its own practical action, by encouraging and supporting other climate positive rewilding initiatives, and by exploring options to increase investment in nature recovery.
This blog is taken from a longer story entitled “Adapt, Survive, Thrive”, which was featured in Rewilding Europe Annual Review 2021. A PDF of the story can be downloaded here.