What we do

Assessing the effect of rewilding abandoned agricultural land

When people from rural areas decide to move to cities, or when agriculture becomes less profitable, lands that were once productive might quickly become abandoned.

Seeing unused lands and fields across Europe is not uncommon, particularly in mountains, islands, and sparsely populated, remote areas. A total of 10-29 million hectares of agricultural land are likely to be abandoned between 2000 and 2030, making space for wild plants and animals to return or for forests to start growing, a phenomenon known as natural forest expansion.

To better understand the effects of land abandonment, WILDCARD researchers are selecting areas in meadows, grasslands, former pastures, croplands and secondary forests that share similar characteristics but represent different points in time since abandonment (chronosequences). This will allow them to understand how the progress of rewilding affects carbon sequestration and biodiversity throughout time.

For instance, shrubs and bushes might be present in a former pasture two years after its abandonment, but in a nearby area abandoned for five years, pioneer tree species might already be growing.

Sign - Rewilding and planting in progress - Please do not mow
Collage - bee

By measuring the carbon stored in different types of vegetation, researchers can create a timeline of how rewilding influences “carbon trajectories”, or the evolution of carbon sequestration in an ecosystem.

Another important task of the project is to assess the diversity and richness of plants developing in abandoned sites; the extent of land covered by vegetation; the different existing vegetation layers, plants’ roles and functions in an ecosystem, and their relevance to nature conservation. Because vegetation needs soil to thrive, soil samples will be collected across several sites to allow a deeper understanding of changes in soil processes during rewilding.

Paralleling our research on forest rewilding (proforestation), we will also investigate the capacity of rewilded abandoned lands to adapt to future climatic trends and resist and rebuild after extreme events, with a particular focus on droughts and wildfires.

Work Package Lead:

Dr. Pavel Šamonil, Silva Tarouca Research Institute

Photo Pavel Šamonil

Involved partners