The EU Nature Restoration Law is Adopted: What are the implications for rewilding?

On Monday, 17 June, months of deliberations culminated in the adoption of the new EU Nature Restoration Law by the Council of the European Union. The first-of-its-kind regulation aims to put measures in place to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

What role will rewilding play in the implementation of the new legislation? We posed this and other questions to Gert-Jan Nabuurs, project partner in WILDCARD and Professor of European Forest Resources at Wageningen University and Research. Check out his answers below!

What is your first reaction to the approval of the legislation?

It is extremely good news that the law has passed, even though the text is much weaker than the original, presented two years ago. The first version said 30% of the degraded habitats types shall be in good condition by 2030, while the approved text says countries shall start measures to improve the state of these habitats. So we went from a target to an intention to execute, which is a big difference. But it is still very important that this intention is written down formally as a law.

What is the potential importance of rewilding for the legislation as a nature restoration strategy? 

The rewilding of abandoned lands and proforestation are important strategies in achieving the law, which contains an article with clear assessment criteria for forest restoration (Article 12), such as standing and lying deadwood, share of forests with uneven-aged structure, forest connectivity, carbon stock, among others. From now on, EU Member Countries will be tasked with finding areas whose conditions they can improve and restore, with the responsibility of locating their own funding and resources for these activities. Rewilding can gain relevance as a restoration approach because its implementation costs are relatively low compared to other approaches.

What will be some of the law’s main implementation challenges?

Member States that voted against the law will not be keen to start very quickly, and there is no penalty if they don’t achieve targets which have become a bit more vague. Additionally, we still lack knowledge on how to monitor certain indicators that need to be assessed to determine if restoration was successful, and to do it cost-efficiently.

What knowledge will be provided by WILDCARD to support the law’s implementation?

The project will provide assessments on how biodiversity responds to rewilding measures, such as which species and functional groups most benefit from it. Carbon sequestration and socioeconomic aspects will also be assessed, helping to devise recommendations on future rewilding hotspots that are ecologically important and socially acceptable.