What is rewilding?

Our approach

In the WILDCARD project, we focus on two particular rewilding approaches:

  • The natural rewilding of abandoned agricultural lands once farming is interrupted. At first, small pioneer plants might start growing, like grasses and weeds. As time goes by, shrubs and bushes take over. Finally, the growth of trees might start turning the area into a forest. This process is known as secondary succession.
  • Proforestation, which happens when forest management is halted, allowing forests to naturally develop into more complex ecosystems and reach their full ecological potential.

Does rewilding imply a complete absence of human intervention?

In some areas, humans might need to give nature a helping hand so that rewilding can take place. That is the case where no seed sources are available for trees to grow, requiring interventions such as tree planting.

However, the principle of rewilding is that in the long term, self-regulating natural processes are reinstated, reducing the need for human management.

Planting tree

Why promote rewilding? 

As an increasing number of people move to cities and other land use changes occur, many areas in Europe are likely to become hotspots of rewilding in the coming decades.

  • Natural rewilding of abandoned agricultural lands is taking place all over the continent and represents a promising low-cost measure to help fight the climate crisis and support biodiversity. Rewilding can minimise the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, such as nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide. Habitats that may develop on former crop fields and pastures, such as woodlands, also have the potential to store carbon in the form of wood and soils.
  • The climate and biodiversity benefits of rewilding managed forests (proforestation) are manifold. Research shows that primeval forests and forest reserves where natural processes prevail are among the most carbon-dense terrestrial ecosystems on Earth. Forests store more than half of the global carbon stock and harbour the largest share of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity, providing habitat for most amphibian, bird, mammal and vascular plant species.