It’s natural to think of animals when you hear the word ‘rewilding’. To think of wolves roaming Yellowstone National Park, beavers damming wild rivers in Scotland or the Eurasian bison chomping away on its surroundings in the stunning Southern Carpathians of Romania. These animals are keystone species, meaning they’re animals that have a disproportionately large impact on their environments, but amongst all the good that our furry companions are doing for the wild, it can be easy to overlook the positive impacts that rewilding can have for humans too.
The process of rewilding is all about a hands-off approach to conservation, letting nature take control and restoring natural processes - and this often also offers fantastic opportunities for ecotourism, enabling local communities to connect with their nature and make a living from protecting it, with much of the money raised from ecotourism then flowing back into the projects.
“Rewilding is about looking at the whole picture,” says Laurien Holtjer of Rewilding Europe. “It’s not only focused on species or habitat. It’s about people too. It’s about coexistence between communities and nature. The fact that rewilding provides economic opportunities is important in that. Helping nature heal can lead to prosperous local economies."
Sustainable travel operator Much Better Adventures are one company currently offering a range of active trips based around rewilding projects. Working in collaboration with the European Safari Company, Rewilding Europe and Wild Sweden, their range includes tracking wild bison and bears in Romania, watching moose in Swedish forests and winter wolf tracking in Italy's Abruzzo National Park.
Every trip in the collection is led by expert rewilding guides and wildlife experts and directly supports the re-introduction and conservation of keystone species - with 5% of revenues from every booking going towards rewilding projects in Europe.
“This new collection showcases the power of adventure travel and ties in perfectly with our mission to protect wild places,” says Much Better Adventures co-founder Sam Bruce. “We’re delighted to support the European Safari Company, Rewilding Europe and Wild Sweden’s vital conservation and rewilding efforts with regenerative tourism.”
It’s an excellent example of how conservation projects and adventure tourism can work hand in hand, benefitting not only the biodiversity of the local area, but the hoteliers, restaurants and cafes, guides and other local businesses, who can benefit from increased footfall to their region.
Rewilding Europe was set up 10 years ago in order to bring wilderness back to the continent, and a key part of their movement involves creating ecotourism opportunities around projects.
“There are a lot of areas where younger generations are leaving rural areas to move to cities, and leaving behind ghost towns,” Holtjer says. “Rewilding provides a new future for those areas. A lot of these areas are already beautiful - but they’re like theatres without actors. The wildlife isn’t there, because we got rid of it or damaged the habitat. By supporting wildlife and restoring natural processes, rewilding is transforming abandoned areas into thriving nature-based economies.”
Ultimately, rewilding is all about taking down fences rather than putting them up, and about reconnecting people with the world around them. Laurien points to the example of the European bison reintroduced to Romania, and the impact that’s had on locals. “When people from abroad suddenly come to your village and they're ecstatic about these bison, the local community start to feel proud of this species again, and proud that it’s part of their culture and identity,” she says.
The dominant message of rewilding is one of hope. In a world where the news is so often filled with doom and gloom, particularly regarding the climate change conversation, rewilding offers a clear path for travel to pursue a greener future - one which goes beyond merely being sustainability, and is capable of actively regenerating both towns and areas of natural beauty.
“Instead of controlling nature, we need to see it as an ally for giving us a better future,” says Laurien. “All we have to do is give it the space.”