Rewilding Is Redefining Nature & Adventure Travel

Climate crisis and wildlife extinction are part of the dialogue of nature and adventure travel, but thankfully, so is “rewilding.” Letting nature heal itself and return to a pristine state is at the heart of this movement. So are visionary companies like Rewilding Europe Travel, whose message is “Making Europe a Wilder Place.” Far from merely engaging in talk, the company takes active travelers on adventures in Europe, where rewilding takes center stage. I caught up with one of the principals, Neil Rogers, co-Founder and Director of Experiences for Rewilding Europe Travel, to dig deeper into the movement.

Everett Potter: “Rewilding” is a term that’s suddenly all over social media. But I think there’s some confusion over what it means. Can you explain more?

Neil Rogers: Often, the view of rewilding is that it focuses on restoring lost species, often apex predators such as wolves or lynxes. In reality, rewilding is more holistic and is about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems, and restore degraded landscapes.

However, sometimes nature needs a helping hand to create the right conditions, such as removing dams, reducing active management, and reintroducing key native species. Rewilding is also about connecting people to wilder nature. When nature is healthy, we are too.

EP: What is a bona fide rewilding destination?

NR: For Rewilding Europe Travel, a bona fide rewilding destination is a place where we can offer immersive nature-based experiences that include culture, community engagement, local cuisine and the nature of a rewilding landscape. Rewilding experiences are important, but so is a good local wine shared with enthusiastic hosts.

EP: You mention “rewilding corridors” and “rewilding landscapes” in your press materials. Can you elaborate on what those are?

RW: Rewilding Landscapes are flagship initiatives where rewilding is taking place at scale and where people and wildlife will benefit in the long term.

A good way of describing what they are and how they’re connected is through the ‘Bear-Smart Corridors’ rewilding initiative being implemented in the Central Apennines Rewilding Landscape in Italy. The Central Apennines Rewilding Landscape, just 90 minutes from Rome, is a true biodiversity ‘hot spot’ inhabited by the Marsican brown bear, grey wolf, Apennine chamois, red deer, golden eagle, vultures, and an amazing set of endemics.

The Bear-Smart Corridor initiative focuses on a network of essential corridors that link five protected areas. There are currently 60 Marsican brown bears roaming the Central Apennines. They are relatively safe in the protected areas, but outside they have traditionally been at risk from poaching, poisoning and traffic collisions. With such a small and precarious population, it’s vital they can roam safely and ensure genetic exchange. Rewilding Apennines developed four rewilding corridors in collaboration with local communities to mitigate bear conflict and give locals economic incentives to protect their bears.

My Neighbour is a Bear” is a fantastic video about a bear-smart community in the Central Apennines.

EP: How do you create a travel itinerary with rewilding at its core?

NR: Our itineraries explore living landscapes and focus on heritage, culture, local gastronomy, wildlife, and of course, rewilding efforts. We want to meet the people and hear their stories, but we also want to enjoy walking in wild landscapes and observing spectacular wildlife.

People and their communities are always at the core of rewilding success, so we start there with the help of the local rewilding teams. So we start planning with the local rewilding teams, our connectors to the local community and the environment. They know everyone, monitor the wildlife, and support local producers and tourism enterprises.

EP: Europe seems to be at the heart of the Rewilding movement. Is this because it has had centuries of growth, and now seems like a good time to rethink that “progress”?

NR: Europe, like the rest of the planet, is suffering from environmental degradation and biodiversity decline, and it’s not enough to simply slow and stop climate change.

There are more than 100,000 protected areas in Europe, distributed across 54 countries. Europe has more of these areas than any other region in the world. However, most of Europe’s protected areas are part of a degraded landscape that cannot support thriving wildlife populations or fully functioning ecosystems.

With the dual threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, many in Europe are awakening to the idea that we urgently need to recover European nature, and a good starting point for this would be to make existing protected areas such as National Parks wilder.

The European Green Deal indicates that Europe is listening, and we hope that rewilding, with greater interest and support from the financial sector, philanthropic intuitions and corporations, can focus minds on the importance of wilder nature and the ecosystem services it provides.

EP: Can you name a few destinations where you would like to see rewilding taking place?

NR: I have spent almost 35 years working in tourism and supporting conservation in Belize and I would love to see rewilding scaled up in Central America. Belize, with the help of The Nature Conservancy and its partners, has done an amazing job in saving and protecting key conservation corridors in the 37 million-acre Selva Maya. Securing these critical land corridors means Belize has boosted its total protected land area to nearly 40%. I’d love to see this scale of forest conservation and protection replicated throughout Central America, with rewilding playing a key role where land degradation and biodiversity loss has been extensive.

I was recently invited to Lebanon to help evaluate a USAID project supporting tourism clusters’ development. As part of my trip, I was involved with relocating Nubian Ibex to the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. The Shouf Biosphere Reserve is Lebanon’s last truly wild place, and if financial backing becomes available, I’d love to see other native species that have become extinct reintroduced.

The work of Tompkins Conservation in Chile and Argentina has been truly inspirational for me. They have created or expanded 15 National Parks and two Marine National Parks, protecting over 14 million acres of land and 30 million acres of marine habitat. To date, they have reintroduced 13 species, and I would love to see the continued rewilding of these fantastic landscapes.

EP: How large are your trips, the approximate costs, and what’s next in terms of destinations?

NR: Most of our trips have a limit of 8 persons, although some can go as high as 12. We also have a ‘Make it Private’ option that allows clients to put together their own small groups of 4, 6, or 8 persons.

Most of our small group trips range from £250 to £350 ($285 to $400) per day based on sharing a double or twin room on a 7-night, 8-day itinerary.

This month, Rewilding Europe’s big news was the launch of its 10 Rewilding Landscape, the 2.1 million acre Iberian Highland’s Rewilding Landscape in Spain. It’s located just two hours east of Madrid and is a vast, wild landscape dominated by steep-sided canyons and valleys of oak, pine, and juniper. Half the population had left the landscape, but wildlife has already started returning. Wild boar, Iberian ibex, deer, and mouflon are already present. Tauros (back bed cattle that play the role of aurochs) and semi-wild horses have already been reintroduced. I will be traveling to the Alto Tajo region later this month to plan our new Iberian Highlands trips that will start in the spring of 2023.

Visit Rewilding Europe Travel.

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