Unfallowing Fields

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Retuertas horses are back enjoying their freedom in western Spain for the first time in 2000 years. Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

Retuertas horses are back enjoying their freedom in western Spain for the first time in 2000 years.
Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

There aren’t many good things to say about the economic problems faced by Spain since 2008, with high unemployment and mass company closures.

The amount of farmland being utilized has also receded with the contracting economy, but there’s been an unexpected silver lining.

In areas no longer under cultivation, animal species that were disappearing are beginning to establish themselves with the assistance an initiative known as Rewilding Europe. The group works to reclaim abandoned grazing and farmland, and to create ‘wild nature’ reserves.

Carlos Sanchez, director of the conservation group running the site, was quoted as saying,  “We are recovering the most primitive breeds to try to help manage an ecosystem which has been abandoned due to the disappearance of humans.”

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It is active in a number of countries, but identifies its areas of activity in terms of regional ecosystems rather than national borders. Thus, the five main areas of activity are Western Iberia, the Eastern Carpathians, the Danube Delta, the Southern Carpathians, and the Velebit.

Among the species being reintroduced in Spain are European oxen; the Retuerta, an ancient breed of horse; European vultures (the vast majority of the four surviving vulture species are in Spain); and the Iberian lynx. Rewilding Europe aims to support nature reserves that not only promote the return of wildlife, but create new economic alternatives to industry and agriculture.

Spain’s economy has taken a turn for the better over the past year, but perhaps the land being reclaimed as wild has been abandoned for long enough that there’s no immediate risk of the new nature reserves coming into conflict with farming interests.

Animals, especially large animals and predators, change environments. Given enough time, it will be interesting to see how re-wilding changes local landscapes.

Caballo horse (Equus ferus caballus), Campanarios de Azaba Biological Reserve, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

Caballo horse (Equus ferus caballus), Campanarios de Azaba Biological Reserve, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain
Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

More: Making Europe A Wilder Place

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