Ecosystem Services: The Opportunities of Rewilding in Europe

Halting the degradation and restoring the full capacity of ecosystems to deliver ecosystem services is currently a major political commitment in Europe. Although still a debated topic, Europe’s on-going farmland abandonment is seen as an opportunity to launch a new conservation and economic vision, through the restoration of natural processes via rewilding as a land management option. Despite the ecological interest of restoring a wilder Europe, there is a need to develop evidence-based arguments and explore the broad-range impacts of rewilding. In this chapter we study the spatial patterns of ecosystem services in the EU25 and their relationship with wilderness areas. Next we perform a quantitative analysis, at the scale of the Iberian Peninsula, of the supply of ecosystem services in the top 5 % wilderness areas, on agricultural land, and on land projected to be abandoned. We find that high quality wilderness is often associated to high supply of ecosystem services, mainly regulating and cultural. Assuming that high quality wilderness is a good proxy for the future of areas undergoing rewilding, our results suggest that rewilding efforts throughout Europe will enhance the capacity of ecosystems to supply regulating and cultural ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and recreation.