Making Europe wild again

The Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege has been an international ambassador of the Postcode Lotteries since 2019. For twenty years, at the risk of his own life, the gynaecologist has been working for victims of wartime rape. Often these women were horrifically mutilated. In 2018, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his good work.

Rewilding Europe celebrates its 10th anniversary. The environmental organisation is bringing back wilder nature, thanks to the support of the players of the Postcode Lotteries. Managing Director of Rewilding Europe, Frans Schepers: ‘Rewilding breathes life back into our landscapes’.

Photo: Konik horses in Odry Delta Reserve, Stepnica, Poland (credit: Kristjan Jung / Rewilding Europe)

The mission of Rewilding Europe? Making Europe a wilder place. In nine European regions, large rewilded landscapes are being created, with plenty of space for wildlife, wild nature and natural processes. Postcode Lotteries in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany support the work of Rewilding Europe.

Birds and fish return
In the Oder Delta, in Germany and Poland, farmland is given back to nature: peatlands will be moistened, allowing the original birds and fish to return – a new, green tourist destination is born. The German Postcode Lottery recently put 1 million euro into rewilding the Oder Delta. The funding will be used to support rewilding measures in the cross-border Ueckermünder Heath, with a focus on restoring and reconnecting rivers.

In Swedish Lapland, rivers that had been straightened for timber transport have been restored to their former shape: fish that had almost disappeared have reappeared through their natural course – thanks to a contribution of Svenska Postkodlotteriet. And in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, bison have been and are still being released, boosting both nature as local businesses.

Local economy
According to Rewilding Europe, recovery of nature is not only beneficial for biodiversity and the climate, but also for the local economy: the more Europeans can enjoy nature, the more people can earn an honest living from it.

Restoring nature is much more than just an item of expense, says Frans Schepers from Rewilding Europe, an organisation with employees and volunteers from 18 European countries. "Nature can actually make a greater contribution to the economy. Nature can provide many jobs and income to people who work in it, and not just in tourism. You can also earn money by rewilding forests, or removal of dams. This is hardly developed in Europe.”

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Herd of bison running in Romania (credit: Daniel Mirlea / Rewilding Europe)

Active recovery
Rewilding Europe takes a different approach from traditional nature conservationists, Schepers explains. "I have worked in nature conservation for years, and it’s often about protecting what we have. Of course, this remains of vital importance. However, rewilding is not about stopping the decline, but about active recovery. Our method is radically focused on bringing nature back at scale. This will also be our best way of addressing the climate emergency that we face.”

Nature is perfectly capable of restoring itself, as long as the right conditions are provided. "We can do this by removing dykes to restore flooding, for example. Or by bringing back crucial species. After a one-off intervention in the beginning, nature continues to do the work itself. If you recognise the power and resilience of nature, you are blown away by all the possibilities."

Rewilding Europe goes full steam ahead as more and more people experience climate change. "You cannot solve the climate problem without restoring nature. Basic resources do not come from the tap, but from nature. Nature is our best ally in solving climate, biodiversity and health problems."

Rewilding is recognised
Ten years ago, 'rewilding' was a new word. In the meantime, it has become a recognised concept, also used by climate activists such as David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. It is precisely the solution-oriented and positive aspect of rewilding that appeals to many people.

This positive, innovative approach appealed to Nationale Postcode Loterij (Dutch Postcode Lottery) when Rewilding Europe approached them ten years ago. The lottery also decided to help set up Rewilding Europe Capital, a fund that supports local rural economies to go green.

Schepers: "Nature is often portrayed as a place full of vulnerable species that are in danger of being lost, but nature is actually very strong and lively, and has an enormous ability to heal itself. Rewilding breathes life back into our landscapes. Just complaining about the destruction of nature, isn’t appealing. We show that nature will bounce back, if we just let it. It provides hope for a future where people and nature not only co-exist, but flourish, and that attracts new generations."

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Oder Delta in Germany (credit: Florian Möllers / Rewilding Europe)

Watch Embracing European Rewilding, a talkshow in honour of Rewilding Europe's 10th anniversary.

Rewilding Europe & Postcode Lotteries: a long-term commitment

Since the start Rewilding Europe has been a beneficiary of Nationale Postcode Loterij, quite exceptional for a new organisation. Nowadays, the European environmental organisation also receives support from Deutsche Postcode Lotterie on a project basis, and the Swedes (Svenska Postkodlotteriet) have already made two donations. Thanks to all the players of the Postcode Lotteries in Europe, Rewilding Europe has been able to invest over 11 million euros in nature improvement over the past ten years.

"With the unrestricted, long-term contributions of the Postcode Lottery, we were able to make a dream start," says Schepers. "Rewilding is a long-term process. In nature you can achieve results tomorrow, but making real impact is another story. You need at least ten, fifteen years to get things moving. That is why we have long-term commitments with the landscapes we work in, and it is amazing the lottery does so too."

 

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Bison in Kennermerduinen, the Netherlands (credit: Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe)