The Oostvaardersplassen and other "rewilding" projects in Europe

Facts and figures OVP Holland source Staatsbosbeheer
Area of Circa 6.000 ha (of which 1.600 ha lakes, 2.000 ha reed en 2.400 ha pasture land and forest)

In 1983 35 Heck cattle were introduced; in 1984 27 konik horses and in 1992 54 red deer were introduced.

At the end of Oktober 2017 were counted ca. 5.230 large herbivores source
  • Heck cattle : 230
  • Konik horses : ca. 1.040-1.060
  • Red deer : ca. 3.910-3.990

In  november 2016 there were  :

  • Heck cattle: 170-185
  • Konik horses: 920-940
  • Red deer : 3410-3440
So at the end of October 2017 each large herbivore had 0.45 hectare or per 1 hectare there were 2.2 large herbivores. 

As a matter of principle to let nature take its course the animals are not fed during the winter.

Wicken Fen United Kingdom source The Wicken Fen Vision grazing an evolving landscape

Area of 754 ha

The first group of 6 breeding Konik ponies was introduced in 2003, and a further group of five plus two young males (‘bachelors’), not yet old enough or experienced enough to form a breeding group of their own, were introduced to neighbouring fields in 2004. Following the introduction of the ponies, a group of 9 Highland cattle (one male with eight females) was introduced to the Fen from the Isle of Mull, in 2005.

Currently (this was in 2011), the herds of cattle and horses have 155 ha to graze, at a flexible population density of roughly one animal for every 1.5 ha. So this is 3 times as much as OVP. At present, the expansion of the reserve is one step ahead of population growth. 

Fencing is a mixture of ‘wet fences’, such as ditches and rivers, alongside more traditional stock fencing. The fencing has worked well, with both species respecting their boundaries, by and large, although there has been the odd escapee in the last ten years! However, the herding instinct is so strong and the social structures so well established that individuals rarely stray away if they are on the wrong side of a fence or ditch from the rest of the herd, and return quickly given the opportunity to do so.

Supplementary feeding is not carried out as a matter of course, although fodder would be provided in prolonged severe weather where the animals are unable to find enough forage for themselves. So far, there has been no need to do this as there has been plenty of available grazing, even during the winter months. The animals also build up substantial fat reserves over the summer, which they are able to utilise in the winter. Routine forms of management, such as foot trimming and worming, are not undertaken, although both of these are carefully monitored. Worm burdens in the cattle and horses are monitored every two months, with staff collecting fresh faecal samples and analysing them in-house. If an individual is in poor health and this can be related to a high worm burden, that animal is treated with a non-ivermectin based wormer (only one animal has needed worming in the past seven years). 

The cattle have exhibited consistently low worm counts since the start of the study, whilst the ponies show a great deal of seasonal and individual fluctuation. 

Monitoring of welfare There are moral and legal welfare obligations that need to be met when keeping any animal, no matter how robust and independent they are. With a system like that at Wicken, monitoring the animals is an important part of meeting these obligations. There is a four tier system of welfare check carried out, varying in intensity and detail recorded. These range from daily checks by local volunteers, who use the site regularly and are happy to do a head count or fence check on their walk round, to formal written reports produced annually by a veterinarian, commenting on the herds’ current condition, welfare issues experienced over the past year and making recommendations for the next year. Despite the innate toughness of both the ponies and cattle, illness and injury does sometimes occur. At this point, a very careful balance has to be struck, assessing the benefits of treatment against the stress of intervention to an animal that is largely unhandled and unused to close contact with people. Experience has shown that Á Koniks are adept at utilising all the resources available to them. Here, a pony digs for plant roots. Carol Laidlaw/National Trust È A group of Highland cows settle down to cud. The strongest bonds in cattle groups are those found between mothers and daughters, with several generations often staying together. Carol Laidlaw/National Trust Spring 2011 Conservation Land Management  The Wicken Fen Vision: grazing an evolving landscape these animals shrug off most illness and injury without intervention, usually requiring only careful monitoring after discussion with the vet.

In 1999, we launched the Wicken Fen Vision, a 100 year plan to extend the reserve from Wicken to the outskirts of Cambridge, covering an area of 5300 sq hectares. 

Our aim is to buy land as and when it comes up for sale, and restore it to fen and wetland habitat. We gradually raise water levels and use herds of free roaming konik ponies and highland cattle, as part of an extensive grazing programme to create new habitats. The breeds were specifically chosen for the ability to thrive in wetland conditions. Source: Wicken Fen Website 

Urzeitweide in the quarry Gerhausen Germany Source Website of Urzeitweide

An area of 75 ha

In the quarry Gerhausen / Beiningen of the HeidelbergCement AG, near Blaubeuren, there are currently living  27 Taurus cattle and 13 Konik horses. Each animal has 5.7 ha to its disposition. This is almost 4 times as much as in the OVP.

Although the conic horses and the taurus cattle live independently within their grazing land, they are not entirely left to their own devices. A farmer looks regularly after the animals to detect any problems, such as serious injury, and to be able to intervene if necessary. As a rule, the animals are looking for their own food, because the pasture areas are sufficiently large. Only in severe winters they are occasionally fed. This prevents animals from starving as they might under natural conditions.
Eastern Rhodopes Bulgaria/Greece Source Rhodope Mountains rewilding area 

Size of the area 250 000 ha 

70 horses at the moment. It is not necessary to calculate the area per horse as it is huge! Interesting to note is that the horses after a couple of losses in the beginning, are not killed by wolves anymore. Please watch the short film below; it is very interesting. 

NB The total number of Konik horses worldwide is nearly 4,000 and half of them live in the Netherlands.
Lika Plains in Croatia source Rewilding Europe 

On an area of 30 000 hectares live 45 Konik horses introduced in  2016. This is 667 ha per horse.

By bringing back herds of horses, tauros and (in the mountains) red deer, not only the natural impact of herbivory is restored, but also the food chain of which in the end wolves, bears and lynxes – that still live in the area – can build viable populations. Vultures, now largely missing in the Velebit area, can return as a result of this wildlife comeback.

Together with Rewilding Velebit, the local landowners and land-users, Rewilding Europe will scale up its activities in the Lika Plains by connecting new grazing areas to the existing pilot during the coming years. In the long term we will explore the connectivity of the Velebit Mountains and the Lika Plains for seasonal migration of wildlife as one of the first of its kind in Europe.
Oder Delta Natural Park between Germany and Poland source Rewilding Europe

On an area of 1000 ha live 60 horses which is 17 ha per horse.  
Faia Brava reserve in Portugal  source: Rewilding Europe 
Faia Brava as a trourist attraction: African Safari Camp Comes Europe  

Area of 1000 hectares ca 60 to 70 horses, and +/- 30 cattle which is 10 hectares per animal

Quote: "Natural processes have more space within the reserve, with dead animals being allowed to stay and decay. Due to the near complete absence of deer, the carcasses found are typically restricted to those of smaller animals, ones which provide little food. But on occasion, when one of the semi-feral horses or cattle dies, the vultures are simply too fast for anyone to remove the bodies before they are eaten. Death is certainly not the only way in which the cattle and horses help improve the natural processes of the reserve, as they are keystone species and therefore vital parts of the ecosystem.
The animals in the reserve are shy and often difficult to find, but they are still noticeably different in behaviour from true wild creatures, often allowing people to get at least relatively close without fleeing, and lacking a strong fear instinct towards humans. Laws and regulations unfortunately (I would say fortunately) prevent them from being completely left to their own, but the state in which they live in Faia Brava is certainly as close as one can get within the limits of the law, and allows for them to interact with the ecosystems of the reserve as truly wild."

The non-intervention by man in this reserve, as promoted by the dutch scientists doesn't go unnoticed by ANke Sparmann who rends a visit to the Faia Brava reserve and writes about it in Geo India: "Six yearlings, unkempt and skinny, their necks hanging low. It was not an inspiring sight, but Frans Schepers lowered his binoculars and shouted with excitement, “See? Re-wilding Europe! It can be done!” Schepers’ idea of nature conservation is simply letting nature be, giving it a free hand. Nature conservation for him implies doing absolutely nothing, a strategy known as ‘process protection.’ No extinguishing of fires, no damming of flood waters, no fighting of bark beetles, no feeding of wildlife, no looking after, no killing off. If a horse stumbles to its death on the rocks of Faia Brava, it is just the beginning of another natural process—decomposition. "

However the birth of a calf has been done under supervision according to this article: A new-born Maronesa cow calf in the Faia Brava Reserve

So what we wonder is why is some  intervention possible (introducing animals, protecting a cow giving birth) and not the other (feeding, looking after). Nature is not anymore what it used to be 100 years ago, and why would we accept the suffering part of nature especially as we are the cause of it. More about the ethical side of Rewilding on the following page

Andere projekten 

In Frankrijk : door Arthen