Want to step up your sustainable travel goals? Take a walk on the rewilding side. In a nutshell, rewilding means helping nature to get back to how it would be if humans had never intervened.
While Covid-19 has hindered a lot of travel plans, we hope our travel content can continue to provide you with inspiration for your future journeys—so when this does pass, you’ll be ready to get back out into the world.
One of the biggest initiatives working to maintain natural ecosystems, repair environmental damage and reintroduce lost species is Rewilding Europe. They’ve been on the front line of the movement since 2011, and have noticed a growing recent interest in their work across eight regions on the continent.
“An ever-growing number of rewilding initiatives are gaining momentum and delivering results across Europe,” says the organisation’s Laurien Holtjer, who also points to the projects’ socio-economic benefits, as well as environmental. “Through our work in pilot areas, we’ve shown that restoring nature and bringing back wildlife can create fantastic new business opportunities, jobs and income for local communities.”
Incorporating rewilding into a trip isn’t just an important way to support ecoystems – it can be the adventure of a lifetime, whether that means tracking wolves, spying on bears or totting up the numbers of wild cats. These five adventures across Europe give the opportunity to have both.
Track wolves in Italy’s Central Appenines
Wolf packs once roamed Europe, but were hunted to the brink of extinction. By the end of the 1960s, only 100 or so wolves were left, confined to the the mountains of Italy. Over the past few decades, spontaneous recolonisation has seen the population grow – and today there are around seven or eight wolf packs in Abruzzo National Park.
This rewilding experience gives you the chance to follow the pack on foot. By day you hike along the unspoiled paths of the Apennine Mountains, learning all about wolves from your expert local guide and stopping in small villages for rustic meals. At night, watch the stars while listening to the eerie sound of the wolves howling in the distance.
As well as the chance to hear – and maybe see – wild wolves, you’re also likely to spot other rare creatures like chamois, deer, golden eagles and the Marsican brown bear.
Peek at wild bears from a ‘watching hide’ in Estonia
The taiga forests and vast bogs of northeastern Estonia are home to around half of the country’s brown bears. Your safest chance of spotting them is from a wildlife hide – a cabin camouflaged in the forest with windows for watching passing creatures.
This tour offers the opportunity to spend a night in the hides and watch animals from the huge viewing windows, which can be found on both sides of the cabin. To the north, you can look out over the woods and spot raccoon dogs, brown bears and birds as they stop by the feeders. The other side overlooks a river, where beavers and otters swim by, and deer pause for a drink.
Sleeping in the hide is an intrepid way to get back in touch with nature, too. Each cabin has nine bunk beds, with sleeping bags and pillows included. You need to bring your own food and drinks – and be prepared to brave the composting toilet.
Hike alongside bison in Romania
Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania got together to bring bison back to the Southern Carpathians in 2014, after the animals had been extinct from the region for 200 years. At the time it was the biggest reintroduction of the animals in Europe. Six years later, there are more than 50 of the shy, elusive and surprisingly fast-moving creatures, roaming free in the Tarcu area.
On this small-group tour you get the chance to see these majestic creatures in person. The expert guide – who has been involved with the project from the start – will take your group on a four to five hour hike through the foothills.
As you hike, you’ll get to learn about the habits of bison, the importance they have in the area and how to identify their tracks on the muddy mountain paths. Not to mention the chance to explore the vast, rugged and wild tracks of Romania’s mountains.
Spot Iberian lynx in Southern Spain
The Iberian lynx faced extinction at the turn of the century – fewer than 100 of the animals were left. But thanks to reintroduction and conservation efforts, they were downgraded from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’ five years ago – with more than 400 of the animals living across Portugal and Spain today.
Doñana National Park and Andujar Natural Park in the South of Spain are still the best places to see them in the wild, and on this tour you visit both. The dramatic scenery spans Mediterranean cork oak forests, flat grasslands and pine woods, where the cats hunt their main source of prey: rabbits.
As well as lynx, there’s a chance you’ll spot other native wildlife including wild boar, red deer and flamingoes before heading back to stay in the rustic village of El Rocio.
Watch eagles from a canoe on the Baltic coast
On the border between Germany and Poland, the Oder Delta is one of the most exciting ecological crossroads in Europe and a major stop for migrating waterbirds on the East Atlantic Flyway. Over the past few decades, rewilding has taken hold as farmers have left the area for new pastures. Now, it’s a huge breeding ground for the white-tailed eagle and the populations of beavers, salmon and otters are rising.
This tour involves two half-day excursions into the unspoiled landscape of the River Delta, by canoe and on foot. A sunrise boat tour operated by the hotel makes early starts more appealing. As well as meeting the local wildlife, you’ll also see the ruins of Slavic castles, village churches and monasteries, many of which are already being reclaimed by nature. A roaring log fire at the hotel is the perfect place to sit around and chat about the days adventures.