The Carpathian forest wilderness of Transylvania has been part of my life for several years now, and the thought of this place being lost to the chainsaw fills me with fear. This really is one of the last places of its kind in Europe. It is so hard to put into words how unique this place is, but I will try. When you walk in a forest with bears and wolves, there is a different feel to it. You see the tracks of bears, wolves and lynx, but you rarely see them. Occasionally you feel a heightened sense of presence, which was once explained to me by a tracker friend on a walk together. It was completely silent, and Laci suddenly stopped as if he was listening to the silence. He obviously felt a presence too, and we stood quietly for what seemed an eternity. Then he suddenly said, “a wolf is close by, that is why it is so quiet in this part of the forest”.
Do we really want to lose this, a truly wild ecosystem, where everything has evolved to the point where it is today, where everything is connected? Even the foliage looks different compared to the woods I know in Norfolk, UK, but why? The ungulates (deer) and wild boar feed and behave very differently in the Carpathians, because there are large predators present. This forces them to feed on the move, with less concentrated destruction. Their range becomes wider and so the distribution of seeds in their scat becomes more widespread. The same goes for bears that love to gorge on berries.
Beavers build damns on rivers which provide slower moving water, habitats for fish, and drinking water for many animal species and birds in the area. I could go on about the hundreds of other links that connect natures chain together. It just saddens me that humans can’t leave anything alone. We arrogantly believe that nature cannot function without us and our ‘management’. OK, I am not naive, I do know that forests expected to produce a regular harvest of wood need to be managed, but can’t we just leave some areas of the world to nature? With the right knowledge and motivation, we now know that it is possible to work with nature in a sustainable way, and for local people to make a living from industries such as tourism.
If we truly want to rewild areas of forest in the west, we cannot simply reintroduce predators, this will not work. We need to start small with the slow reintroduction of traditional prey species and allow areas of unused land to be returned to nature. Only when there is enough forest cover and wild habitat available, can we think of reintroducing large predator species, otherwise we will have conflict with humans. Wolves especially need vast territories with a ready supply of ungulates to hunt. If not, they will turn to livestock. It can be done, just look at the extreme example of Chernobyl that was simply handed back to nature. The wildlife returned in large numbers and forest growth has sustained the species that live there.
If we are serious about rewilding we need to protect all remaining wilderness areas, as they will be our templates for the future. There will need to be a supply of truly wild animals as animals bred and reared in zoos will not have the required skills to fend for themselves in the wilderness. We need to start protect what we already have and then build on it for the future. We should not wait until it has all gone and then start from scratch, as that will be too late.