five exciting reforestation projects to visit

1 Gorongosa, Mozambique

Mozambique’s civil war (1977-1992) and associated poaching decimated wildlife in Gorongosa National Park. Since 2006, the Gorongosa restoration project has aimed to bring nature back, starting with buffalo, wildebeest, eland, zebra and other animals being transported by truck.

Many species have also recovered naturally under the renewed protection of the park’s 300 rangers. A recent aerial census counted more than 100,000 large animals, including about 200 lions. Three founding packs of African wild dogs and six leopards were also brought from South Africa.

In July this year, conservationists plan to bring spotted hyenas from the Karingani game reserve in Mozambique. Hyenas are critical to an ecosystem because, unlike other carnivores, they hunt dead animals, preventing disease outbreaks.

What is renaturalization?

Rewilding is the restoration of nature to places altered by human activity. From releasing cutting edge predators such as jaguars and wolves to creating space for native grasslands in urban areas, renaturation can happen on a large or small scale.
While there are competing definitions, most have the reconstruction of sustainable ecological health at their core, whether it’s the return of kelp forests off the coast of Sussex, England, or the reintroduction of mockingbirds to the Galapagos Islands.

Why has the term become so popular?

Rewilding captured the public imagination as an environmental movement and a science-based process at the same time. With visions of a wilder planet, highhigh profile environmentalists such as David Attenborough and George Monbiot have inspired millions of people with paths to a more biodiverse and ecologically healthy future. The success of rewilding pioneers around the world has shown what is possible: from the restoration of Mozambique’s Gorongosa national park after the civil war to the Knepp estate in southern England.

Is rewilding universally supported?

Not. Critics of rewilding fear the term is being used to justify the removal of humans from the landscape, especially farmers and indigenous communities. In the UK, some have dismissed the concept as a fad for ‘toffs’ and high-income landowners, while others fear it is being used to attack farming communities that have farmed areas for hundreds of years.

Can you renaturalize?

While the boldest reforestation initiatives take place at a landscape scale, small changes can have a big impact. Millions of people changing the way they mow their lawns or let nature into their gardens, balconies and window sills can add up, providing more space for biodiversity recovery.

“The loss of each predator in an ecosystem can have serious implications due to top-down control of other species in trophic cascades,” says António Paulo, a veterinarian at Gorongosa who is overseeing reintroductions of carnivores. “To reverse this situation, we are working to restore this amazing place with predators.”

There was also extensive reforestation around Serra da Gorongosa, and local farmers were encouraged to abandon slash-and-burn agriculture for more sustainable practices, including shade-grown coffee.

how to visit

A full day in an open-top safari vehicle includes a picnic and, if you’re lucky, a glimpse of nocturnal animals on the way back. You can also visit the Serra da Gorongosa rainforest and the park’s shaded coffee project, and go on a canoe safari along the Pungue River or a bike ride in the community. The park has a variety of accommodations, from campsites to luxury villas.

2 Montana, USA

Montana-based nonprofit American Prairie is on a mission to create the largest nature reserve in the US, protecting often underappreciated temperate grasslands that are vital to supporting biodiversity and sequestering carbon.

The project is anchored around the 1.1 million-acre Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge, but conservation biologists determined that a prairie would need to be 5,000 square miles (3.2 million acres) to be a functioning ecosystem. that can support the full range of native plants and animals and historical grazing patterns.

Interactive

“As these wild places continue to disappear across the world, restoring this fully functioning grassland ecosystem is critical to the health of our planet and its people,” says Alison Fox, CEO of American Prairie.

Since 2001, American Prairie has amassed more than 450,000 acres of public and private land. In 2005, he reintroduced the bison after 120 years of absence, with a herd that today totals around 800 animals. Other thriving species include prairie dogs, cougars, swift fox, pronghorn, black-footed ferrets, and grazing birds.

how to visit

Start your trip with a visit to the newly opened American Prairie National Discovery Center in Lewistown, Montana, and see the interactive ecosystem exhibits. Wildlife viewing includes bison, prairie dogs and grassland birds, and other activities include hiking, biking and driving. There are a variety of cabins and campgrounds to stay at.

One way to see some of the work of the Affric highlands initiative is to walk the Affric-Kintail Way, which passes through the heart of Glen Affric.
Photography: Westend61 GmbH/Alamy

3 Affric Highlands, Scotland

Affric Highlands is a 30-year rewilding initiative that will potentially cover over half a million acres of the central Scottish Highlands, making it the UK’s largest rewilding project. It will stretch from Loch Ness to Kintail, passing through several valleys: Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.

Trees for Life launched the project in September 2021, in partnership with Rewilding Europe and a coalition of communities and landowners, so there’s already a lot to see. Practical ecological restoration work will begin next year, with a wide range of wildlife to benefit, including golden eagles, red squirrels, red roosters, short-eared owls, mountain hares, salmon, trout, ospreys and otters. . There will also be efforts to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction.

What is billed as the world’s first rewilding center is being built on Trees for Life’s 10,000-acre Dundreggan Rewilding Estate in Glenmoriston, west of Loch Ness, and is due to open in 2023.

“Affric Highlands is a vision of hope, with community involvement at its heart,” says Alan McDonnell, development manager for the Trees for Life program. “We want to bring the Highlands to life to help nature return in style, supporting repopulation, increasing social and economic opportunities, and addressing climate and natural emergencies.”

how to visit

When it opens, the Dundreggan Rewilding Center will include a storytelling space, café and accommodation. Until then, there’s plenty to see in the Affric Highlands area, from Urquhart Bay on the shores of Loch Ness – one of the best surviving examples of ancient rainforest in Europe – to the RSPB Corrimony nature reserve, a haven for black, cross-beaked roosters. Scots, golden eagles and other birds, with a 13.5km nature trail through Caledonian woodland and heath to Loch Comhnard. You can also hike the Affric-Kintail Way, a 44-mile hiking route that starts in Drumnadrochit, through the heart of Glen Affric to see remarkable lakes, ancient forests and valleys.

Two guanacos are in grassland against a backdrop of mountains.

Removing the fences allowed species like the guanaco to safely return to Patagonia’s national park. Photography: David Levene/The Guardian

4 Patagonia National Park, Chile

Patagonia National Park contains 750,000 acres of vast grasslands, forests, alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks. It was created in 2018 with a land grant from Tompkins Conservation, combined with two existing neighboring nature reserves.

For most of the last century, the central valley was an overgrazed ranch. Volunteers removed 700 km of fences, allowing the return of herds of guanaco, puma and other species, while the absence of sheep and cattle allowed the flora to recover, including the thick coirón grass.

Darwin’s Rhea Reintroduction Center has released dozens of flightless birds – which act as an important seed disperser – back into the ecosystem, and in 2022, three rehabilitated Andean condors were also released.

how to visit

The park is located in the remote Aysén region of Patagonia. Check out the visitor center, a museum that connects the region’s history to the trajectory of globalism, mass species extinction and climate change. Conaf (the national forest corporation) manages the park’s campgrounds, or stay at the Explora Lodge on-site. The park has extensive trails for hiking, guided backpacking and wildlife viewing.

Saiga antelopes run across a prairie on the outskirts of Almaty.

Saiga antelopes run across a prairie on the outskirts of Almaty. Photography: Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP/Getty Images

5 Central Kazakhstan

Since 2005, the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative has been restoring steppe, semi-desert and desert ecosystems across the historic saiga antelope range in central Kazakhstan, an area of ​​750,000 square kilometers.

Led by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), with support from the RSPB and others, the project has increased saiga populations from 50,000 in 2006 to over 840,000 in 2021, with migratory animals distributing nutrients and spreading seeds that help to restore the life of steppe plants.

Satellite tagging data from 183 saiga also helped the government of Kazakhstan establish some 12.4 million acres of state-protected areas, expand existing ones, remove barriers to saiga migration, combat poaching, and understand patterns of antelope migration for future infrastructure developments.

how to visit

ACBK organizes international group tours to protected areas in the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative project areas in May, June, August and September, including the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there is the chance to see saiga, flamingos, dalmatian pelicans, demoiselle and steppe eagles.

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