Sep 26

Populations of some of Europe’s key animals have increased over the past 50 years, according to recent research.

European bison image

The European bison is one of several species which have increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years

Species recovery

Through studying a total of 18 mammal and 19 bird species found across Europe, researchers found that key species, including grey wolves, brown bears and eagles, have increased in number in recent decades. This is welcome news for conservationists, as European animals have not always fared so well over the course of the last few centuries, with habitat loss, pollution and hunting all contributing to the decline of some of the continent’s most charismatic species.

The report, commissioned by conservation group Rewilding Europe, found that all species studied, with the exception of the Iberian lynx, have increased in number since the 1960s. The European bison, Eurasian beaver and white-headed duck were among some of the species whose populations had increased by more than 3,000% in the last 50 years, while several top predators such as the brown bear have doubled in number. The iconic grey wolf has seen serious losses in the past, but this latest research has shown positive progress in its conservation, with numbers climbing by a promising 30%.

Iberian lynx image

The Iberian lynx was the only animal in the study which was found not to have increased in number

Conservation works

People have this general picture of Europe that we’ve lost all our nature and our wildlife,” said Frans Schepers, Director of Rewilding Europe. “I think what the rest of the world can learn from this is that conservation actually works. If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it actually works.”

The comeback of European wildlife began in the 1950s and 1960s, and although numbers aren’t anywhere near those present in the 1600s and 1700s, conservationists are encouraged by the increasing populations. It is thought that various factors have contributed to the boost in animal numbers, including better legal protection and hunting limits. In addition, more and more people are moving away from the countryside in favour of cities, leaving more space for wildlife.

Successful areas

Analysis of the research, carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife and the European Bird Census Council, found that the south and west of Europe showed the largest comeback for mammals, with the ranges of these species increasing by an average of about 30%. For bird species, average ranges remained stable.

Grey wolf image

The grey wolf, once highly persecuted, has increased by a promising 30%

Concern among farmers

While it is great news for conservationists and for the future of European ecosystems, the recovery of some species, particularly large predators, has raised some issues. With the return of the grey wolf, many farmers, for instance, are concerned for the safety of their livestock.

The report acknowledges the challenges faced by farmers as a result of wildlife increases, and suggests that compensation schemes should be put in place by governments to offset any livestock losses. However, the report also highlights the benefits that rural communities may gain from thriving wildlife, including a boost to local economies as a result of ecotourism.

White-tailed eagle image

The white-tailed eagle was one of the 19 bird species studied

Focussed conservation

The results of this latest research are both encouraging and surprising, as biodiversity on a global scale continues to decline. However, scientists are keen to ensure that conservation efforts continue to build upon the success in Europe, by focussing on positive action and scaling up the conservation movement globally.

There are massive challenges out there globally,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London, “And we have to realise that the threats that Europe creates are not just within our borders, it’s internationally, and that we are having an impact on the 60% decline we’re seeing in low income countries around the world.”

Professor Baillie also highlighted the need to carry on moving forward with European species conservation, saying, “We just have to be aware that into the future there will be increasing pressure for food production and so on within Europe, and for a lot of these species, where we have seen the gains, we might lose them again if we are not careful. So it’s our job to keep our eye on the ball.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Europe’s key animals ‘making a comeback’.

View photos and videos of European species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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