A message from Rewilding Europe’s Managing Director Frans Schepers on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and our relationship with nature.
As the destructive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt across the world, the number of public statements and media articles linking the outbreak with the climate and biodiversity crises increases daily. The unsustainable exploitation of wild nature and natural resources – manifested in rampant deforestation, the uncontrolled expansion and intensification of agriculture, and damaging activities such as drilling, mining and infrastructure development – have created a perfect storm for the incubation and transmission of disease.
There is now a growing awareness that we cannot return to what we thought was “normal” after this crisis has ended. Waiting for new pandemics and praying for vaccines is simply not a viable strategy – we need to deal with the underlying drivers. Hopeful statements are now emanating from several global institutions such as the UN. As they say, “nature is sending us a message, because failing to take care of the planet means we are not taking care of ourselves”, and “the pandemic is not nature’s revenge; we did it to ourselves”.
Released in early April, a short video narrated by Sir David Attenborough does a superb job of crystallising and visualising our current situation. It calls for us to focus our efforts on four main goals in order to rebalance our relationship with wild nature – one of these being to “rewild the world”. Our “Call to Action for a Wilder Europe“, published in December last year, and the more recent “Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth“, which was co-developed by Rewilding Europe, both reinforce the message that rewilding must be prioritised as a critical solution to our current climate and biodiversity emergencies. The Call to Action already has 60 signatories, while the Global Charter has been signed by more than 80 organisations and institutions across the world (as of May 2020).
It is clear that COVID-19 is forcing us to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world. In Europe, we are at crossroads – the European Green Deal and EU Biodiversity Strategy, which are now being finalised, are due to be presented in more detail this month. According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, we need to realise that “business as usual is no more. We will need to ‘bounce forward’ and not ‘bounce back’. And we will need to build a resilient, green and digital Europe’’. Rewilding Europe, together with other partners, have presented a clear vision that sets out why and how nature recovery should be a top priority in the Green Deal.
All of this should give hope to our colleagues and teams working in 17 countries across Europe, who are currently limited in their actions due to the lockdown. We hope that we can recover from delays in our work during the year, as and when fieldwork is gradually restarted. More than ever, we feel motivated to demonstrate how nature recovery, based on rewilding principles, is one of the best ways of tackling our current climate and biodiversity emergencies. It not only benefits wild nature, it enhances the wide range of benefits that such nature gives all Europeans – from clean air and water, carbon sequestration and fertile soil, right through to flood protection, resilience to disease and climate change, and enhanced health and wellbeing. Today, the need for more wild nature has never been more evident.