I’m Wouter Helmer (62) and I've spent my entire professional career putting rewilding into practice. For that purpose, and together with many others I have set up various organizations including ARK Nature, Rewilding Europe, FREE Nature and recently I joined the NatureCredits Advisory Board.
As an (animal) ecologist in heart and soul, I consider it my role to translate the complex story of well-functioning ecosystems to the world of economic sectors. So that they get to know nature in their own language and working method; as an ally in solving their problems.
Over the last 35 years at ARK Nature, we have tried to show that we are not separate from nature; but an intrinsic, interwoven part of it. Nature’s problems are our problems, and our problems often have nature-based solutions. Wilder nature can be our ally in solving the socio-economic issues of our time.
With ARK Nature we developed dozens of showcase rewilding initiatives in the Netherlands and abroad where flood risk along rivers was greatly reduced by giving more space to rivers in rewilded floodplains. We changed the business case for mining companies so that clay, sand and gravel mining started to contribute to rewilding through the excavation of new channels to restructure the waterways, resulting in enhanced new nature areas: braiding gravel rivers, flowing side channels, restored swamp forests and river dunes. Drinking water companies safeguarded their water resources by switching to the rewilding of their areas. Real estate values increased with a more natural environment. With ARK, and also with REWILDING EUROPE during the last 10 years, we showed that spectacular nature develops into major tourist destinations, thereby contributing to the local economy in and around such landscapes.
The carbon dimension
So far so good, but what we had overlooked until recently is that these new natural areas store huge amounts of carbon. With natural densities of large herbivores, such as wild horses, cattle, bison, water buffalo and deer, mosaics of spontaneous forest, scrub and herbaceous grasslands emerge; together accounting for many tons of carbon deposits per hectare in the above-ground vegetation. Due to their grazing and browsing behaviour and the excretion of manure, which in turn is processed by dung beetles and other insects, the herbivores also contribute to an increase of carbon in the soil.
Moreover, mosaic landscapes which are the result of natural grazing, are less vulnerable to large-scale fires than closed forest or shrub vegetation. Particularly in abandoned agricultural areas in Southern Europe, rewilding thus contributes to the reduction of carbon emissions from fire. Finally, in more northern regions, the re-wetting of peatlands associated with rewilding also contributes to a positive carbon balance.
Credit to nature
What does all of this mean in light of the current climate problem? Well, it is crystal clear that new nature areas can make a substantial contribution to climate adaptation, but that this has so far not or hardly been expressed in the business case for rewilding. This must change. And with current carbon credit prices this could even become a substantial source of funding for new rewilding projects, particularly in those regions with relatively low land prices and/or a high level of need for peat rehydration or fire risk reduction.
However, as the examples above show, rewilding is so much more than just carbon storage. With one and the same approach, a whole range of social and community services is put into operation. That is why it is good that, in addition to the existing carbon credits, a new type of credit – a nature credit – is being launched that does justice to this added value. Companies that have to compensate for their carbon footprint, or interested investors, are thus offered an alternative, which gives them more value for money. If we look after nature, nature will look after us.
With NatureCredits we offer a new tool to bring demanders and providers of nature-based solutions closer together.
*This blog is written by Wouter Helmer and posted by Renske Cans