In addition to reinstatement of natural habitat and process, restoration can involve reintroduction of species previously occurring in a particular area.
Some reintroductions occur naturally, such as the return of the osprey to England or the spread of wolf into South Eastern France from the Italian Alps.
Many reintroductions are planned, including beaver now reintroduced to 26 countries across Europe, or European bison to the Rothaargebirge region in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
Such reintroductions are provided for in Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive and can bring significant enrichment to local biodiversity. To many, they also mark the fulfillment of a responsibility by man to reinstate a species he has extirpated.
Such reintroductions can also be controversial and require careful handling with full prior consultation, particularly among local communities and landholders where releases are to occur.
However, they can also help restore more balanced natural processes and enable enrichment of biodiversity as well as bringing economic benefits. Beaver create a wider variety of wetland habitats that support yet further species including mammals, birds, amphibians. Fish and invertebrates.
Similarly, by maintaining a mosaic of forest and grassland, European bison can help support a wider range of fauna and flora than would occur if a monoculture of climax arboreal vegetation were to occur.
There is increasingly widespread use of ‘surrogate’ species in place of their wild counterparts for naturalistic management of vegetation – including Heck cattle as a substitute for the extinct auroch and Konik horses for Tarpan, although there is some question over how far such comparisons reflect genetic reality.
Economic benefits from reintroduction
Reappearance of species formerly present can provide a major tourist attraction, of significance to the local and even regional economy.
In Scotland, wildlife tourism brings some £65 million annual revenue together with employment for nearly 2,800 - often in relatively poor rural areas. Reintroduction of Sea Eagle, the fourth largest in the world, to the Isle of Mull now produces significantly more income to local communities than farming.
In Abruzzo National Park, only 130 kilometers from Rome, local farming communities now gain better livelihoods from tourism based on the return of the wolf to restored areas of natural habitat than were previously earned from livestock herding.
Located in the Central Apennines the National Park covers 44,000 hectares of mountain forest and grassland and enjoys the Marsican brown bear as its symbol.
Reintroductions can bring similar economic benefits for local landholders and communities across central and eastern Europe as well. This can have a particularly stong impact in remoter areas, where traditional agricultural and forestry practice is less viable. However, alongside reintroduction programmes, there is often a need to focus on capacity building - eg provision of adequate local accommodation, guidance and general services if local communities are to gain maximum benefit from nature tourism.
Beaver are particularly prized for their economic benefit. Negative impacts from the 26 countries where reintroduction has occurred over the last 80 years have been almost without exception very limited and localised.
Positive benefits on the other hand have included flood mitigation, alleviation of pollution – together with revenue and employment from nature tourism. Because beaver consume a low calorie diet they forage for up to 18 hours a day, thus making ideal subjects for wildlife watchers.