Rewilding in the Oder Delta, Germany-Poland: Ecological, social and economic drivers of landscape change
Restored wetlands, overgrown industrial sites, re-natured rivers, protected exclusion zones, abandoned farmland, and a host of new and returning animals including wolves, lynx, European elk, konik ponies and Highland cattle now feature in the rewilding landscape of the Oder Delta. Rewilding is a function of deliberate efforts by conservationists to facilitate natural processes, alongside myriad other social, economic, ecological and geomorphic factors. The relative insignificance of rewilding actions designing and managing nature in the Oder Delta prompts closer inspection of why rewilding happens here and what rewilding might entail more generally. Key drivers are identified through a critical biogeography of wildlife in the Oder Delta: How their distributions and movements are affected by a rich history; how individuals and species experience and shape rewilding futures; and how biopolitics governs animals’ lives whilst occasionally offering them greater autonomy to rewild. An exploration of rewilding-positive forces is augmented by analysis of ‘the business of rewilding’. Organisations operate in a competitive bioeconomy in which their aims and strategies must adapt to make rewilding pay and so the concepts of rewilding they proffer change. The Oder Delta offers an example of European rewilding in process where the effects of top-down nature conservation are largely absent on the ground and wildlife returns are somewhat serendipitous, challenging us to think beyond popular notions of rewilding as ecological restoration. On the other hand, rewilding cannot be explained away as nature 'filling the gaps’. Through developing a critical biogeography, distinct but interconnected political, ecological, social and economic processes emerge which begin to offer some explanations for why specific natures are appearing in specific places, in only some cases with associated conservation agendas.