Having recently returned from a nature-orientated trip to Croatia, the subject of rewilding, and in particular, the proposed Lynx reintroduction here in the UK, has been on my mind. The highlight was a day spent exploring the magnificent – and truly wild – Risnjak National Park. Apart from being a prime example of a thriving forest ecosystem brimming with biodiversity, it was also the setting for Croatia’s own Eurasian Lynx resurgence, originating from the release of six animals from Slovakia into Slovenia in 1973.
Their progeny gradually spread into Croatia, where Risnjak’s vast swathes of untouched decidious woodland and coniferous forest provided a relative stronghold for them. The species had been absent in the country for over 70 years, following their human-induced extermination at the beginning of the 20th Century due to hunting and trapping, a lack of suitable prey, habitat fragmentation and consequent inbreeding. A shortage of prey continues to be a problem for the Lynx in Risnjak, with numbers of Roe Deer, Red Deer and Chamois far too low given the size of the national park.
However, a translocation of Chamois is planned in the near future and the endemic Wild Boar population is substantial and stable, providing another vital food source for the forest’s three largest predators: Brown Bear, Wolf and Lynx. Remarkably, its habitats have remained unexploited since the park’s formation in 1953, enabling a wealth of wildlife to flourish, including 114 bird species, 500 types of butterfly and well over 4000 plant species.
The entangled density and vibrancy of the vegetation gives the area a really primeval feel at times – a precious product of letting nature do its own thing over many years and allowing natural interactions to unfold without human disturbance. If a number of trees are blown over during a storm, they are left where they fall. Rotting wood can thus provide a boost of nutrients to the forest floor and the insect life that inhabits it. Small mammals and birds may then seek shelter in its hollows. Natural regeneration takes place through seed dispersal by the wind, or perhaps, through the Wild Boar who happen to be foraging on the fungi-covered trunk.
After all, the reintroduction of an apex predator is just one piece of a much larger ecological jigsaw puzzle which serves to benefit all species.