A beautiful untouched landscape of a lake, forest and mountains. Rewilding in Ireland seeks to bring back such wild ecosystems.

Is there space for rewilding in Ireland?

A beautiful yet often treeless landscape. Rewilding in Ireland aims to restore some of this lost biodiversity. 

Is there space for rewilding in Ireland?

Western Europe has lost huge swathes of wilderness, but nowhere more so than Ireland. Once home to the Gaels, or "forest people", it is an ecological shadow of its former self. It has lost most of its biodiverse woodlands, species-rich grasslands, and large mammals. In a landscape that has been so drastically changed, it's hard to imagine how it could once again be home to wild areas. Though rewilding is often thought to be about large predators and vast landscapes, is space for a different kind of rewilding in Ireland?

 

1. A History of Dewilding

2. Restoring Habitats

3. Making Room for Wildlife

4. A Wilder Future

Western Europe has lost huge swathes of wilderness, but nowhere more so than Ireland. Once home to the Gaels, or "forest people", it is an ecological shadow of its former self. It has lost most of its biodiverse woodlands, species-rich grasslands, and large mammals. In a landscape that has been so drastically changed, it's hard to imagine how it could once again be home to wild areas. Though rewilding is often thought to be about large predators and vast landscapes, is space for a different kind of rewilding in Ireland?

1. A History of Dewilding

2. Restoring Habitats

3. Making Room for Wildlife

4. A Wilder Future

A History of Dewilding

When people arrived in Ireland around 12,000 years ago, they would have encountered an island covered in vast woodlands. Oak, elm, Scots pine, birch, rowan and holly grew above blankets of ferns, mosses, liverworts and thickets of honeysuckle and ivy. The foxes, pine martens and red squirrels that live in Ireland today roamed these woodlands alongside wolves, bears and wild boar. Once the most forested country in Europe, today only 11% is covered in woodland. Of this, only 2% is native. For the wildlife that depended on these woodlands, small fragments were all that remained. Wildlife populations soon dwindled and, with the added pressure of persecution and a dwindling prey base, many species were lost entirely.

A healthy native forest in ireland. Sadly, only pockets of such forests exist in Ireland. Rewilding in Ireland seeks to reverse this by encouraging more native wilderness.

A History of Dewilding

When people arrived in Ireland around 12,000 years ago, they would have encountered an island covered in vast woodlands. Oak, elm, Scots pine, birch, rowan and holly grew above blankets of ferns, mosses, liverworts and thickets of honeysuckle and ivy. The foxes, pine martens and red squirrels that live in Ireland today roamed these woodlands alongside wolves, bears and wild boar.

A healthy native forest in ireland. Sadly, only pockets of such forests exist in Ireland. Rewilding in Ireland seeks to reverse this by encouraging more native wilderness.

Once the most forested country in Europe, today only 11% is covered in woodland. Of this, only 2% is native. For the wildlife that depended on these woodlands, small fragments were all that remained. Wildlife populations soon dwindled and, with the added pressure of persecution and a dwindling prey base, many species were lost entirely.

Restoring Habitats

In a country with such a large agricultural industry, we can make huge rewilding gains by changing the way we manage farmland. Initiatives are underway to encourage farmers to set aside areas of their land for habitat restoration. Many farmers are now being paid for the wildlife their land supports. This may not evoke the kind of rewilding images that we are used to, but over time, these areas of farmland could provide important habitat for a diversity of invertebrates, birds and mammals. By rewilding Ireland’s farmlands a little bit, we could help support nature across the country.

A roe deer in the woods, just one of many creatures to benefit from rewilding in Ireland.
A close up image of a pine marten, just one of many creatures to benefit from rewilding in Ireland.

Restoring Habitats

In a country with such a large agricultural industry, we can make huge rewilding gains by changing the way we manage farmland. Initiatives are underway to encourage farmers to set aside areas of their land for habitat restoration. Many farmers are now being paid for the wildlife their land supports. This may not evoke the kind of rewilding images that we are used to, but over time, these areas of farmland could provide important habitat for a diversity of invertebrates, birds and mammals. By rewilding Ireland’s farmlands a little bit, we could help support nature across the country.

The sunset setting over a beautiful rugged Irish landscape

A beautiful yet often treeless landscape. Rewilding in Ireland aims to restore some of this lost biodiversity.

Making Room for Wildlife

Ireland is seeing the return of many species that were once lost. Birds of prey, like the sea eagle, golden eagle and red kite, species that disappeared altogether from Ireland, are making a comeback. Though they never completely disappeared from Ireland, pine martens are expanding their territories across the country. So too are the red squirrels, reintroduced from Britain in the 19th century. Though Ireland may not be ready for the lynx or wolf, ambitious reintroduction efforts are making the country a little bit wilder.

A sea eagle with a fish between its claws over the Irish sea

Future of Rewilding in Ireland

Ireland is now home to its first wilderness area, Nephin Beg Range. 8,000 hectares has been set aside for habitat restoration and reforestation with the vision to return the landscape to nature so that it can work uninterrupted in its rich complexity. Though centuries of ecological degradation and the long-term absence of species has diminished our memory of what Ireland once was, we are now starting to see what it can be. A wilder future for Ireland is possible.

 

Making Room for Wildlife

Ireland is seeing the return of many species that were once lost. Birds of prey, like the sea eagle, golden eagle and red kite, species that disappeared altogether from Ireland, are making a comeback. Though they never completely disappeared from Ireland, pine martens are expanding their territories across the country. So too are the red squirrels, reintroduced from Britain in the 19th century. Though Ireland may not be ready for the lynx or wolf, ambitious reintroduction efforts are making the country a little bit wilder.

A sea eagle with a fish between its claws over the  Irish sea

Future of Rewilding in Ireland

Ireland is now home to its first wilderness area, Nephin Beg Range. 8,000 hectares has been set aside for habitat restoration and reforestation with the vision to return the landscape to nature so that it can work uninterrupted in its rich complexity. Though centuries of ecological degradation and the long-term absence of species has diminished our memory of what Ireland once was, we are now starting to see what it can be. A wilder future for Ireland is possible.

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

  1. 1. “Irish Forests - A Brief History” - gov.ie
  2. 2. “The reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle to Ireland: People and wildlife” - Land Use Policy 2014 - sciencedirect.com ✅
  3. 3. “How to eradicate the grey squirrel without firing a shot” - The Guardian 2015 - theguardian.com
  4. 4. “Wild Nephin, Ireland’s First Wilderness Area” - Self-Willed-Land.org.uk

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

  1. 1. “Irish Forests - A Brief History” - gov.ie
  2. 2. “The reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle to Ireland: People and wildlife” - Land Use Policy 2014 - sciencedirect.com ✅
  3. 3. “How to eradicate the grey squirrel without firing a shot” - The Guardian 2015 - theguardian.com
  4. 4. “Wild Nephin, Ireland’s First Wilderness Area” - Self-Willed-Land.org.uk