“The most precious thing we have is our freedom and a life in connection with nature.”

“The most precious thing we have is our freedom and a life in connection with nature.”

People, animals, and the plant world all exist together. A livable future calls for initiatives and products that have a regenerative effect and are dedicated to restoring space for natural processes to unfold. The people involved in the joint rewilding mission in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria organized by Rewilding Europe and Wildling Shoes are committed to this future. 

Update: From 2020 to 2022, Wildling Shoes supported the work of Rewilding Europe, among other things, through its membership in the non-profit organization "1% for the Planet", which connects companies with high-impact non-profit partners. As Wildling Shoes is affected by the current global economic situation in various ways, we unfortunately have to stop direct financial support at the end of 2022 – but Wildling Shoes and Rewilding Europe will remain connected, both ideologically and in practice.

“For me, Rewilding Europe and the activities in the Rhodope Mountains were the reason I came back to Bulgaria,”says Poli Karapachov. After several years abroad, he returned to his homeland as the Enterprise Officer at Rewilding Europe to help advance eco-social income opportunities in the Rhodope region. “I have faith in Rewilding Europe’s philosophy and I feel that I can make a difference.”

Regeneration is a calling

Rewilding Europe’s vision is based on a seemingly simple idea: Nature can take care of itself. We just have to give it the chance. In line with that idea, one major aspect of the mission is to establish the overall conditions that allow animals and plants to be left to their own devices, as unhindered as possible by human impact.

Screenshot of Youtube video "Regeneration is a calling"

Video on Youtube: "Regeneration is a calling"

At the same time, rewilding is focused on turning the problems caused by a continued large-scale rural exodus into opportunities for both people and nature. Creating eco-social income opportunities aimed at keeping people in the region is a key factor: promoting things like local, handmade products and soft tourism.

“We often say that we have turned our hobby into our profession, and that we are working towards a very important goal. And that’s why we never give up.” Vulture expert Dobromir Dobrev puts into words the things that keep the whole team motivated every day as they work towards regeneration.

Everything is connected

“The forests and the mountains are teeming with life. We need to protect this life and do everything we can to encourage natural processes to re-emerge,” says Andreana Trifonova, head of the Rewilding Rhodopes team in Bulgaria. After all, everything is interrelated and interdependent. “For instance, with the process of natural grazing, the grazing animals open up the landscape, giving sun and light more access to the ground. That’s the role of grazing animals – to preserve this semi-open landscape.”

Vulture expert Dobromir adds: “Vultures need open areas to forage, to have space so they can really interact. They are both very crucial components of the ecosystem − vultures and grazers are profoundly connected. In principle, they are one.” Because they are elementary components of a cycle that requires all of its parts to be in harmony.

Screenshot of Youtube video "Everything is connected"

Video on Youtube: "Everything is connected"

People, animals, plant life – regeneration needs all of us

The fact that herbivores, carnivores, and a diverse array of plant species all coexist teaches us: No living creature is an island. A healthy ecosystem thrives on a well balanced interplay among all of its parts. As human beings, we too are a component of this greater whole. Becoming aware of this truth again and again – that’s part of regeneration as well.

It’s yet another reason why creating sustainable income opportunities for the people who live in the region is such a pivotal aspect of Rewilding Europe’s mission. “Our work is always very much about the people who live here,” explains Nelly Naydenova, who is in charge of communications for Rewilding Rhodopes. “For me, that’s the best part of our job – communicating with people at the local level. They experience very directly how nature continues to regenerate little by little. They are key supporters of the Rewilding idea. And, after all, the local people are a reflection of nature.”

Screenshot of Youtube video "Regeneration needs all of us"

Video on Youtube: "Regeneration needs all of us"

Living in and with nature is what inspires those who have stayed as well as those who are returning. From other countries, like Poli, or from the cities, like Sergey Panayotov. After a lengthy career as a photographer and marketing manager, Sergey made a conscious decision to live a decelerated life in the country.

He organizes nature-friendly bird watching and photography tours in the Rhodope Mountains and has roused The Old Nest Guest House from dormancy. He put nearly two years of work into the renovations. Built over 200 years ago using only natural materials, the guesthouse now accommodates visitors seeking to explore the Rhodope Mountains in a natural and ecological way.

A big step about which Sergey has no regrets. “I realized that the most valuable thing we have isn’t money; it’s freedom and a life connected to nature.”

Cover image: Ivo Danchev