Even around Chernobyl, nature has a fighting chance for survival

Let’s start the early days of 2016 on a positive note. There’s still hope for nature — if it’s only given chance. And, it can get on fine without humans.

One of the more encouraging bits of news, during 2015, was that the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, evacuated in 1986 after a huge explosion and fire, has become a wildlife haven similar to nature reserves.

An examination of the massive, tree-clad area around the stricken plant showed it is full of large animals such as elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and wolves, despite being contaminated with radioactive fallout.

It’s not that the scientists concluded that radiation is good for wildlife — just that the effects of people activity, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse.

On a related note, rewilding is an emerging movement in Europe to allow habitats to return to their natural state and to conserve wildlife. Anyone out walking in the wilderness during the festive season will have seen evidence of human activity everywhere, but the aim of rewilding is to allow nature resume control.

The Nephin Beg mountain range, in the sparsely-populated north-west of Co Mayo, has been declared Ireland’s first wilderness area. It’s a landscape of moorland, bogs and heath-covered mountains, lashed by Atlantic winds and rain. The only forests there are stands of lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce.

Measuring 27,000 acres, roughly the size of Killarney National Park, it is one of the country’s few big areas of roadless, uninhabited terrain. You can travel for many kilometres through it without seeing a house, or any form of human life.

The pioneering project, Wild Nephin, is under the aegis of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Coillte. It has three, core aims: to protect a large wild landscape, rewild the forest and provide a primitive wilderness experience for visitors.

Over 15 years, the project will go about planting more native forestry and restore areas of bogland. Forest roads will be closed and converted to trails. The long-term idea is that agencies involved will step out of management of the area and wild processes will take over.

Scientists, meanwhile, are continuing to monitor what’s happening in the Chernobyl exclusion zone where the population of wolves, for example, is seven times higher than in nature reserves.

“These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation,” said Jim Beasley, of the University of Georgia and co-author of the study.


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