Reintroduction of large carnivores in Europe: A case study on frictions between rules of law and rules of nature

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In the Anthropocene, marked by extremely rapid biodiversity loss, the question arises if the legal obligation to restore protected species under the European Habitats Directive (HD) implies obligations to reintroduce species and, if so, how we determine if and where such reintroductions should take place?

The focus and structure of this article reflects different variables that largely determine the answers to these questions.

Temporal issues arise because the static retroactive character of the HD is in tension with the dynamics of the Anthropocene. Second, spatially, extensive uncertainty surrounds the requirement of member states to establish a system of protection for species listed under the HD in their ‘natural range’. In other words, obligations to reintroduce are triggered by whatever spatially is considered the natural range of a species. Third and related, law (including case law, soft law and guidance documents) is permeated with explicit and implicit references to the nature/human dichotomy (e.g. in terms of causes of extinction,when a species, is considered ‘alien’, etc.).

In order to transcend the abstract the speculative, we explore these variables in the context of European reintroduction scenario’s involving large carnivores. The focus on large carnivores is informed by (a) their ecological function in ecosystems, (b) their dynamic presence and strict legal protection in the EU, and (c) several conducted reintroduction projects that we can draw upon.

In this emerging field of conservation policy, normative guidance is not exclusive derived from legal sources, such as EU law. In fact, for restoration/reintroduction specialized non-governmental organizations such as the IUCN have been first movers. Their mission and epistemological bases are very different from those we associate with the world of law, yet their (legal) influence extends well beyond their own membership, and is an authoritative voice at global, EU and national level.

Questions about the desirability and viability of continued reliance of Holocenic legal dualisms are hence explored by discussing experiences on ‘the ground’, and exploring legal innovations that emerge from restoration and reintroduction practices.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of human rights and the environment
Publication statusSubmitted - 2022


  • Anthropocene
  • UCN guidelines
  • Restoration
  • Reintroduction
  • Habitats Directive,


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