European Wilderness Definition

European Wilderness Definition

Wilderness areas represent a vital element of Europe’s natural and cultural heritage. In addition to their intrinsic value, they offer the opportunity for people to experience the spiritual quality of nature in the widest experiential sense – beyond mere physical and visual attributes, and in particular its psychological impact. They also provide important economic, social and environmental benefits, including ecosystem services, for local communities, landholders and society at large. Wilderness performs several functions better than modified landscapes. Among these are for example:

  • Conserving Biodiversity
  • Protecting Ecosystem Services
  • Connecting Landscapes
  • Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide
  • Building Knowledge and Understanding of Natural Processes
  • Inspiring People

The concept of wilderness has gained considerable momentum in Europe during the last 15 years. A milestone was the adoption of the “European Parliament Resolution on Wilderness in Europe” in February 2009, which calls on the European Commission to:

  • Develop a clear definition of wilderness.
  • Mandate the European Environment Agency to map existing wilderness areas in Europe.
  • Undertake a study on the values and benefits of wilderness.
  • Develop a EU wilderness strategy.
  • Catalyse the development of new wilderness areas through restoration.
  • Promote the values of wilderness together with NGOs & local communities.

The EU Member States were invited to exchange ‘best practices’ in managing wilderness, develop a code of conduct for tourism in wilderness areas, and to ensure the best protection of wilderness areas. In February 2009, the Wild Europe Initiative (WEI) started a collaborative effort to promote the wilderness concept amongst several European nature conservation organizations, such as PAN Parks, EUROPARC, WWF, BirdLife International, IUCN, UNESCO, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), Rewilding Europe, and including personnel from the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

In May 2009, more than 230 representatives met in Prague at the “Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas”. A key outcome was the “Message from Prague”, which contained 24 recommendations from the participants on policy, research, awareness raising, and partnerships concerning wilderness. A definition of wilderness had been formulated for the Conference, and the Wilderness Working Group (WWG)  generated a first draft paper: the “Discussion Draft: A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas“ . Leading up to the WILD10 Conference in Salamanca in 2013, the feedback of several members of the WWG, NGOs, and Government organisations plus the practical experience gathered during the first applications of these criteria in several test sites, led to an update of the criteria. This was especially needed since Germany developed an alternative definition to meets its objective of dedicating 2% of the landmass as wilderness. In addition Scandinavian countries as well as Scotland among others had difficulties implementing identifying wilderness areas meeting the WEI criteria.

European Wilderness Definition

Wilderness is for the purpose of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System defined as:

Natural processes govern wilderness core zones meeting the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System “Gold- or Platinum Standard”. They are composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. They are unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.

Wilderness core zones meeting the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System “Bronze- or Silver Standards” are wild areas that have a high level of predominance of natural process and natural habitat. They tend to be individually smaller and more fragmented than the “Gold- or Platinum Standard” wilderness areas, although they often cover extensive tracts. The condition of their natural habitat, processes and relevant species is however often partially or substantially modified by past human activities such as livestock herding, hunting, fishing, and collecting berries and mushrooms.

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