Wilderness is a word that raises various connotations all of over the world. While some people from the nature conservation arena consider the concept of protecting wilderness an obsolete term, the concept of wilderness has gained considerable momentum in Europe during recent years. The different rewilding initiatives across Europe also use – often misuse – the term wilderness. Even different governmental bodies across Europe define Wilderness different from each other.

During the Future of Wild in Europe conference in Leeds, UK, in September 2016, I presented a concept of improving the policy of wilderness protection through the better understanding of how wilderness policy developed in Europe during the past decade. A clear political milestone was the adoption of the European Parliament Resolution on Wilderness in Europe on the 3rd of February 2009, which called on the European Commission and the Member States to take several concrete actions including the followings:

  • 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, which opens up the opportunity for restoring wilderness attributes or “rewilding”
  • promote the values of wilderness in cooperation with NGOs & local communities.

Based upon

  • a literature review,
  • the development of an online questionnaire addressed to the representatives of the EU member states,
  • interviews with key stakeholders,

my conference paper looked at the actions towards implementing better wilderness protection in Europe with special attention paid to the Wilderness Guidelines for Natura 2000 managers and the EC Wilderness Register. In order to define the future of wild in Europe, my paper concluded what steps were still required in order to implement the EU Agenda on Wilderness and Wildland across Europe. The research came up with 11 key recommendations, which I hope wilderness protection organisations would adopt in their policy work in the years to come to ensure the implementation of wilderness across Europe. With this post, I am introducing the first 2 key recommendations linked to the definition of wilderness.

The technical definition of wilderness was developed with the involvement of key European civil society organisations and more than 230 wilderness advocates and governmental representatives. The European Commission indirectly accepted this definition by using it as a reference in its wilderness guidance and wilderness register documents. Consistency is an important factor and while a technical definition might be considered as a living phrase, which require regular update, this paper suggest not altering the definition until 2030.

The graph below demonstrates the key difference between wilderness (a status) and rewilding (a process). Rewilding as an approach might be applied at the full continuum of wilderness from urban green spaces to wildlands! Wilderness though exists only at the end of the spectrum!

Figure 1: The wilderness continuum

Key recommendations for a successful implementation of wilderness policy across Europe:

  1. Keep the current European definition of wilderness and wild areas as a European wide definition! The difference between wilderness, wild areas and rewilding as a process must be clear in any communication. The European Wilderness Society in its European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is doing that.
  2. Collect evidences of the best practice use of the definition and also arguments for change after 2020. In 2016 the first three Wilderness were certified with exactly this definition as a basis.

The implementation of these recommendation would eventually result in strengthening one European approach towards wilderness stewardship instead of a nationally (or even regionally) divided understanding, which in my view would mean the end of wilderness protection in EUROPE.

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