Camping in Wilderness with the European Outdoor Ethics Programme

Camping is a typical way to experience Wilderness in the United States. In Europe, on the other hand, camping in Wilderness is highly restricted and even forbidden in many protected areas. But being able to experience Wilderness is essential for Wilderness appreciation. So how do Europeans get their Wilderness experience? Of course, camping is not the only way to experience Wilderness. However, the question still needs to be asked: How do we raise awareness and appreciation of Wilderness, amongst those with limited opportunities to experience true Wilderness?

Please also read: The Challenges of Nature Tourism in Wilderness

How do you get your Wilderness experience?

When talking about Wilderness in Europe, people often associate it with some kind of restrictions, for example No-Go zones. This is in contrast to the Wilderness understanding in the United States, where Wilderness is seen as a common good – “secured for the American people of present and future generations”. This is particular evident when it comes to the uses of Wilderness. Europeans can mainly just experience Wilderness during day-trips, however camping is legal in most American Wilderness areas (but permits might be necessary). Both approaches have benefits as well as downsides. The question is: Do the benefits outweigh the possible consequences?

You can only appreciate what you experienced

Wilderness camping is a great way to connect with nature and experience things you would not be able to see, hear or feel on a day-trip. It enables you to discover your own wildness. Most importantly, it inspires people to protect these areas creates new Wilderness advocates. However, the impacts camping can leave on Wilderness cannot be neglected. Numerous Wilderness areas in the United States require overnight-permits for camping and strictly limit the number of these permits, in order to reduce negative impacts. But still, pollution from inappropriately disposed human waste, illegal and unattended campfires causing wildfires, scarred trees and destroyed vegetation are unfortunately not rare issues. Nevertheless, the U.S. Wilderness Act preserves Wilderness for;

“the use and enjoyment of the American people in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness”.

This statement in the Wilderness Act determines that the use of Wilderness must be in a manner that will leave the Wilderness for future generations. In response, the Leave No Trace movement was developed. Their principles allow experiencing Wilderness without leaving an impact.

European Outdoor Ethics

Camping in Wilderness needs a framework and strict principles but most importantly it needs education. Education needs to focus on Wilderness and minimal impact camping techniques, and on the national legislative situation. The European Wilderness Society developed the European Outdoor Ethic to offer such a European-wide framework for Wilderness camping. It is based on the legal situation in European countries, and incorporates best advice and support for experiencing Wilderness sustainably. Wilderness camping in Europe will always have some restrictions, dependent on the fragility of the Wilderness landscape and the history of its use. For example some Wilderness areas were previously used as military training grounds. In these cases, land zonation plays a big part. Additionally European Wilderness areas are smaller than most American Wilderness areas, and the European Outdoor Ethics reflects this.

However, despite the advice and guidance of European Outdoor Ethics, the legal situation of Wilderness or wild camping is the deciding factor.

Wilderness in Europe

It is still a common belief that Wilderness is not present in Europe. But Europeans often overlook what is right on their doorstep. The European Wilderness Network protects more than 300 000 ha of Wilderness across the European continent. Northern and Eastern Europe still hosts vast areas of Wilderness, however Central Europe is home to Wilderness as well. Numerous areas in Austria and Germany prove that.

The European Outdoor Ethic provides advice on how to experience Wilderness. It takes into account human safety and national legislations, whilst protecting the Wilderness. This will enable more people to experience and appreciate Wilderness, and promote Wilderness stewardship.

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