European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System

The Need for a European Wilderness Quality Standard

The main reason for the absence of a coordinated strategy on Wilderness in Europe is the lack of a common, systematic European Wilderness Quality Standard. This is because there are many different words for ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Wild’. It is impossible to adequately promote, protect, and restore an area if its standard remains unclear, or is understood differently according to its geographic location, individual perception or local culture. It is important that this standard can thus be applied in operational circumstances, in a socio-economic and geographical independent way. The European Wilderness Quality Standard provides Europeans with:

  • Improved compliance – The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is compliant with all recent and existing Wilderness definitions currently applied in most European countries. This provides easy integration into national and regional policies.
  • Safety and reliability – Adherence to the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System helps to ensure visitor satisfaction, reliability and environmental care. As a result, visitors perceive Wilderness as more dependable – this in turn raises visitor confidence, increasing visits and financial support.
  • Improving effectiveness – The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System provides Wilderness managers with reliable third-party recommendations based upon a detailed SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on the basis of a standard set of European-wide accepted principles, criteria and indicators.
  • Support from government policies and legislation – Standards are frequently referenced by regulators and legislators to protect users and business interests, and to support government policies. Standards play a central role in the European Union’s policy for a Single Market. Adherence to the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System will show the commitment to a common set of European values.
  • Interoperability – The ability of Wilderness stewards to work together, relies heavily on a generally accepted Wilderness standard.
  • Encourage research – The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System provides a solid foundation upon which scientists can base their research and can enhance monitoring.
  • Marketing possibilities – As more and more Wilderness adhere to the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System, more visitors and Wilderness advocates will support and promote Wilderness due to their increased awareness and confidence.
  • Cost reduction – Potential Wilderness do not have to reinvent the wheel, because all the basic Wilderness criteria and indicators have already been thought through. This ensures that new Wilderness will support the same principles with the existing Wilderness network.
  • Wilderness benefits from Standards – The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System sets minimum levels that help classify Wilderness according to several principles, criteria and a multitude of indicators. They provide benchmarks against which Wilderness is audited. This gives the areas an incentive to improve their Wilderness to gain an advantage. In turn, this guarantees public access to more Wilderness for future generations.

The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System

The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is based on a system of principles, criteria and indicators. Principles are the fundamental statements about a desired outcome. Criteria are the conditions that need to be met in order to comply with a principle. Indicators are the measurable states, which allow the assessment whether or not a particular criterion is met. In other words, the criteria are necessary to demonstrate that the principles have been met and the indicators show which criteria have been achieved. Consequently, each criterion and indicator is an essential part of the whole system.

The European Wilderness Society puts a lot of effort into the discussion and further development of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System and thresholds for its indicators, in order to provide a comprehensive tool for operationalising the theoretical discussion.

Ten European Wilderness Quality Standard principles

The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is based on a system of principles, criteria and indicators. It understands principles as the fundamental statements about a desired outcome. Criteria are the conditions that need to be met in order to comply with a principle. Indicators are the measurable states, which signify during the assessment whether or not a particular criterion is met. An area is assigned one of the four Wilderness categories: bronze, silver, gold or platinum.

The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System 2.0 consists of 130 indicators, which are divided into 57 criteria and organised in 10 principles, which are:

  • Wilderness Size and Zoning
  • Wilderness Stewardship
  • Wilderness and Biodiversity
  • Wilderness and Restoration
  • Wilderness and Extractive Uses
  • Wilderness and Anthropogenic Disturbance
  • Wilderness and Natural Dynamic Processes
  • Wilderness and Visitors
  • Wilderness Research and Monitoring
  • Wilderness and International Relevance

These general principles adequately reflect the Wilderness qualities as defined by the European Commission (2013) without referring to the specific criteria or indicators. However, this leaves three principles, which provide additional qualities going beyond the current Wilderness debate. This comprises mainly the principles of Wilderness and Restoration, Wilderness Research and Monitoring, and Wilderness and International Relevance.

Based on these principles, the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System covers two key dimensions:

  • The quality of the Wilderness (the current state of biodiversity, natural processes, existing infrastructures, visitors, eventual uses and disturbances)
  • The quality of the Wilderness stewardship (existence of plans, regulations, organisational settings, guidelines how to deal with certain issues, etc.)

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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