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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