Wilderness represents a vital element of Europe’s natural and cultural heritage. Still, there was no common understanding what Wilderness actually is. That’s why the European Wilderness Definition was developped.
In addition to its intrinsic value, Wilderness offers the opportunity for people to experience the spiritual quality of nature in the widest experiential sense – beyond mere physical and visual attributes, in particular through its psychological impact. They also provide important economic, social, and environmental benefits, including ecosystem services, for local communities, landowners and society as a whole. Wilderness performs several functions better than modified landscapes. Among these are:
- 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 an EU Wilderness strategy.
- Stimulate the development of new Wilderness areas through restoration.
- Promote the values of Wilderness together with NGOs & local communities.
How the European Wilderness definition was developed
The EU Member States were invited to exchange ‘best practices’ in managing Wilderness, develop a code of conduct for tourism in Wilderness areas, and 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 organisations, such as PAN Parks, EUROPARC, WWF, BirdLife International, IUCN, UNESCO, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), and Rewilding Europe, alongside the involvement of 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“.
In the run 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 initial application of these criteria in several test sites, led to an update of the criteria. This was especially needed as Germany had developed an alternative definition to meets its objective of dedicating 2% of the landmass as Wilderness. In addition, Scandinavian countries, as well as Scotland, amongst others had difficulties implementing and identifying Wilderness areas meeting the WEI criteria.
European Wilderness Definition
Wilderness is for the purpose of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System 2.0 defined as:
Wilderness thus means:
- No human extraction e.g. hunting, logging, mineral extraction, mining, deadwood collection
- No human intervention e.g. disease or alien species control, restoration measures, permanent human infrastructure
- Open ended undefined natural dynamic processes
The full European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit (2.0) process consists of:
- 10 Principles
- 57 Criteria
- 130 Indicators
- 12 – 14 day field audit
- 6 months of research and desk work
- Development of a 150-200 page Wilderness Audit Report, as a basis for a Wilderness Stewardship Plan, including a detailed SWOT analysis with site-specific recommendations for action
- Detailed site-specific recommendations
- A Wilderness Quality categorisation valid for a period of 10 years
- Comprehensive communication and marketing support with public relations and promotional material
- Development of a monitoring and evaluation plan
- Certification and labelling valid for 10 years with a free monitoring audit after 5 years
It is a European-wide, habitat independent, and solution-oriented basis for Wilderness stewardship plans with continuous controls and audits, backed up by an offer of great marketing to support the constituent Wilderness and Wilderness Areas.