Wilderness Frequently Asked Questions

What is Wilderness in Europe?

Wilderness in Europe is clearly defined as unique areas that host diverse wild nature – driven by dynamic, open-ended natural processes, free from human society’s impact. This means that humans do not extract or intervene. Some call it ‘self-willed land’.

Is there Wilderness in Europe?

Yes, there is. In fact, there are already more than 40 Wilderness areas in Europe that meet the European Wilderness Quality Standard. You can get an overview of them on the European Wilderness Network website.

Why is Wilderness in Europe important?

It not only provides a safe refuge for plants and wildlife, which enables natural evolutionary processes and development, but it also helps to protect Europe’s natural heritage.

How is Wilderness in Europe defined?

European Wilderness is officially defined by the Wilderness Working Group, which developed a definition for Wilderness and Wild Areas. These definitions are agreed upon by the European Commission and numerous international Wilderness specialists. Furthermore, these definitions form the basis for the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System.

Why do we need a European Wilderness Definition?

It is necessary to have a commonly agreed definition of Wilderness, to be able to implement the European Wilderness Quality Standard across different habitats and ecosystems and countries in Europe. An agreed definition strengthens the basis for the protection of European Wilderness.

What are differences between Wilderness and Wild Areas?

Wilderness is generally larger and less fragmented than Wild Areas. Wild Areas also show clearer and more recent signs of human interventions and use. Wild Areas aim at the development and recreation towards Wilderness, through the process of natural ‘rewilding’.

Why do we need a European Wilderness Quality Standard?

It is necessary to have a Wilderness Standard, based on a commonly agreed upon Wilderness definition, to be able to properly protect it and avoid miscommunication. A standard provides safety and reliability for visitors, effective analyses on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, governmental support, interoperability between areas, and encourages possibilities for research and marketing purposes.

Why do we need a European Wilderness Audit?

Wilderness is not a static state but subject to dynamic open-ended processes. The European Wilderness Audit is an extensive desk- and fieldwork mission to verify the status and quality of Wilderness, as well as the practical results of the Wilderness stewardship and its compliance with the Wilderness principles. It provides the Wilderness Stewards a comparable basis for the necessary steps to protect the Wilderness. The Audit is carried out by a team of experts to ensure a consistent and reliable process over time. The Audit is repeated at regular intervals to reflect the dynamic nature of Wilderness.

Why does European Wilderness have subcategories, such as: WILDForest, WILDRiver, WILDIsland, and WILDCoast?

Wilderness – Wilderness with a mixed habitat and a minimum – – Wilderness zone size of 1 000 ha
WILDCoast – Wilderness combining terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats
WILDForest – Wilderness with a predominant forest habitat
WILDIsland – Island with terrestrial, coastal and surrounding marine habitats
WILDRiver – Wilderness along rivers and riverbank habitats

All categories, i.e. Wilderness, WILDIsland, WILDForest, WILDCoast and WILDRiver, in the European Wilderness Network are unique and represent the best and wildest places in Europe. They cover a multitude of different habitats, all governed by natural processes and non-intervention stewardship techniques, following the same principles of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System. 

Why are Restoration and Transition zones part of European Wilderness?

The Restoration zone offers the possibility to enlarge the Wilderness zone in the future, when the stewardship in this zone changes from active to non-intervention approach. The Transition zone functions as a ‘buffer’ around the Wilderness and Restoration zone.

Why is active management not compatible with the European Wilderness definition?

Any kind of active management or interference in natural processes has impact on nature. Wilderness provides nature the room and time to develop undisturbed and without active human interventions. Therefore, active management does not comply with the non-intervention and non-extraction approach of Wilderness stewardship. Instead, an observing stewardship approach is advised.

What is the difference between Wilderness management and Wilderness stewardship?

While management implies an active approach, stewardship focusses on ensuring that natural dynamic open-ended developments can take place undisturbed. This means Wilderness stewardship builds on non-intervention management.

Why are extractive uses, such as hunting, fishing, livestock grazing, harvesting of berries, nuts or mushrooms, or the collection of minerals not acceptable in European Wilderness?

Any form of extraction, meaning to take something away, does not comply with the non-intervention and non-extraction approach of Wilderness stewardship of European Wilderness.

Why are natural events such as disease outbreaks, fire, floods, avalanches or wind considered as beneficial parts of natural dynamic processes in European Wilderness?

Natural events are an integral part of natural dynamic processes in nature. They have an impact on ecosystem dynamics and contribute to a healthier ecosystem in the short and long term. Allowing nature to cope with natural events follows the Wilderness stewardship principles.

Why can bark beetle impact not be controlled in European Wilderness?

Bark beetle outbreaks are a tool of natural selection and contribute to make a forest more resistant against future disease outbreaks. Furthermore, forests with a natural tree composition are known to be more resilient to bark beetle infestation. Consequently, a bark beetle outbreak in a Wilderness will not cause such severe damage as within an industrial monoculture forest. In addition, trees that suffer or die from bark beetle infestation provide not only nutrients to the soil, but also a home for many deadwood-dependent insects and other animals.

Does European Wilderness have a minimum size?

Although minimum size is not a decisive factor in the Audit process, a minimum size is advised to allow a complete or nearly complete ecosystem to develop according to natural processes. Ultimately, the size of a Wilderness depends therefore on the type of habitat, the remoteness, the transition zone, the accessibility and the stewardship and protection plan in place.The aim for some subcategories of Wilderness is to achieve a Wilderness Zone of more than 10 000 hectares, while for others  like pet bogs already 1000 ha maybe already sufficient to have functioning undisturbed dynamic open-ended natural process.

Can European Wilderness be recreated?

The ongoing current tendency to restore former natural areas to a more natural state, either naturally or with human assistance, also known as ‘rewilding’, opens the door for new Wilderness. Therefore, the category of “Wild Areas” was added to the European Wilderness Definition to support the process of rewilding and the development of new Wilderness.

Can European Wilderness exist without human support in the 21st century?

Yes, it can. People often have a temptation to help nature to recover, particularly after natural events, such as wind, bark beetle outbreaks or floods. Active measures, such as removing broken trees impacted by natural events, might speed up the growth of newly planted trees, but can negatively impact the natural dynamics of the forest for many years. European Wilderness is able to restore naturally without any human assistence.

Is tourism a threat to European Wilderness?

Uncontrolled tourism always has an impact on any Ecosystem including Wilderness. On the other hand to raise awareness for Wilderness and its protection, it is important to offer opportunities to experience Wilderness. People can experience Wilderness if they respectfully treat the Wilderness as such. We assist in offering the a sustainable wilderness tourism experience by offering training as part of our European Outdoor Ethics programme.

What is Wilderness education?

Wilderness education is the process of facilitating learning and acquisition of knowledge about Wilderness that host diverse wild nature – driven by dynamic, open-ended natural processes, free from extractive use. Wilderness education includes indoor and outdoor activities.

How can I support the protection of European Wilderness?

Our Wilderness Advocates help the European Wilderness Society to raise awareness of Wilderness in Europe, or support local organisations and protected areas. It is also possible to make a financial contribution to help save Europe’s wildest places.

We have collected some of the most often posed questions we receive and hope to provide some of the answers. If you have another question, feel free to contact us.

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