National Park Austria Science Award: A Comparative Analysis of Selected Wilderness Areas in Central Europe.

How do we define Wilderness in global and European contexts?  Which categories and phases can we distinguish in Europe? What are the differences between them and does it make sense to differentiate between them? These are just some of the research questions of my master thesis: “How much Wilderness is left in Europe’s Wilderness Areas – A Comparative Analysis of Selected Wilderness Areas in Central Europe”.

Despite the European Wilderness Definition, which was the result of a three year long multi stakeholder process with more than 230 participants starting in 2009, the current momentum of Wilderness in Europe is accompanied by an ongoing discussion about what Wilderness actually is. Various papers and authors already dealt and deal with this controversial topic of defining and differentiating Wilderness. These discussions often lead to a categorisation of Wilderness. For example, depending on factors such as the extent of past and present human activities, time or size. The question whether we can or should categorise a dynamic process like Wilderness, formed the starting position for this thesis.

A Comparative Analysis of Selected Wilderness Areas in Central Europe

An analysis of Wilderness concepts and their underlying definitions used in Europe formed the basis for the final discussion. A self-developed concept of Wilderness categories, which divides Wilderness in to three categories: Primary Wilderness, Secondary Wilderness and Wild Areas, complemented this discussion. Based on this categorisation, I tried to compare four selected Wilderness areas in Europe (Hohe Tauern Wilderness, Kalkalpen Wilderness, Wilderness Dürrenstein and Königsbrücker Heide Nature Reserve) of which three have been audited according to the European Wilderness Quality Standard Audit System already.

The final debate pointed out that already the dynamisms of undisturbed nature are the processes worthy of protection. The selected areas definitely show that there are still unmodified or only slightly modified areas left within Central Europe deserving to be called Wilderness or wild areas. However, this thesis also demonstrated that Wilderness in Europe needs a more flexible and future-oriented approach. This is due to the historic and current extent of utilisation of the continent. Additionally, legal embedment as well as consistent criteria are necessary to enable a reasonable implementation. This thesis demonstrates how Wilderness can look like and what characteristics it can show in Europe.

National Parks Austria Science Award

Some of the winners of the Science Award 2017

I wrote my thesis in cooperation with the European Wilderness Society. The thesis won the National Parks Austria Science Award during last week’s International Symposium for Research in Protected Areas in Salzburg. Furthermore, I presented it with a poster and during the press conference.

Poster session of the award winners

Personal Note from Max A E Rossberg, Chairman

Verena did an exceptional job in this Master Thesis and won rightly so the prestigious National Park Austria Science Award. Verena was also part of the Hohe Tauern audit team in 2015 and we are looking forward to many more challenging and interesting projects with her. She will join the European Wilderness Society Team early 2018 and will immediately focus on international exchange programmes. We are looking forward to more request from Master and PhD Students from around the world to assist them in their graduate studies.


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