We received an excellent comment from Gareth one of our followers, regarding our work at European Wilderness Society, but he pointed out that ¨there is an important aspect of Wilderness that is being overlooked¨ and that is Wilderness camping. So from that comment, we had a flurry of internal communications about the subject asking ourselves, is Wilderness camping a good idea or not.
Please also read: Why leave no trace is necessary in Wilderness
Do the benefits (people experience Wilderness) outweigh the possible consequences (litter, cutting of wood for fire and other disturbances). The comment from Gareth went on to say that he was concerned that he would not be able to enjoy Wilderness camping when he moved to Europe from the US next month, because unlike the US, Wilderness camping is illegal in many parts of Europe, particular in protected areas.
It is generally accepted by everyone in the nature conservation society that tourism and visitors, especially if their numbers are not controlled, have a negative impact on the quality of Wilderness. In a study in 2014 by the Bundesamt für Naturschutz in Germany 63% of Germans want more Wilderness and are even willing to accept access restrictions.
In fact, I did a little digging and I found that the rules vary widely across Europe. The situation regarding Wilderness camping ranged from
- strictly illegal and enforced (Croatia),
- illegal but generally tolerated or not enforced (Switzerland, Greece), and
- legal (Norway & Sweden, enshrined in the Allemannsretten – every man or woman’s right of public access).
In the US, backcountry camping is completely legal and in most Wilderness areas only minimally controlled through overnight permits and therefore an accepted part of having a true Wilderness experience. It is an excellent way to connect with the landscape and have experiences you would not normal see or hear, such as the first and last light of the day, the first birdsong of the morning, the sound of the wind and more importantly the sound of silence.
Gudrun Pflüger, our resident large carnivore biologist, said it perfectly: “… Wilderness camping is leaning back and opening your senses.” In addition, one of the most important aspects of Wilderness camping according to Gareth, and we agree, is it inspires those who experience it to protect these areas of solitude and wildness. On the other hand, many Europeans have little experience with camping in a Wilderness area simply because of lack of opportunity.
The conclusion our team reached was that there needs to be a common framework and strict principles and much more education for wild(erness) camping throughout Europe. In other words, it should be permitted in some areas such as in the transition zone of Wilderness areas, but it would only be permitted in the core and restoration zones if it was done with a Wilderness guide and/or ranger who can share his/her experience and educate at the same time on how to leave no trace while camping in the wild. In this way, people are able to appreciate Wilderness but at the same time, Wilderness remains just that – Wilderness, there for the next person to enjoy in the same way.
We recognize that given the appropriate guidelines and education along with the opportunity, visitors would use the Wilderness areas respectfully and would become new ¨ambassadors of Wilderness.¨
Leave only footprints, take only pictures