Wilderness and Wildness – What is the difference?

Celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the European Resolution on Wilderness, it can be said that the word Wilderness becomes more and more of a known term in Europe. However, there is still inconsistencies of what people actually mean when talking about Wilderness. Some people use this word in positive, others in negative, situations. Bringing the similar term of “Wildness” into the discussion leads to even more misconceptions. Often these misconceptions of the similar terms “Wilderness” and “Wildness” can be led back to the diversity of languages in Europe. Numerous European languages do not have a translation for either of these two terms, making it difficult to differentiate between them. This often leads to a synonomous use of the two terms.

The North American definitions

For native English speakers from North America, these two words have a significant different interpretation. Dr. John Hausdoerffer describes Wilderness and Wildness in his book “Wildness” as follows: Wilderness is land to protect undeveloped habitats, where human industry and mechanics are absent. Wilderness offer inspiration for those humans who can and want to seek it in such places. Wildness, on the other hand is the basic ability of anything living to renew itself. It is any self-organising, self-renewing being, community, or system. The challenge, however, is that there is no singular meaning for Wildness.

In his book, Dr. John Hausdoerffer cites Aldo Leopold, who sees Wildness as “the capacity of self-renewal” of a being, system, or a community. Haudoerffer further on interprets the term Wildness as variation. This can range from the sunflower pushing through a crack in pavement, to the cultivated soils of a watershed-cooperative, to thousands of hectares of multigenerational forestlands.

Translation challenges in Europe

In a multilingual continent like Europe, finding definitions and translations for the terms of Wilderness and Wildness was and is a challenge. The 2009 Resolution on Wilderness offers an official definition for Wilderness and Wild Areas. However, it does not pick up the term of Wildness. Many European languages and cultures completely lack a word for Wilderness. But even if there is a translation for it, the meaning of the term is often different and mostly negative. Many languages interpret Wilderness as messy, dangerous and unfriendly. As a solution many use the English term, like the European Wilderness Society does in their multilingual outreach.

Cultural approaches to Wilderness

Similar as many European languages, many native cultures do not have a word for wild or Wilderness. However, the reason behind this is that these cultures do not differentiate between the human and non-human world. This brings the discussion back to the deeper meaning of the term Wildness. The European Wilderness discussion hardly picks up the term Wildness, making an introduction of it to the European context an even bigger challenge. However, as the essays in the book “Wildness” prove, the term significantly contributes to a holistic discussion of Wilderness. Wildness is the essence of Wilderness but can be found everywhere. Wilderness is a place dedicated to the Wildness of nature.

Download “Wildness” here

Majella Wilderness

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