Wilderness has a wide diversity of interpretation

There are multiple wilderness definitions worldwide. This indicates that wilderness is a very complex issue and very dependent on the history of the particular continent or even country of the wild land. The outcome of this process is that different countries, with different history and people, result in different wilderness definitions.

The consequence of this is that at present there is no universal consensus on how wilderness should be defined and variations exist from case to case. The IUCN system of protected areas, however, provides the general framework and guidance for the meaning and quality standard of wilderness. In the case a particular country or continent cannot fully use the IUCN text as agreed by demanding participatory processes led by IUCN, they usually develop own, tailor made wilderness definitions.

Please also read: Wilderness Stewardship Planning Guideline to learn about importance of Wilderness stewardship in Europe.

Common ground

Nevertheless, it seems to be clear that most wilderness definitions acknowledge the ecological values of wilderness and requires that the wilderness is not subject to active management. In the European context good examples of this can be find in countries like Ukraine, Austria or Bulgaria, but they do not always use the word Wilderness but more often ‘reserve’ or ‘strict reserve.’

An interesting finding is that the diversity of the various wilderness definitions are putting more or less an emphasis on other important aspects of wilderness such as experiential values. On the other hand, a recognition of remoteness is not always used.

Remoteness aspect of wilderness

The importance of this aspects is discussed in the last few years, for example in Tasmania. An ongoing discussion in this country explains and defends the meaning of this word. In summary, their discussion means that wilderness must be remote and surrounded by a ‘buffer.’

Wilderness and their associated ‘buffers’ must be maintained in a largely natural condition and free of major structures and landscape disturbances. That also means that the ‘buffer’ is free of any extractive use and infrastructure such as roads. In the European context these kind of requirements are also fitting to most wilderness definitions.

European perspective

Looking at this subject through the prism of Europe (including its history, context and mentality of people), the issues with being discussed in Tasmania are quite relevant. Particularly for people involved in wilderness conservation in Europe, it is important to be aware of the processes and experiences of Tasmanian conservationists concerning this subject. However, an intent to implement this exact approach in Europe would also be quite difficult and increase the challenge of European Wilderness conservation.

From European context it seems to be very challenging to discuss these kind of issues, particularly because of different quality of nature and Wilderness we inherited from the previous millennia of human civilisation in Europe,

Vlado Vancura
European Wilderness Society Deputy Director

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