Wilderness in the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030

We already covered the main points of the new ‘EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030‘ and its commitment to free-flowing rivers. But it also mentions a topic that is at the core of the work of the European Wilderness Society. So, let´s see what the strategy means for Wilderness in Europe. First of all, the word Wilderness only appears in the document one time. Right in the beginning, it states that ‘wilderness is disappearing in front of our eyes’. After that, it is not specifically mentioned again. Nevertheless, the strategy includes some points that can be a milestone for the protection of Wilderness in Europe.

One of the focus points of the strategy is the protection of 30% of land and sea in the EU. Protecting natural areas from human destruction is the most important step for the protection of intact ecosystems and Wilderness. So, this goal is a first step in the right direction. In addition, member states should strictly protect one third of this area, including all primary and old-growth forests. Carbon-rich ecosystems, such as peatlands, grasslands, wetlands, mangroves and seagrass meadows should also be strictly protected. A strict protection, in the best case scenario meaning that all extractive uses are prohibited, is necessary to protect true Wilderness.

Natural forests

Primary and old-growth forests get even more attention. The strategy calls for more close-to-nature forestry, which allows currently deteriorated forests to grow old again and regain some of their most valuable ecological functions. It also improves their resilience against fires, drougths, pests and diseases. Alll of these thrests will become more frequent within the next decades as the climate crisis escalates. The comission announces to present an EU forest strategy with guidelines to reach these objectives until 2021. It will include a roadmap for planting at least three billion additional trees.

As a first step to combine the conservation of old-growth forests and the sustainable of wood as a renewable resource, the comission has already ordered an extensive biomass assessment study. It is “tasked with providing the EC services, on a long-term basis, with data, models and analyses of EU and global biomass potential, supply, demand and related sustainability.” Regarding the use of wood and the goal of planting three billion trees, it is important these trees will not be artificial monocultures. Vulnerable monocultures might do more harm than good, so resilient close-to-nature forests must be the goal.

Identifying areas worth protecting

One commitment in the strategy that directly relates to our work is that “the Commission, working with Member States and the European Environment Agency, will put forward in 2020 criteria and guidance for identifying and designating additional [protected and strictly protected] areas, including a definition of strict protection, as well as for appropriate management planning.”

We are happy to inform the the European Comission that we already did some of that work for them. With our European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System 2.0, we have a guideline for identifying and designating areas that deserve strict protection. The principles of EWQA 2.0 adequately reflect the Wilderness qualities as defined by the European Commission in 2013. It adds the principles of Wilderness and Restoration, Wilderness Research and Monitoring, and Wilderness and International Relevance.

Stewarding and connecting Wilderness

Our Introductory Guidebook for a Wilderness Stewardship Plan provides the accompanying strategy for the stewardship and management of areas. A Wilderness stewardship plan provides direction and guideline for Wilderness stewards. The essence of Wilderness stewardship is non-intervention management. In addition, continuous monitoring of Wilderness quality and stewardship is essential to adequately direct necessary stewardship measures.

To improve stewardship and magement of protected areas, it is also crucial to connect them on a European scale as we do in the European Wilderness Network. The European Wilderness Network streamlines the process for open communication between international agencies for the purpose of Wilderness preservation. It was formed to gain insight on the benefits of Wilderness preservation and establish open channels of communication between international agencies. It can also examine the cultural differences and similarities behind Wilderness preservation efforts in each European country. The ambition is that all European agencies, NGOs and individuals involved in Wilderness preservation work in cooperation with their international counterparts.

Strategy for a ‘Pan European Green Corridor Network’

The strategy also mentions that “in order to have a truly coherent and resilient Trans-European Nature Network, it will be important to set up ecological corridors to prevent genetic isolation, allow for species migration, and maintain and enhance healthy ecosystems.” The European Wilderness Society agrees with that statement and we have already worked on a concept for pan-european ecological corridors years ago. The ‘Pan European Green Corridor Network‘ initiative aims to create a vast unbroken ecological corridor connecting natural landscapes. It is supposed to stretch from the Atlantic coast to the Black Sea and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean.

This allows natural ecological processes and creates a landscape rich in biodiversity to the benefit of nature and humanity. The Pan European Green Corridor Network offers a unique opportunity to recreate natural connections and routes throughout Europe. Wilderness areas coupled with the Natura 2000 Network act as resting and mating places for the migratory animals along these corridors.

Pan European Green Corridor Network
Pan European Green Corridor Network proposed by the European Wilderness Society

Wilderness is also crucial for two other objectives of the strategy: “By 2030, significant areas of degraded and carbon-rich ecosystems are restored; habitats and species show no deterioration in conservation trends and status; and at least 30% reach favourable conservation status or at least show a positive trend.” Many species occur only in wild areas and Wilderness is a refuge from human pressure for many more species. Within it, extinction rates are much lower than in other areas.

In summary, we are very happy to see that the EU recognizes the importance of protected, intact and natural ecosystems. Many of the objectives mentioned in the strategy are things we have been working on for years. Now, it is important to secure a place for Wilderness in the strategy and make sure that the strategy will have real impact over the next decade.

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