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Last updated 14 January 2013

Wild Europe Initiative

EU Resolution on Wilderness in Europe 2009

Responses to the resolution from Scotland and Wales

Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas 2009

Poselství from Prague - a summary of the conference 

Review of Status and Conservation of Wild Land in Europe 2010
Report commissioned by the Scottish Government

Rebuilding the Natural Heart of Europe 2010, EC Presidency Conference on Restoration of Large Wild Areas

Guidelines for the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000, Guidance commissioned by the European Commission 2012

A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas, produced by Wild Europe 2012

Protected areas in Europe - an overview, produced by the European Environment Agency October 2012

In a breakthrough moment for wild land in Europe, the spark of an idea from a meeting in September 2007 has within a few months cascaded into a remarkable coalition for European wildlands, a highly supportive resolution being adopted in the European Parliament at the beginning of February 2009, and with a major conference backed by the EU Commission and Presidency to take place shortly in May 2009.

Thus in less than two years, the determination and goodwill of a few people has been translated on the European stage into the potential of a mechanism for developing a continental policy and strategy on wildlands. While the early stages of this went without my notice until recently, I am determined to ensure that full coverage is given here so that support for these events can be generated in Britain. I will also document any response there is from Britain, its governments and statutory agencies.

Wild Europe Initiative

EUROPARC is a federation of national parks, regional parks, nature parks and biosphere reserves in 39 European countries. At its annual meeting in September 2007 at Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic, EUROPARC hosted a round table meeting on "Wilderness in the European Union", attended by some 300 protected area experts from 24 European countries. They examined the concept of wilderness in the European Union, and discussed how to place wilderness on the European agenda, find ways of promoting its importance and draw up guidance for the stewardship of wilderness.

After the round table, EUROPARC, PAN Parks, Eurosite, Wild Europe and the World Commission on Protected Areas joined together in October 2007 in a Wild Europe Initiative to sign a Resolution on Wilderness Areas (1). The resolution was addressed to the European Commission and the EU member states. It emphasised the importance of protecting Europe’s remaining large areas of natural habitat with non-intervention management, and pointed to the benefits of this wilderness in retaining biodiversity, support for sustainable communities, and for addressing climate change.

A key sentence in that original resolution questioned whether there was an incompatibility with the European system of protected areas (the Natura 2000 system of SACs and SPAs) and wildland (2,3):
We acknowledge that the Natura 2000 network provides a strong framework for conservation. However its requirement to maintain habitats in ‘favourable conservation status’ can be interpreted in such a way as to conflict unnecessarily with the protection of present or potential wilderness or wildland and their natural processes. This situation requires further guidelines on the best approach”

There are obvious parallels to our system of protected area designation in Britain as the level of management intervention to maintain the favourable conservation status of an SSSI is invariably inimical to the existence of wild land. However, this overt challenge to conservation orthodoxy was short lived as by June, 2008, a revised version of the resolution was presented for endorsement that had the sentence on the Natura 2000 system removed, and a new sentence included that called on the European Commission to develop appropriate recommendations that would provide guidance to the member states of the EU on the best approaches for ensuring the protection of these natural habitats (4). The resolution with its signatories was subsequently submitted to the European Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, in August. Further advocacy work by EUROPARC was carried out in Brussels in partnership with the Wild Europe Initiative, drawing on the support of all the networks involved, in an effort to generate momentum in the European institutions on the issue of wilderness.

While the original resolution had been altered, the concern about wild land and the Natura 2000 system has obviously not gone away as EUROPARC members Sumava National Park and Bavarian Forest National Park hosted an international colloquium on 25-28 January 2009 in Srni, Sumava National Park, Czech Republic, on the subject of "The appropriateness of non-intervention management for protected areas and Natura 2000 locations" (1)

The Wild Europe Initiative is constituted as an initiative rather than an organization to ensure flexibility, and to avoid being seen to be linked to any one area or country (5). It aims to promote a coordinated strategy for protection and restoration of large natural habitat areas, often labelled as ‘wild’ or ‘nearly wild’ lands, through joint action among key players.

It seeks to identify, value and promote the benefits of wild lands and large natural habitat areas, assessing how best to translate them into specific ventures bringing potential income and employment for local communities, farmers and landholders as well as society in general.

The initiative is steered by a ‘core group’ including personnel, generally at director level, from: Council of Europe, Countdown 2010, Europarc Federation, European Commission, IUCN Europe, IUCN Global, IUCN Wilderness Task Force, Natuurmonumenten, PANParks Foundation, UNESCO, Wilderness Foundation, WWF Europe office and Carpathian Programme office.

EU Resolution on Wilderness in Europe - 3 February 2009

The Wild Europe Initiative resolution and lobbying proved effective, as a draft report on Wilderness in Europe was drawn up by Gyula Hegyi, MEP, and the Environment Directorate in October 2008 for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament. This report contained a motion on a European Parliament resolution on Wilderness in Europe. It was brought before the Committee in early December 2008, and was adopted by a vote of 33 to 1.

From this committee stage, it was scheduled go to the European Parliament on 3 February 2009. As a means to provide background information before this plenary vote on the resolution, a mini conference on Wilderness Areas in the EU was held on 28 January 2009 in the Parliament Building in Brussels (6). As well as speakers calling for support for the resolution, and introducing the Wild Europe Initiative, other speakers addressed the continuing discussion about the suitability of the Natura 2000 system for wilderness protection, one using the example of the PAN Parks wilderness system of untouched core zones, in which no extractive use such as forestry or hunting are allowed and where the only management interventions are those aimed at maintaining or restoring natural ecological processes.

The vote on the Wilderness in Europe resolution on 3 February was carried by 538 votes to 19 with 12 abstentions. It is a non-legislative resolution that brings forward a range of recommendations for the European Commission to take up, including (7):

  • defining wilderness

  • mapping it (untouched areas as well as minimally touched)

  • studying wilderness benefits

  • developing an EU strategy for wilderness

  • developing new wilderness areas, promoting them, bringing in effective protection of wilderness areas

  • accepting the Wild Europe Initiative

  • ensuring that wilderness zones are given special status and stricter protection for wilderness zones in the Natura 2000 network

  • getting Member States to set wilderness conservation as a priority in their strategy to address climate change; and

  • forward the resolution to the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

The resolution on wilderness was adopted on the basis that no new legislation would be required to achieve the aims of the resolution, and with the knowledge that there is to be a review of the Birds and Habitats Directives with a view, where necessary, to make amendments to the Natura 2000 system. Thus they want to accommodate wilderness within the existing Natura 2000 system without going for separate legislation.

I am sceptical about this and wonder if they will have to revisit this decision not to legislate if it proves impossible to have their "defined wilderness" under the Natura 2000 system. Gyula Hegyi, the Hungarian MEP who proposed the resolution, already senses this. He said in support of the resolution:
Mr President, as we did not have a plenary debate on this item and there was no possibility to table amendments following the vote in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, you either have to trust your rapporteur – myself – or reject the whole resolution.
In my view it is not a good system, but that is the current tool. Many aspects of the Natura 2000 Directives should anyhow be reopened in the near future and hopefully the legislative act will cover the wilderness areas as well, giving full opportunity for the next Assembly to go further on this beautiful topic. I hope that my resolution will become a basis for further legislative actions providing the possibility for the Members to improve it in the future"

An indication perhaps of the difficulties that may lay ahead for Wilderness in Europe is that in the days since the resolution has been adopted, the media coverage in the English speaking press has been non-existent. Only PAN Parks has issued a News release,  Vlado Vancura, the Conservation Manager for PAN Parks said (8):
”Approval of the report on Europe’s Wilderness by the European Parliament is - without any exaggeration - a historical event. The report helps to revived and redefined the concept of wilderness protection in Europe, a continent where most landscapes are culturally influenced and where continuing management intervention has often been seen as a necessary part of conservation. This achievement proves that time is changing and the wilderness momentum in Europe is growing. The EU Parliament sent out a clear message: wilderness in Europe is important element of the agenda”

Sensing good support for themselves from the resolution, PAN Parks is the only pan-European organization that supports the designation of wilderness core areas in large scale nature parks.

Government response

I sent an email commending the EU resolution to the government ministers responsible for wildlife in the home countries:

Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs, DEFRA

Michael Russell MSP, Minister for Environment, The Scottish Government (since replaced by Roseanna Cunningham)

Jane Davidson, the Minster for Environment Sustainability and Housing, Welsh Assembly Government

The Scottish Government replied, showing its support for wildland in Scotland and said that Scottish Natural Heritage will be attending the Prague conference (see later) and that it "looks forward to playing a constructive part in future discussions" (9)

The Welsh Assembly Government has also replied. They say that they have been advised by the Countryside Council for Wales that there are few significant areas of Wales that can still be considered wild. However, the assembly government "is responding positively to the EU Resolution, and is taking an active role in delivering its aims in Wales in co-operation with other stakeholders and project originators" (10)

It would seem that now, after a month has passed, that I am unlikely to get a reply on the behalf of Mr Irranca-Davies, the minister responsible for Natural England, and thus for wildlife in England.

Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas

As the report on Wilderness in Europe was being drafted, the European Commission agreed with the Czech Presidency of the European Union to hold a conference on wild and nearly wild land areas. This took place in Prague 27, 28 May 2009. The Conference, which was by invitation only, brought together policy makers, academics, civil society and other interested groups and individual experts from some 40 countries (11).

The Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas sought to ssess and propose a range of future policy options designed to promote a coordinated strategy for the protection and restoration of these areas across Europe, and thus give life to the EU resolution on Wilderness in Europe.

The main objectives of the Conference were:

  • To raise the profile of wild habitats and wilderness in Europe

  • To recommend a unified strategy for protection and restoration of wild and nearly wild areas

  • To build a partnership between sectors based on consensus for implementing this strategy

Building on these objectives, the conference aimed to:

  • Agree the definition and location of wild and nearly wild areas

  • Determine the contribution that such areas can make to halting biodiversity loss and supporting Natura 2000

  • Make recommendations for improved protection of such areas, within the existing legal framework

  • Review the opportunities for restoration of large natural habitat areas

  • Make proposals for more effective support for such restoration

  • Identify best practice examples for non intervention and restoration management

  • Define the value of low impact economic, social and environmental benefits from wild areas

The build up to the conference was supported by the production of a range of background briefing documents. These were substantially incorporated in to the Proceedings of the Conference. It is very much worth reading Wilderness and large natural habitat areas: definition and background in Appendix 4 of the Proceedings, as it is a valuable contribution that covers a number of important issues such as recognising that there is a continuum of wildland, and that zonation in a protected areas approach where identification of core, buffer and transition areas – each with different types and levels of intervention - can effectively support this continuum. It also has a marker for green infrastructure when it references the concept of “urban and neo-urban wildness” where issues of personal perception and values play as much of a role as geography.

Importantly for me, however, is that it makes a strong case for the need for definition, something that is resisted in Britain (even by supposed advocacy groups) and which has held us back in casting a new and wilder future for our landscapes (11):
”Importance of Practical Definitions
One of the main reasons for the absence of a coordinated strategy on wild and nearly wild areas in Europe is the lack of a common working definition. There are many different words for ‘wilderness’ and ‘wild’ and it is impossible to adequately promote, protect or restore an area if the qualities one is focusing on remain unclear, or are understood differently according to geographic location, individual perception or local culture”

Mark Fisher 6 February 2009, updated 6 March 2009

POSELSTVÍ (Message) FROM PRAGUE - An Agenda for Europe’s Wild Areas
Summary of the Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas, Prague, Czech Republic, 27-28 May 2009

Some 250 participants from 40 countries attended the conference. My informant at the meeting laid out the broad issues raised as he saw them:

  • the principal larger remaining areas of land that in any way qualify as wilderness are in the remote lying areas of Europe, and most of it is outside of the EU countries i.e. Karelian Russia, Belarus, Caucasus, Ukrainian Carpathian

  • that there was increasing resistance from some sectors to old-growth forest being the signal indicator for wilderness i.e in Sweden, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, Norway

  • that the conference message was under threat from EU officials from being suborned into praise for the Nature 2000 system when it was obvious that the Natura 2000 system poses a threat to wild land

  • that the entry level to landscapes to be considered wild was too high for any of the areas of the UK to qualify

Having seen the mapping, none of this is surprising although there are scaling issues that obscure some of the smaller wild areas across Europe that have both a measure of the biophysical reality of a wilderness, but also a management intent to maintain them so, such as the designated wilderness in Finland, and the PAN Park wilderness and other voluntary wilderness, as in Italy.

On the second point, Western Europe and especially the UK, is a mass of agricultural landscape where open habitat species in pastoralist systems are at the apex of the conservationist's admiration. Forested landscapes appear to be an antithesis that needs breaking to the will of these arch grazers. Thus a project was announced at the conference entitled Wild Europe Field Programme: A Field Programme for creating European Wilderness (12). Backed by WWFNl, ARK, Eurosite and Free Nature, it seeks to link up SACs and SPAs to form areas of about 100,000ha, with a target of 10 of these in the EU by 2020.

Their program brochure, which has the usual cute shots of cattle, exclaims that "wilderness is more than forest alone". They claim that the "majority of the European flora and fauna evolved in tandem with large herbivores and were able to find a place in extensive agricultural landscapes" and that the "natural process of grazing can be sustained with the reintroduction of wild cattle and horses, European bison and other extinct species". Convenient, that, in the predominantly agricultural landscapes enclosed by SPAs and SACs. Rather than substantiate these contentions, the program justifies itself by wanting to take a "new, inspiring view on nature". They claim these grazed landscapes will change the strategy from traditional nature conservation towards a more development based approach and which also:
"changes the framework of reference for European nature. This references is no longer based in the past but in the future. In practice this means a change in focus, for example, from unspoiled closed virgin forests to a more complete ecosystem with a place for herbivorous processes, half-open landscapes, river dynamics and natural bushfires"

The evidence so far is that the even-handedness (and perhaps adequate legitimacy) of half-open (and thus half-forested) landscapes is never enough for these pastoralists, whose biophysically artificial and incomplete systems drive everything to a greater level of deforestation.

The conference summary (13) recognises the need for a co-ordinated Pan-European approach towards protecting Wilderness Areas. Here comes the puff for SACs and SPAs:
"For many EU Member States the Natura 2000 network constitutes a foundation upon which to develop a specific approach to the protection of wilderness areas. As the non-EU States are making a significant contribution to protecting wilderness in Europe, relevant recommendations developed for EU Member States should equally be applicable to them"

At least this did not imply wholehearted agreement. The difficulty of squaring the Natura 2000 system with wildland is revealed by the tortuous to-ing and fro-ing of the first three policy development points:

  1. Provide guidance on how wilderness qualities could receive legal protection both under the Natura 2000 regime and outside the EU, without compromising concrete protection of species and habitats in Europe

  2. The management of the Natura 2000 network should take account of the need to protect ecological processes as well as habitats and species.

  3. Guidance should be developed concerning the protection of wilderness areas in the context of the EU nature legislation, addressing issues such as natural changes to sites, response to climate change, the maintenance of specific succession states and non-intervention.

On the last of the broad issues of the conference - the entry level to landscapes to be considered wild - this concern very likely emanates from the Scottish contingent to the conference. Scotland more than most in the UK, bigs up its wildland potential, and will have been dismayed at the complete insignificance that their contribution makes to the overall picture in Europe. They may have taken umbrage at this, but the lesson for them is startlingly clear, and is exemplified in a recent briefing paper on protected landscapes at a Natural England Board meeting. At issue is that the apogee of our protected landscape approach in the UK, our National Parks, may fall out of even its lowly place as an IUCN Category V protected area (14):
"Recent debate has challenged the category V classification for providing insufficient attention to nature conservation objectives, leading to the IUCN to adopt a new principle for recognising a place as a protected area - requiring nature conservation to take priority over other objectives in cases of conflict. As a consequence there is concern that without a stronger specific commitment to nature conservation the approach in managing our protected landscapes, that has evolved over the past 60 years and often cited as an international exemplar, may fall out of the international system with a risk that their standing, and thus their protection, would be weakened"

The lesson here is that there has to be a different emphasis in our landscapes, and it will not be given just by covering our National Parks or other areas with SACs and SPAs, nor will application of the European Landscape Convention to these areas make a difference since the emphasis in the convention is that "natural and cultural components are taken together, not separately" (see Landscape protection - too many layers, too confusing, no overall plan (15). Both of these just allow business as usual for these farmed landscapes. They need not only extensification as a starting point, but also a return of the biophysical reality of wildland, its component species and its ecological processes.

6 June 2009

Review of Status and Conservation of Wild Land in Europe

Shortly after the Wildland Research Institute (WRi) was launched at the University of Leeds in October 2009, a tender for a research opportunity on wild land in Europe was advertised by the Scottish Government (16). The research was commissioned by the Environment Minister, who was interested in how other UK and European countries recognised, protected and managed their wild land resource. The tender details referenced the resolution passed in the European Parliament on 3 February 2009 and the range of associated actions including mapping and restoration (re-wilding) of wilderness areas, sharing best practice and promoting the value of wilderness, as well as the conference in Prague in late May 2009 (see above). It was not clear to the Scottish Government how it could respond to the resolution in relation to its wild land, and so it sought a study that described the status of wild land in Europe and Scotland, its protection and management; that analysed the conservation/protection framework; and which gave conclusions and recommendations relevant to the future care of wild land in the Scottish context.

WRi successfully tendered for the research, with myself as lead author, producing an interim report as a presentation at the UNESCO-sponsored conference on Scotland's Wild Landscapes – New Ways Forward at SNH’s Battleby Centre, near Perth in May 2010 (17). The presentation gave evidence that wildland was recognised by many countries across Europe through the IUCN system of classification of protected areas. There was astonishment among some in the audience that the UK had no protected areas in the IUCN categories that protect wildland. The findings of the interim report formed the basis of one of the breakout discussion groups of the meeting (18). Zoning approaches were viewed as a mechanism which offered the potential for combining aspiration, timescale and differential regimes of management in ways which could allow for the future development of IUCN Category I or II sites. It was recognised that there was little identity or aspiration for a national protected area system in Scotland, but since an election was forthcoming, there was considerable scope for lobbying of political parties. However, it would difficult for individual NGOs to subsume their sectoral interests in achieving consensus.

A draft of the report was circulated prior to the main findings for Scotland being presented at a meeting in the Centre of Mountain Studies at Perth College in early July 2010. The presentation looked at protection for wildland in Scotland; the potential for Ecological networks; the need for an exemplary study of the perceptions and reality of wild land in Scotland; and for a summit process for wildland within a national strategy for protected areas in Scotland (19). Feedback on the draft report was received from the Steering Group, and a revised final report was submitted to the Scottish Government in October 2010. It was finally posted up on the Scottish Government website in December 2010 (20,21).

“Rebuilding the Natural Heart of Europe”, EC Presidency Conference on Restoration of Large Wild Areas, Brussels 16, 17 November 2010

The presumption for grazing being a natural process is being pursued now with vigour by some western Europeans as a means to create “new wildland”, and on the back of the momentum initiated by the resolution on wilderness passed by the EU Parliament. A high profile project conceived last year started out as the Wild Europe Field Program, and with the intention of spreading the Dutch experience of nature development through the use of grazing herbivores (see above). Its website contains an explanation of the projects approach under the heading "Wilderness is more than forest alone" (22):
“many people believe that the more open European landscapes are originally agricultural lands, while in fact most European plant and animal species originated in tandem with the original wild grazers ….marginal agricultural areas are being abandoned on a large scale and are forested spontaneously………plants and animals in half-open and open areas are at risk. That is to say: much of Europe’s biodiversity……… To turn the tide, a new appreciation of the original role of the great grazers must prevail”

Must PREVAIL! The arrogance of that, and the arrogance to say that MUCH of Europe's wild nature is from open landscapes. Yet again, we have a presumption that agricultural “biodiversity” is the predominant natural diversity because wild herbivores will have kept landscapes predominantly open. This is the “Vera hypothesis”.

The project has now morphed into Rewilding Europe and had its launch in Brussels a couple of weeks ago. However, just prior to the launch, I attended a two-day EC Presidency Conference in Brussels that was ostensibly about wild area restoration across Europe (23). Given a preview of the conference program, I had very real concerns that the sheer weight of emphasis on grazing projects would legitimise what is in effect a cultural convention, predominantly supported in the Netherlands, and which has little or no support in the scientific literature. It just seems to me to be the habitual accommodation of the cultural use of lands as somehow being more naturally biodiverse, and it was given currency by this sentence appended to the agenda item on the presentation about the Rewilding Europe project (24):
“natural management to reconcile maximum biodiversity with wilderness principles”

So, in “reconciling” maximum biodiversity with wilderness principles, isn’t that just compromising those principles? How do wilderness dependant predators like wolf, lynx and bear figure in this "new wildland” because there certainly isn’t any systems thinking evident in the hyperbole of the Rewilding Europe project? Doesn’t it thus undermine the efforts of those that aspire to maintain those wilderness principles? Why isn’t there a demand that these grazing addicts justify their unsupported assertions?

As I expected the conference gave out mixed messages, which always happens when wilderness principles are compromised. I felt in great sympathy with the unease of colleagues from Scandinavian and eastern European countries. I had to agree with Esa Härkönen, the speaker from Metsähallitus, the Finnish nature agency, that there wasn’t much need to restore wilderness in Finland as they already had so much! The eastern Europeans wondered why it was that the first round of sites for the Rewilding Europe project were mainly in eastern Europe, where they too have existing wilderness still in need of protection? But there were also pressures on western European initiatives, such as the restoration of wilderness on ex-military training grounds to the south of Berlin (25).

I had a fascinating conversation with Bill Murphy from Ireland. Bill is a manager with Coillte, the state-owned forest enterprise company that itself owns over 445,000 hectares of land, about 7% of the land cover of Ireland. Coillte has a role in outdoor recreation, and Billy sees an opportunity in linking Nephin, one of their (publicly owned) forest areas with the adjacent (publicly owned) Ballycroy National Park, and with an area of (publicly owned) Bord Na Móna land (Irelands peat Board) which is spent bogland in need of reclamation. This will fulfil a vision of a large area of wilder landscape that people can enjoy walking in, camping out on trail walks, and experiencing a thrill of being immersed in nature that is gone from the landscapes in Britain. Its hard to see it happen in Britain when there is no sense that our public ownership of land, such as the Forestry Commission Estate, National Nature Reserves and MOD estate, could be used to make it happen.

3 December 2010

Guidelines for the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000

One of the recommendations from the Prague conference (13) and noted in the Presidents report, was the need to understand the relationship between the protection of wilderness areas and the Natura 2000 system, and produce guidance addressing issues such as natural changes to sites, response to climate change, the maintenance of specific succession states and non-intervention (26). In this regard, the Presidents report gave an indication of a key issue that would need resolving in that guidance (26):
“Within the EU itself, some of these [undisturbed/non-intervention/pristine] areas are part of the Natura 2000 network, the principal EU instrument for nature conservation, which is essentially not a network of strictly protected natural areas, but areas where human, economic, social and cultural activities are integral parts of management”

An Expert Group on Natura 2000 Management met for the first time in November, 2009, with an aim of assisting the Commission in developing guidelines on specific topics linked to the management of Natura 2000 sites (27). The Commission said that it was already planning for a contract on "wilderness and wild areas and Natura 2000". The Commission then informed the Expert Group at its Fourth meeting, January 2011, that a contract had been awarded after a closed tender. The Guidance would review the current situation as regards ‘wilderness’ in Natura 2000 (both in terms of concept and spatially through mapping and identification of key species and habitat types). It would also present a number of good practice case studies and develop guidelines for managing and conserving wilderness areas in Natura 2000 (28). Alterra, Eurosite and the PAN Parks Foundation were the partners in delivering the contract (29).

Luik Kuiters of Alterra presented the first draft of the guidance document at the Sixth meeting of the Expert Group in November 2011 (30). During discussion of the guidance, several participants sought clarification on how the wilderness index was established – especially as regards the use of a <20% human influence criterion, since some of the sites identified as good practice examples were not perceived as wilderness areas. Kuiters explained that the index was intended as a tool to help identify areas that were ‘wilder’ than others, but should not be applied categorically without qualification. The definition of wilderness in the European context needed to remain flexible as the perception of ‘wilderness’ in the European context varied considerably across the EU. For some areas with no wilderness left, the debate currently focused on whether it was appropriate to 're-wild’ areas. Even areas that were generally seen as ‘wilderness’ were not in reality, such as in Finland and Sweden, the Sami People are part of a pastoral system involved in reindeer herding which has a major influence of the surrounding environment. These so called ‘wilderness’ areas were still under significant human influence. It was noted that the European Parliament Resolution had called for action to achieve more wilderness in Europe, but this had not been addressed in guidance. Kuiters called for additional comments from the Expert Group.

As the Guidance referenced my report on European wildland to the Scottish Government (see above) I was asked by PAN Parks to comment on it. I found a lack of emphasis in the Guidance on national protected areas and their regime of protection through national legislation (31). The Guidance stated that Natura 2000 could provide a flexible framework in which re-wilding measures could be implemented in order to enable natural processes to dominate. It struck me that that flexibility arose because the protection regime approach to Natura 2000 was vague and unclear in the national legislation of member countries. Part of the problem for the lack of clarity was that few countries recognised the Natura 2000 network as a classification system as such, instead indicating that Natura 2000 sites, if they were not instituted through contracts with landowners, may be included in any other category of protected area amongst the national protected area types, such that their protection regime would be that of the national protected area type.

The European Topic Centre on Nature Protection and Biodiversity analysed the degree of overlap between the designations in national protected area systems (as reported in the CDDA) with those reported for the Natura 2000 network of protected sites (32). The extent of overlap varied substantially between countries – from nearly 0% to 100%. This low extent of overlap may be an indicator of the proportion of Natura 2000 sites instituted through landowner contracts compared to being designated under national protected area types. It thus may indicate variability in being able to achieve and enforce protective measures to the same extent as in national protected areas. It could be argued therefore that the basis for the protection regime for wild land in the EU is not the Natura 2000 system, but instead the national protected area types that designate for Category I and II. The protection regimes for these protected area types are frequently given in great detail in national protected area legislation, and especially so for protected areas that have strict protection.

Considering how much attention was given to herbivores and the threats to wild land from grazing in the Guidance, I was surprised then to see grazing discussed in relation to rewilding and in particular when the Guidance said reintroduction of herbivores was a functional way to ensure that the components of a natural system are in place so that nature can regenerate and restore. This assertion was unqualified as to whether the grazing would be by native herbivores lost from the location, or by domesticated livestock. Nor was there any indication of whether this grazing would be as close to a natural herbivore pressure. I pointed out that many strictly protected areas in national protected area legislation specifically prohibit grazing with livestock. I also argued that herbivore pressure will never be as close to the natural situation as possible without native carnivores also being present. While managers may vary the number of herbivores, they will be incapable of creating the spatial variation of herbivore pressure that is induced by the physical presence of carnivores. I pointed out that this is a key consideration that is missing from initiatives that take a nature development approach with free-ranging domestic livestock, or domestic livestock as analogues of native herbivores.

An update was given on the finalisation of the Guidance document at the Seventh meeting of the Expert group in March 2012, following the comments that had been received (33). This draft was presented to the Member State nature authorities, and its forthcoming release was given a colourful splash in the July 2012 issue of the Natura 2000 Newsletter (34). A link to the Guidance was eventually posted on the Commission website (35). The guidance has a working definition for wilderness (36):
“A wilderness is an area governed by natural processes, it is composed of native habitats and species and it is large enough for the ecological functioning of natural processes and the shaping of natural structures. It is untouched, and appears to be primarily affected by the forces of nature. It is undeveloped without settlements, roads or visual disturbance”

5 January 2012

A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas

Over 2010, a Wilderness Working Group was set up by Wild Europe with a remit to develop policy and propose practical initiatives for protection and restoration (37). A Technical sub-group was formed to put together a definition for wilderness and wild areas (38). Workshops were held during 2010 and early 2011 with participation from several of the WEI partner organizations, and which generated a first draft paper. Discussion of this document led to a draft being put out in March 2012 for wider consultation. WRi, which is represented on the Wild Europe Executive Committee, responded to that consultation (39).

It was good to see an emphasis on the importance of natural processes in the definition, as well as the concept of a continuum as a useful way of understanding the spectrum of land use across Europe, and how it results in land of differing wild character. Importantly, the continuum is the context for seeing areas being moved further along from wild areas to wilderness through restoration; of buffer zones promoted towards becoming parts of the core area, and transition zones becoming part of buffer zones.

The document however was weak on defining biodiversity other than by an inference that it has a compositional attribute. There was an opportunity to bring this concept alive in Europe through the context of wilderness and wild land, by basing it on the three core attributes of composition, structure, and function. Thus the three-dimensional structure of vegetation is central to the functioning of many natural ecosystems, and is inherent in wilderness.

We were concerned that there was some worrying scope for interpretation in the definition of Rewidling given in Appendix I, in relation to allowing “natural processes to occur (again), replacing human management and interference”. This is the phraseology of those who have imbued the grazing of free-ranging domestic livestock with a role as agents of nature through a supposed de-domestication. It is the basis of Nature Development in the Netherlands where it originated and, as the name suggests, it is not about protecting and conserving existing nature, but is a move to produce a “new nature” where there is supposedly a spontaneous outburst of regeneration of open or scattered broad-leaf woodland in the presence of livestock grazing. However, evidence from a long term study on woodland regeneration in the open in the presence of grazing is against this happening any time soon. On the basis of that analysis, we strongly agreed with the prohibition of livestock grazing in Core Areas that was clearly stated under Livestock grazing in the Criteria for wilderness, related to zones in Appendix II. We gave examples of restrictions on activities in the legislation for strictly protected areas across Europe that this wilderness definition is supportive of. We also strongly agreed on the stricture in the Criteria under Restoration/rewilding that wildlife reintroductions and re-stockings are made using indigenous species only.

The consensus definition of Wilderness in a European context is given in the revised draft as (40):
“A wilderness is an area governed by natural processes. It is composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. It is unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.

Wilderness areas should be protected and overseen so as to preserve their natural condition”

The following definition for Wild Areas was proposed:

“Wild areas have a high level of predominance of natural process and natural habitat. They tend to be individually smaller and more fragmented than wilderness areas, although they often cover extensive tracts. The condition of their natural habitat, processes and relevant species is however often partially or substantially modified by human activities such as livestock herding, hunting, fishing, forestry, sport activities or general imprint of human artifacts.”

The intention is to halt or at least mitigate human activity in these areas within a given timescale, with an on restoration/rewilding so as to improve wilderness value – and on linkage by ecological corridors to create a network.

7 Jan 2013

Protected areas in Europe - an overview, October 2012

The European Environment Agency (EEA) produced this report in October, 2012, making the claim that it was the first publication of its kind to give a comprehensive survey of protected areas in Europe. Well, it was a longer document than the report on Protected Areas that they brought out in 2010, as a complement in Europe to the International Year of Biodiversity. And while it covered the 32 countries that are members of the EEA — the 27 European Union Member States; plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey — as well as the seven cooperating countries — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo, it did not cover the Russian Federation, nor the ex-members of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia that were covered in my report with the Wildland Research Institute (WRi) (see above). That claim to primacy is thus one of many over-reaches in this report, along with quite a few errors, not least in spelling my name wrong in one place (I blame that American chess player - Bobby Fischer - for that inevitability).

As per usual for an EEA document it has a remarkably childish enthusiasm for extolling the value of the Natura 2000 network, rating it alongside the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as “one of the most important international legal agreements for protected areas in Europe”, but then the EEA is an agency of the European Union and thus would say that. Surely, calling the Birds and Habitats Directives international agreements is an over-reach when they do not cover all of Europe, only the 27 member states of the EU? There is also the claim that Natura 2000 has been responsible for much research activity over the past twenty years, a graph illustrating an increase in published papers making reference to Natura 2000, especially since 2000. Except, of course, that the EEA report doesn’t list the proportion of the papers that trash Natura 2000, such as the study of plant diversity hotspots on Crete and their poor inclusion in the Natura 2000 network prescribed for Crete that results from the opportunistic and compositionalist approach for habitats and species of the Habitats Directive, rather than a more inclusive route that would involve a detailed evaluation of regional biodiversity patterns. Then there is the study on the contribution of the Natura 2000 network to biodiversity conservation in Italy that concludes:
"Nevertheless, if Natura 2000 is taken to represent the final point of all the EU conservation policies, it will inevitably fail. Its role in conservation could be enhanced by integrating the Natura 2000 system into a more general strategy that considers natural processes and the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms underlying these processes"

Read more

14 Jan 2013

(1) Wild Europe Initiative: Promoting Wilderness in Europe, EUROPARC Federation


(2) EUROPARC Newsletter 13, November 2007 www.europarc.org/uploaded/documents/24.pdf

(3) Resolution on Wilderness Areas, 1 October 2007, link in EUROPARC and PAN Parks call for urgent action to protect Europe’s wilderness areas, PAN Park News 15 October 2007


(4) Resolution on Wilderness Areas, link in Make a difference - Sign the resolution for wilderness in Europe!, Countdown 2010


(5) Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas in Europe 27 - 28 May 2009, Prague, Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Czech Republic


(6) Important Corner Stone in EU - Wilderness Conservation, PAN Parks News 28 January 2009


(7) European Parliament resolution of 3 February 2009 on Wilderness in Europe (2008/2210(INI)) European Parliament


(8) Historical event for Europe's Wilderness Conservation, PAN Parks News 4 February 2009


(9) Scottish Government response to EU Resolution, 24 February 2009


(10) Welsh Assembly Government response to EU Resolution, 3 March 2009


(11)  Proceedings of the Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas, Czech Presidency of the EU Council and the European Commission, 27-28  May 2009, Prague


(12) Wild Europe Field Programme: A Field Programme for creating European Wilderness, WWFNl, ARK, Eurosite and Free Nature


(13) POSELSTVÍ FROM PRAGUE - An Agenda for Europe’s Wild Areas


(14) Natural England’s Draft Policy on Protected Landscapes, NEB PU16 06 20 May 2009


(15) Landscape protection - too many layers, too confusing, no overall plan, Self-willed Land, July 2006


(16) REVIEW OF STATUS AND CONSERVATION OF WILD LAND IN EUROPE. The Scottish Government Tender Ref: CR/2009/31 October 2009


(17) Review of status and conservation of wild land in Europe for the Scottish Government. Wildland Research Institute. Presentation, Scotland’s Wild Landscapes - New Ways Forward, SNH Battleby Centre, nr. Perth, 14th May 2010


(18) Lessons learnt from the continent – Reviewing the status and conservation of wild land in Europe. Discussion Coordinator: Mark Fisher. In Discussion summaries and key conference messages, Scotland's Wild Landscapes - New Ways Forward. SNH Battleby Conference Centre, near Perth, 14th May 2010,


(19) Conclusions from the report findings. Review of status and conservation of wild land in Europe for the Scottish Government. Wildland Research Institute. Presentation at Perth College 7 July 2010


(20) Scottish Wild Land, The Scottish Government December 2010


(21) Fisher, M., Carver, S. Kun, Z., McMorran, R., Arrell, K. and Mitchell, G. (2010). Review of Status and Conservation of Wild Land in Europe. Project commissioned by the Scottish Government


(22) Wilderness is more than forest alone, Rewilding Europe

http://rewildingeurope.com/2010/09/15/wilderness-is-more-than-forest-alone/ (no longer there)

(23) EC Presidency Conference on wild area restoration, Wild Europe Initiative


(24) “Rebuilding the Natural Heart of Europe EC Presidency Conference on Restoration of Large Wild Areas


(25) New wilderness in Germany, in Barn owls confound the conservation industry, Self-willed Land December 2010


(26) Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas (Prague, 27 – 28 May 2009) - Information from the Presidency


(27) First meeting of the Expert Group on the management of Natura 2000. Draft minutes, DG Environment, 25 November 2009


(28) Fourth meeting of the Expert Group on the management of Natura 2000. Draft minutes DG Environment 26 January 2011 


(29) Guidelines for the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000, Eurosite


(30) Sixth meeting of the Expert Group on the management of Natura 2000. Draft minutes DG Environment 23 November 2011


(31) Fisher, M. (2011) Consultation response on EU Guidance on the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000. Wildland Research Institute, University of Leeds


(32) Percentage of Natura 2000 site area not protected under national instruments per EU Member State, European Environment Agency March 2010


(33) Seventh meeting of the Expert Group on the management of Natura 2000. Draft minutes DG Environment 21 March 2012


(34) Protecting Europe’s wilderness areas. In European Commission's Nature and Biodiversity Newsletter 'Natura 2000'. No. 32, July 2012


(35) Wilderness in Europe, Nature and Biodiversity, Environment, EC


(36) Draft Guidelines for the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000. Alterra in a consortium with PAN Parks Foundation and Eurosite under contract to the European Commission (contract N°07.0307/2010/576314/SER/B3)


(37) Wilderness Working Group, Draft Proposal, Wild Europe February 2010


(38) Wild Europe - Wilderness Working Group


(39) Fisher, M and Carver, M. Feedback on A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas. Wildland Research Institute, University of Leeds 9 April 2012


(40) A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas. WILD EUROPE Discussion Draft  25/04/2012, Updated  25/10/2012



www.self-willed-land.org.uk  mark.fisher@self-willed-land.org.uk