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EU scales up its effort to protect wilderness

Dec. 19, 2010
What is wilderness?
The term ‘wilderness’ refers to large, undisturbed natural areas. These places are governed by natural processes without human intervention, and offer sanctuaries for wild plants and animals. But that’s only one of the special things about wilderness. The other one is purely emotional: people who are lucky enough to visit such areas, often sense a unique experience of spiritual quality which might change their basic attitude to nature, to mankind, and sometimes even to themselves.

Why wilderness is relevant in Europe?
And still, wilderness in Europe has been mostly out of talk until the last decade. The reason for this is that wilderness had been perceived to be something which belongs to other continents, whilst Europe’s strength lies mostly in its cultural heritage. In fact, Europe hosts wilderness on
less than 1% of its territory – much of which is under high pressure of human disturbance. On the other hand, there is another 1% of European land with the potential for succeeding into true wilderness, if the initial steps of this process are assisted by restoration (e.g. removing
infrastructure, reintroducing native species including large herbivores and carnivores, etc.). This 1% comprises natural and semi-natural areas and is backed by the Europe-wide trend of rural depopulation and abandonment of agricultural land. Europe is rewildening, which brings a
unique momentum for creating space for nature. Besides significantly strengthening the effectiveness of European nature conservation, this would bring many other benefits to local communities, landholders and European society in general: wilderness areas can offer substantial
environmental, economic, social, and cultural gains for them (such as tourism development, personal therapy and many more).

The wilderness momentum in the European Union
A conference on ‘Rebuilding the Natural Heart of Europe’ was organized by the Belgian EU Presidency and the Wild Europe Initiative on 16-17 November 2010, in Brussels. The European Commission’s DG Environment clearly stated its aim to introduce the wilderness concept
into European policy by including it in its Post-2010 Biodiversity Strategy. As Ladislav Miko (Director of Natural Environment, European Commission DG Environment) has stated, wilderness is part of our European identity, and beyond the clear emotional and ethical reasons, preserving its coherence and healthy functions would provide us essential tools when facing challenges of a rapidly changing world (such as climate change and resource scarcity). Wilderness protection will be realized in 3 pillars: strict protection of remaining wilderness areas is the priority, followed by re-wilding of large natural areas as well as restoration of suitable abandoned land. A Register for Wilderness is going to be created, and specific guidelines for wilderness management within Natura 2000 sites are compiled. Kurt Vandenberghe (Head of Cabinet, Environment Commissioner of the European Commission) has put the concept into a
broader view of green economy, and he promoted the integration of wilderness approach into the EU’s reformed Agriculture Policy, Cohesion Policy and the new EU Budget. Mr. Vandenberghe emphasized that while focusing on growth and jobs, it is vital for the EU to ensure
that essential public goods provided by nature will not be sacrificed. Enabling natural processes to operate on large unmanaged areas is one effective tool to ensure this.

Special relevance in Central and East Europe
As strict protection of remaining wilderness areas is a priority, the new EU Member States in Central and East Europe play special role in wilderness protection, since they - together with Nordic countries - host the vast majority of these areas. Therefore it is essential for these countries to be aware of their key role in the process, invite wide range of experts and stakeholder in the discussions at national level and channel their ideas into the discussions at EU level. They should set clear national goals (e.g. the Czech Republic has already committed itself to re-wilden
3% of its territory), and designate their first wilderness areas.

Role of NGOs in the process
CEEweb for Biodiversity has organized a workshop for some committed CEE NGOs, subsequent to the conference ‘Rebuilding the Natural Heart of Europe’, with the aim of discussing NGOs’ role in the process. CEE NGOs would like to grab the momentum and stimulate the process, by taking part in consultations with relevant organizations (such as Pan Parks, the Wild Europe Initiative and the European Commission DG Environment) regarding the technical details and methodology, discussing the issue with various national nature conservation
organizations, and raising awareness of national governments as well as the general public, the latter in cooperation with Pan Parks. As CEEweb is an umbrella organization with member NGOs throughout Central and East Europe, it is ready to do coordinated actions covering the region.
Now, please take a look at some breathtaking photos of European nature at the website of ‘Wild Wonders of Europe’ (, to see how amazing natural treasures Europe still hosts.

Useful links
CEEweb for Biodiversity
European Commission about Wilderness and large natural areas
Wild Europe Initiative
Pan Parks
Restoration Conference

About CEEweb for Biodiversity
CEEweb for Biodiversity is an umbrella organization of NGOs in the Central and Eastern European region. Our mission is the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development.
For further information please contact: Stefan Avramov, BBF,