As Slovakia’s President opens the conference, EC Director General calls for stringent new protection – and restoration across Europe
Participants were honoured by a warm welcome from Her Excellency President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, who provided patronage for Wild Europe’s wilderness and old growth forest conference on 20th and 21st November.
Herself a winner of the coveted Goldman Prize for environmental achievement, President Caputova has an understanding of conservation issues rare among national leaders.
Taking place in the IUCN offices on Boulevard Louis Schmidt, the meeting was attended by representatives from DG Environment and DG Clima, with participation and written inputs from conservation NGOs and land user organisations.
Steve Carver, Co Chairman of the Task Force, explained the objectives and operating principles of the Task Force. There was some debate on the extent of the overlap between rewilding and restoration, and feedback included the suggestion of a collation of existing rewilding experience. Clear objectives and targets were also recommended.
As ‘rewilding’ gains momentum in Europe, there is a need for a formal definition of the concept, together with a standardised framework which the various initiatives can reference.
President Macron announces 10% natural habitat vision for France
President Macron has pledged commitment to protect 10% of France’s land and sea area “in full naturalness” (en plein naturalité).
He announced this objective in a speech at the Elysée Palace on 4thMay, as part of a wide-ranging vision to combat climate change and restore biodiversity that would see protected areas expanded to cover 30% of the nation’s territory.
Consultation will now occur to establish more specific objectives and plan their implementation. France’s IUCN Wilderness Group, where Wild Europe is represented and currently funding a mapping exercise, has discussed our definition of wilderness (espace à haute naturalité) which is used in the EC’s Management Guidelines for the Natura 2000 Network and the EC Wilderness Register. Together with the wild area (zone sauvage) definition it has potential to play a key part in this vision. In addition to environmental value, these definitionsproffer the practical potential of economic and social benefits for local communities and landholders.
President Macron’s vision, suitably focused on wild nature, is a powerful step alongside Germany, where the Federal government has designated 2% of the country to be natural wilderness: encompassing 5% of all forests and 10% of state forests. Wild Europe’s wilderness definition is cited by the German Federal Agency as compatible with the mission statement for the areas involved (Wild Europe’s wilderness definition in French).
Germany unveils large Wilderness Fund
The Federal Environment Ministry announced a massive boost for wilderness on 9thJuly 2019 – a 10 million euro per year “Wildnis in Deutschland” initiative aimed at stopping loss of species and habitats.
The funding will be used by conservation organisations to purchase land and land use rights, with particular focus on securing large integrated wilderness landscapes.
A clear precedent for France, and elsewhere in Europe
This represents spectacular success for a campaign by a network of German NGOs, coordinated by Manuel Schweiger of Frankfurt Zoological Society.
With President Macron of France recently outlining what could become even more extensive 10% national targets for areas “in full naturalness”, there is huge encouragement and a clear precedent for wilderness advocates in France and elsewhere to follow.
Rewilding in Britain – significant opportunities emerging
One of the few positive aspects of Brexit is the opportunity it offers for a wholesale rethink on using nature-based solutions to address climate change.
In its consultation document “rewilding and climate breakdown” (May 2019), the Rewilding Britain initiative where Wild Europe has trustee representation lays out a costed proposal for massive restoration of natural habitats and processes as a key route to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Promoted under the “public payments for public goods” agenda, this advocates spending 2.1 billion euro per year – 30% of the current 6.6 billion UK CAP budget – to restore over 6 million hectares including woodland, peatland, species rich grassland and salt marsh. This would sequester some 47 million tons of CO2 annually, more than 10% of the UK’s emissions. The report cites carbon taxes as a source of funding, although there is also potential related to flood alleviation – and of course the CAP budget itself.
Massive public support
These proposals are paralleled by a public petition that has now secured over 100,000 signatures, and will trigger a debate in the Westminster Parliament.
The outcome of this opportunity is of course uncertain. But the scale of a well-costed proposal reflects massive potential for supporting the European Commission’s Natural Capital agenda. Amid heavy irony that one of the biggest practical affirmations of this agenda comes from Brexit Britain, progress on this theme and CAP reform generally in the UK is being closely watched across the European Union.