‘Non intervention’ management guidelines to be developed
A contract for providing input to development of guidelines on non intervention management of wilderness and wild areas inside Natura 2000 reserves has been awarded to a consortium of Alterra, Eurosite and PANParks Foundation.
The guidelines will help keep natural habitat and processes in such areas undisturbed by more traditional forms of interventionist conservation management – including vegetation clearance, construction of fences and other infrastructure.
This is consistent with a new approach to conservation which aims to ensure the naturalness and integrity of ecological processes rather than focusing on individual species.
Once the inputs are prepared, the guidelines will be developed by the Expert Committee on Nature 2000 Management, before going to the EC for recommendation to Member States.
Securing these guidelines has been a key objective of Wild Europe, which coordinated a Resolution for improved protection of European wilderness in 2008 signed by over 140 conservation and other organizations.
Although by definition applying to EU member states, the guidelines will also help influence management of wilderness and wild areas in neighbour states elsewhere in Europe.
What are the different approaches to management?
Non intervention management
This involves in effect a zero intervention approach, allowing natural processes to determine the form and distribution of habitat and species, with no artificial interruption in the natural progression of vegetation.
Such processes include: carnivore/herbivore action, the nutrient cycle (dead wood being a key element), wind, fire, disease, pests (including bark beetle), hydrological action, siltation - and genetic evolution itself.
This will help address the current situation whereby conservation management that is traditionally more focused on particular species can involve vegetation clearance and other interventionist activities which conflicts with wilderness principles that emphasise undisturbed landscape and process. This has been an issue for example in Sweden as well as many Central European countries following their accession to the EU and establishment of the N2000 network.
However, the importance of placing such non intervention guidelines clearly within the Natura 2000 structure is emphasized. The Natura 2000 programme has provided a highly effective conservation instrument in Europe and wilderness and wild areas can considerably strengthen its objectives.
Adoption of non intervention principles recognises that there may as a result be some localised diminution in species, but that integrity and naturalness of ecosystems is a valid and important conservation objective in itself, from which other species will benefit.
The naturalistic management approach involves using extensive grazing to maintain a mosaic of different habitats, rather than leaving natural progression to occur unhindered towards climax vegetation – mainly of forest.
This should so far as possible involve naturally occurring species such as bison, deer, boar, beaver. It also employs quasi-wild substitutes such as auroch-type breeds being developed by the Tauros Project, and Konik horses.
There is some discussion as to how far these latter species should be used in core areas of wilderness – but the aim is to ensure maximum wildness of landscape and process along with richness of biodiversity for which mixed habitat with ecotones is important.
A key element of such management involves the need to calculate the intended habitat impact of grazing and browsing, adjusting the mix and number of animals involved.
Issues for consideration include welfare (management of disease, age, starvation), health (leaving of carcasses even near watercourses), addressing conflict with other land uses (eg interaction between wild species and livestock), public safety, management and control.
Both the above approaches are an essential element in restoration schemes for wild areas – particularly naturalistic grazing where large scale re-establishment of natural habitat is occurring on former areas of mixed agricultural use. They can also be highly cost-effective, especially over large areas.
As with all forms of management, close cooperation is required with local landholders and communities. This can be readily enhanced when benefits from ecotourism and other sources of income and employment related to such management become apparent.
Non intervention and naturalistic management contrasts with more man-centred approaches often adopted in traditional conservation, usually focusing on a particular habitat type or species and involving a cycle of highly interventionist actions – such as coppicing of woodland, maintenance through felling of trees and shrubs on heath and grassland, mechanical dredging of wetlands.
This is generally regarded as inimical to the principles and philosophy of wilderness. However, where a degree of man-centred intervention management has to occur in support of a key species or habitat type, it should be undertaken with great sensitivity to natural landscape and process.
Interventionist management is not recommended in core areas of wilderness.