President Caputova opens the conference (Photo: Stefan Voicu)

A landmark for conservation

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 2019.

Herself a winner of the coveted Goldman Prize for environmental achievement, President Caputova has an understanding of conservation issues rare among national leaders.

Recommendations from the conference, together with input subsequently received from partners, is being incorporated into a Message from Bratislava to be circulated shortly.

Daniel Calleja calls for stricter protection of old growth forest and prioritisation of forest restoration (Photo: European Commission)

The President’s support was backed by a strong speech from the Director General of DG Environment at the European Commission – stressing the important role of old growth forests and wilderness in mitigating climate change and addressing the extinction crisis. 

In his message to the conference, Daniel Calleja called for reinforced protection and ecological restoration of wilderness across Europe, citing “its range of vital services – carbon storage, water table stability …”. 

“A mature forest keeps being important for climate change because it contains large quantities of carbon in the trees and in the soil” – a stark reminder from the European Commission that old growth forest must not be felled, least of all in the name of addressing climate change.

More stringent protection was also needed to increase the share of old growth forest – which he said had undergone “a drastic reduction in surface area”.

Strong support from UNESCO 

Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Head of the Europe and North America Department for UNESCO World Heritage, also sent a strong message of support. Citing the value of old growth forest, she explained the twelve-country beech forest protection initiative. 

Isabele Anatole-Gabriel of UNESCO (UNESCO)

Aiming to designate some of the last significant remaining areas of this precious biome as World Heritage sites, this endeavour is now nearing completion: an iconic example for the rest of Europe of large-scale conservation achievement and inter-country cooperation.

Objectives of the conference 

The conference was attended by participants from conservation, forestry, landholding, business and other sectors. Addressing a range of challenges and opportunities, its two main objectives were:

  1. To produce new initiatives that will strengthening the protection agenda and support ecological restoration for large self-managed natural ecosystem areas (‘wilderness’)
  2. To further develop the old growth forest protection strategy, building on the projects initiated with the 550,000 euro raised since our Brussels conference in 2017

A series of recommendations were proposed and assessed during the conference. These will be combined into an action plan –The Message from Bratislava – which will be circulated among participants from the conference

At the opening of the conference from left to right: Toby Aykroyd (Coordinator Wild Europe), Luc Bas (Director IUCN Regional Office for Europe), Her Excellency President Zuzana Caputova, and Ladislav Miko (Head of EU Representation in Slovakia, Chairman Wild Europe) (Photo: Stephan Voicu)

Outputs from the conference

Work is already underway on the following projects:

Harald Egerer at a speaker's podium
Harald Egerer, Head of UNEP Vienna Office & Carpathian Convention
with Andreas Beckmann, CEO of WWF Central & Eastern Europe (RHS)
  • A ‘sound science’ strategy consultation for addressing the wood bioenergy problem
  • Completion of the report on incentives for private sector protection 
  • The legal framework for long-term protection of natural ecosystem areas
  • Development of the Early Warning System project for old growth/primary forest protection
  • Ongoing work on ecosystem service benefit usage – carbon & ecostourism
  • Representation for a Stage II project on Management Guidelines for wilderness and wild areas
  • The Griffith programme to support improved old growth/primary forest conservation

Further projects planned for 2020 include:

  • Publication of a report on gaps in policy for wilderness
  • Testing and launch of the Wild Nature Enterprise Toolkit
  • Representation for a Stage II project to extend the Wilderness Register
  • Promotion of national legislation on wood biofuels
  • Development of science-based principles for a European restoration strategy
  • Inputs to national wilderness strategies
  • Publication of a report on gaps in protection of old growth/primary forest, particularly at EU level
  • Ongoing promotion of existing and new model large natural ecosystem areas (wilderness)

Read more: Conference presentations

Read more: Conference programme 

Picture gallery available here

Information with the Message from Bratislava to follow shortly.