Global significance of European wilderness

Although covering only 1% of Europe, our wilderness is directly representative of the much larger relatively pristine areas of habitat and natural process that are a key focus of conservation elsewhere in the world.

If we in Europe are seen to be protecting and restoring large areas of our own wild natural heritage, and doing so moreover for economic and social as well as conservation motives, that sends a powerful signal to countries elsewhere in the world who are currently determining future land use options for their own often much larger and comparatively pristine ecosystems.

A priceless heritage

 width=Wild areas are valuable in many ways: Alan Watson/Forest Light

In addition to their intrinsic spiritual, landscape and biodiversity value, wild areas of natural habitat can offer benefits for landholders, farmers, communities and society in general.

These can be derived through traditional activities such as nature tourism, bringing income and employment.

Environmental benefits can also be particularly valuable – notably in addressing the impact of climate change by storing carbon emissions or mitigating floods. Known as ecosystem services, such benefits often have a commercial value and can attract funding for local beneficiaries.

Wild areas can also support a range of recently emerging ventures, many of which address important inner urban issues such as education, youth development, youth at risk, rehabilitation and healthcare.

Wilderness included in 2010 EU Biodiversity Strategy

For the first time, wilderness was formally included in the EU 2010 Biodiversity Strategy.

This followed representations by Wild Europe and supporting organizations, and should have a significant positive influence on provision of policy and funding support.

An endless sea of wildness, offering valuable carbon storage and ecotourism potential. The Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia borderlands Frans Schepers, WWF NetherlandsAn endless sea of wildness, offering valuable carbon storage and ecotourism potential. The Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia borderlands Frans Schepers, WWF Netherlands

Protection of the last remaining wilderness areas, together with appropriate restoration, can make an important contribution to achieving the EU biodiversity objectives for the post 2010 strategy, particularly with reference to the Headline Target:

“Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss”

Although the actual wording for inclusion of wilderness has yet to be published, the Wild Europe partnership suggested incorporating the following reference to wilderness in the post 2010 strategy:

Wilderness is a unique part of our natural heritage. It represents a proportion of the European continent that is very small – around 1% – and shrinking. Many areas are under threat from logging, development of infrastructure, climate change and other factors.

At the same time, there are unprecedented opportunities throughout Europe for restoration of large areas of natural process and habitat, linked by biological corridors into a functioning ecosystem.

Because of their size, relative remoteness and natural condition, wilderness and wild areas can significantly strengthen the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 network and form a key element in Europe’s green infrastructure.

If appropriately protected and restored, they can also offer substantial environmental, economic, social, and cultural benefits – for local communities, landholders and society in general.

Representations have been made under the following sub-targets in the Strategy:

  • Sub-target 1   Integration and sustainable use of resources
  • Sub-target 3   Fragmentation and green Infrastructure
  • Sub-target 4   Invasive species
  • Sub-target 5   Nature conservation
  • Sub-target 6   Contribution to global biodiversity

Problematic issues are addressed and proposals are made for implementation of a wilderness strategy.

View the Wild Europe Submission