Wilderness benefits for EU Strategy

 

Introduction

Publication of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy in May 2011 provided a range of opportunities for promoting protection and restoration of wilderness and wild areas. These relate directly to the benefits such areas can provide, in both EU and neighbour (non EU) states across Europe.

The process of re-setting targets for the Biodiversity Strategy was initiated in January 2010 with publication of the EC Communication titled Options for an EU vision and target for biodiversity beyond 2010. Discussions on new targets were initiated at a high-level EC Presidency conference in Madrid, where Wild Europe provided a presentation on
Integrating wilderness into European protected areas.

Wild Europe subsequently drafted a submission on the importance of including wilderness in the EU Post 2020 Biodiversity Strategy (See script immediately below)

Benefits of Wilderness in achieving targets for the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy

1) Background

Despite substantial progress in recent years, Europe’s biodiversity is under continued pressure linked principally to habitat destruction, pollution and climate change as well as the impact of invasive alien species. At the same time, there is a growing support for wilderness areas (Note 1) and appreciation of their value, as characterised by five aspects in particular:

  • Development from 2005 of the Wild Europe partnership, a group of key conservation organizations (Note 2), promoting a coordinated strategy on protection and restoration of wilderness areas
  • A Resolution for Wilderness in November 2008, signed by around 150 conservation NGOs and other organisations across Europe
  • A special Report of the European Parliament calling for improved protection and funding of wilderness areas as well as endorsement of the Wild Europe initiative, adopted on 3rd February 2009 by 538 votes to 19 (Note 3)
  • The Prague Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas organized by the Wild Europe partnership and jointly hosted by the Czech EU Presidency and the European Commission, producing an Action Agenda of policy recommendations in May 2009
  • The CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook Report of May 2010 stressing opportunities for ‘rewilding’ restoration on a landscape scale across Europe (Note 4)

2) Wilderness in the EU Biodiversity Strategy

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”

Therefore the Wild Europe partnership suggests 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.

3) How wilderness can support EU Biodiversity Strategy

The outcomes of wilderness and wild area protection and restoration can be related to individual Sub-targets within the EU Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy:

Sub-target 1 (ST1) Integration and sustainable use of resources

  • Wilderness can provide substantial income and employment opportunities through nature tourism together with recreational, educational, social programme, corporate training and other non-extractive initiatives of relevance to both rural development and urban needs agendas. In marketing terms alone, wilderness is a strong ‘brand’ – underwritten by experiential impact and size: the latter enabling a scale of activity that might compromise conservation objectives in smaller traditional reserves. For example, Oulanka National Park in Finland generates over 14 million euro per year in income effect (including local multiplier) and employs 183 personnel (Note 5). Studies in the Bayerischer Wald National Park (Germany) indicate a similar impact (Note 6).
  • The size and intactness of wilderness areas enables large-scale provision of high quality ecosystem services, of particular relevance in addressing climate change. There is significantly higher carbon storage capacity in undisturbed forest, peatland and wetland as against their more managed counterparts. The same arguments can apply to flood mitigation (in both watershed or lowland sink locations), improved water-table retention and pollution alleviation.
  • Such ecosystem service benefits can be more likely to attract a wide and sustainable range of funding support – often from public and private sources not normally associated with conservation: carbon offset and credit income for sequestration from power utilities, industry with high energy-usage, and the general CRS and PR agendas of the corporate sector; in one 30,000 hectare region in the Carpathians alone 22 million euros of carbon offset finance from old growth forest protection was identified in 2010. Substantial hydrology related funding can also be available from water utilities, insurance companies, local authority and statutory agencies keen to reduce the high cost of downstream flood prevention, water treatment and compensation claims.
  • This opportunity applies as much to restoration as to protection projects – for example the reduction in climate changing gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) resulting from the transformation from net positive emissions on marginal agricultural land to net negative emissions on restored habitats. Regarding flood mitigation, a report published in July 2010 by WWF cites some 800,000 hectares of floodplain restoration potential along the Danube, bring important savings in costs of flood damage and alternative investment in prevention schemes.
  • Such economic benefits can be particularly significant in remoter regions where traditional land uses are becoming increasingly unviable, resulting in widespread rural decline and land abandonment. The ‘multiplier’ effect of income injections in the local economy can be disproportionately strong in such areas.
  • The wilderness brand label can also help with marketing goods and services from adjacent productive areas, eg organic wild area beef or lamb, whilst property values can be enhanced by proximity to wilderness (not always a beneficial effect).
  • Wilderness is increasingly used to address urban social issues such as youth development, drug addiction, healthcare and conflict resolution. The effectiveness of these programmes is underwritten by 1) the large scale of areas involved, enabling such activities to occur without compromising biodiversity goals; and 2) the psychological attributes of large wild areas that can facilitate a range of relevant remedial therapies.
  • Additionally to the income and employment they bring, the societal value of such programmes can be quantified – in terms, for example, of the financial benefit to society of custodial expenses avoided, lower criminal reoffending rates or lower medical costs from improved physiological healthcare results. They also enable engagement with the all-important urban political arena where conservation traditionally has a relatively low policy and budget profile.
  • Cost per unit area of non intervention management can be significantly lower

Problematic issues:

  • There can be some local reduction in income and employment resulting from exclusion of extractive activities such as logging and commercial grazing from core areas, but these involve minimal overall productive capacity and are usually of marginal profitability. Any such loss can be counter-balanced by the funding and income potential together with employment benefits outlined above.
  • The attitude of local communities towards wilderness and its wildlife can be problematic, and appropriate awareness raising of their benefits should form part of any protection or restoration programme.
  • Lack of service infrastructure can prevent local communities in areas adjacent to wilderness from benefiting fully from tourism and other opportunities. Training, business counselling, quality accreditation and marketing support are often needed to ensure maximum value added is gained.
  • Whilst all activities outlined above are non-extractive, it is important that their scale and conduct does not undermine the very wilderness values they are intended to help support. Clear management guidelines and codes of professional conduct are needed.

Sub-target 2 (ST2) Over-exploitation

Because support for attainment of this target by wilderness and wild land involves a combination of benefits already referred to above, this is only cited briefly below to avoid repetition. However, such areas can help to tackle the effects of overgrazing, inappropriately located logging and intensive farming – eg landslides, flooding, seasonal aridification, contamination of water supplies and general pollution.

Their size and non intervention status can help species of fauna and flora to recover and repopulation regions where more intense human impact has depleted or even eliminated native elements.

Sub-target 3 (ST3) Fragmentation and Green Infrastructure

  • Wilderness and large wild areas have the potential to provide key ‘cornerstone’ building blocks for an ecological network; this applies at international level through mountain ranges (eg Carpathians, Pyrenees, Alps), and at country level – for example in highly developed Holland the ‘Eco-net is’ projected to cover 17% of the country by 2018.
  • The strength of the ecosystem services provision of wilderness areas, described above, can bring substantial benefits in helping promote and fund the concept of green infrastructure generally.
  • The socio-economic benefit-based approach that can be applied to wilderness has the potential to generate significant policy and funding support – thus promoting the restoration both of large individual areas and the connectivity corridors between them – and potentially adding to both the size, number and level of ecosystem integrity of smaller, more fragmented areas of habitat. This impact would strengthen both the N2000 reserve network and the green infrastructure within which it is embedded.
  • Whilst understandably centred on EU territory, Biodiversity Strategy related to N2000, green infrastructure and connectivity initiatives would not cease at the EU boundaries. Through effective neighbourhood and other policies, supported by replication of the above benefit-based valuation and utilization initiatives, the threats and opportunities relating to wilderness and wild areas in non EU European states can also be addressed.

Sub-target 4 (ST4) Invasive Species

  • The remote condition of wilderness areas and their species provides some obstacle to access by many invasives.
  • This together with the predominantly natural and healthy functioning of their ecosystems can provide greater relative resilience to such invasives.
  • Insofar as such resilience is also likely to be an important factor in withstanding the impact of climate change, this should doubly help wilderness areas – as against smaller, more trammelled habitats whose ecosystems and species are undermined by climate change, rendering them more susceptible to the impact of invasives. Such impacts may well become more marked over time, if the natural ranges and tolerance levels of different species become increasingly disrupted.
  • Overall, wilderness areas can provide a natural baseline against which the ecological health of smaller and more modified conservation areas, as well as natural processes generally, can be measured. This role may become increasingly valuable if such disruption increases in calibrating the relative impacts of invasives, and determining appropriate strategy to address this.
  • Insofar that wilderness areas can support funding generation, as against their relatively lower unit maintenance costs, this can also contribute towards cost of invasive control programmes – which are likely to rise substantially with shifting climate patterns and growing volumes of trade and travel related species introductions.

Sub-target 5 (ST5) Nature Conservation

  • Conservation of wilderness, with (near) wholly intact ecosystems and capable of maintaining itself through a natural succession governed by natural processes can be regarded as a valid biodiversity objective in its own right, and a keynote element in Europe’s natural heritage.
  • A range of species (including invertebrates) benefit from these intact ecosystems, where natural processes operate in undisturbed conditions.
  • Wilderness is also important for preserving species that require large, compact and relatively remote areas
  • Because of their size wilderness areas can support more extensive gene pools for long-term species sustainability, and facilitate opportunity for adaptation and migration in response to climate change. This effect is reinforced by their provision of more resilient ecosystems, which as noted previously can also help resistance against invasive species.
  • As applies to Sub-targets above, the role of wilderness as a natural baseline against which the ecological health of smaller and more modified conservation areas can be measured, will become increasingly important for relative comparison and development of appropriate conservation strategies.  It can also help guard against what is regarded by some conservationists as a ‘baseline shift’ whereby over time progressively lower levels of biodiversity richness, however measured, become an acceptable standard for achievement.
  • The socio-economic benefit based approach that can be applied to wilderness can, as with the above Sub targets, contribute substantially to arresting the decline in biodiversity by enabling enlargement of existing reserves, creation of extensive new ones, and provision of effective biodiversity corridors between these. Quantification of the full range of wilderness benefits, involving conventional Return on Capital, Discounted Cash Flow or other methods, enables cost:benefit related calculation of their value as against alternative forms of land use – particularly in remoter and more marginal areas of agriculture and forestry  where opportunity costs and profit margins in related to traditional land use are lowest.
  • The indirect impacts of wilderness in enhancing political support for conservation can also be significant; its ability to contribute, through economic and social benefits usage, to rural development programmes and urban social needs strengthens direct linkage between biodiversity conservation and key political concerns.
  • As outlined above, wilderness can also prospectively generate substantial funding opportunity, with potential for correspondingly lower management costs often pertaining.
  • Given that the majority of wilderness areas are located within N2000 areas, the above benefits will all contribute to the strengthening both of this network, and through impact on Sub target 3 above, broader green infrastructure on a landscape scale.
  • Such benefits can be seen in the individual initiatives being developed for wilderness areas: eg the Wilderness Register which will identify all key areas of natural habitat and process with a view to supporting enhanced protection – including those areas currently lying outside the N2000 network – thus prospectively contributing to further expansion its physical coverage (if individual circumstances are appropriate).

Problematic issues:

  • There is sometimes reference to conflict between wild areas and maximization of biodiversity, for example with species that are dependent on agricultural or multiple land use. However any localized loss is offset by gains in wilderness-specific species, particularly given the substantial potential for restoration, and can also be readily mitigated by using cost-effective naturalistic management such as herbivore grazing to maintain habitat mosaics in wild areas. Furthermore, to place the issue in context, wilderness represents a very small proportion of the EU: 1% as against 17%+ for the Natura 2000 network.
  • Any prospective conflicts between the non intervention principles of wilderness and commercial forestry – related to windblow, bark beetle and fire risk – necessitate more focus on establishing cooperative mechanisms, large scale spatial planning  and clarification of underlying scientific issues. However, this can be readily achieved within a framework of practical cooperation, and there is also great potential for achieving mutual benefit – eg through enabling funding from wilderness related tourism and ecosystem services for forest owners, particularly in areas of marginal profitability. As a quid pro quo for protecting given areas of forest it may also be feasible to raise commercial productivity in neighbouring districts.

Sub-target 6 (ST6) Contribution to global biodiversity

  • Protection and restoration of wilderness and wild areas within the Biodiversity Strategy will respond to the recommendation of the 3rd CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook report which cited the potential for restoring 200 000 km2 in Europe (of which roughly 86,000 km2 in the EU). Europe’s existing and future world class models of wilderness conservation could thus be profiled and regarded internationally within EU strategy.
  • EU wilderness policy has even wider implications for global conservation. If we in our highly populated and developed continent are seen to be protecting and restoring substantial areas of wilderness – and doing so moreover for socio-economic as well as biodiversity motives – that sends a powerful message to countries elsewhere with much larger relatively intact ecosystems which are considering future land use options.

As with address of the above sub-targets, they can also provide a baseline of relatively intact ecosystems against which the impacts of such over-exploitation can be measured and best means of addressing it developed accordingly.

4) Implementation of wilderness strategy

To support achievement of the above outcomes it is recommended that wilderness strategy includes four key elements, as proposed for example by the Wild Europe initiative.

4.1 Translating the strategy into practice

  • A threefold emphasis is suggested: involving protection (eg the Wilderness Register and associated protection plans), restoration and communication strategies
  • Design and implementation of strategy should involve economists, forestry, agricultural and business specialists working alongside conservationists.
  • A spatial approach involving core, buffer and transition zones in and around wilderness areas can achieve practical reconciliation of different land use objectives and activities while enabling operation of key wilderness principles.

4.2 Ensuring inter-sectoral coordination

  • A practical consensus should be sought between interested parties: landholding, forestry, farming, business and urban social as well as conservation.
  • This can be echoed through close coordination between the relevant European Commission DGs, based on awareness of the value of wilderness areas

4.3 Coherent approach to spatial planning

  • Protection and restoration projects can be viewed as part of a broader ‘regional mosaic’ of land uses that includes commercial forestry and agricultural land use areas, and promotes links with wider recreational, hydrological, environmental and urban social requirements.
  • The zonation approach used by the Wild Europe partnership – involving core, buffer and transition zones – can help achieve practical involvement with these land uses and requirements.

4.4 A multi-source funding strategy

  • Initiatives should be carefully budgeted with a view to long-term sustainability
  • New as well as traditional funding sources should be identified, through the private sector (philanthropy, general corporate, recreation and tourism) and public institutions (education, healthcare, probationary services) in addition to more traditional NGO, agency, governmental and EC provision.
  • This agenda is as much about promoting appropriate policy as actual sourcing: eg facilitating linkage between ecosystem services and relevant funding flows.
  • A valuation approach closely aligned to the TEEB initiative is needed, promoting a cost-benefit framework for project work.

5) Notes to the above

1. Brief definitions

  • Wilderness
    • Large areas without human habitation, artifact, or significant modification, where natural processes govern.
    • In addition to their intrinsic, spiritual and aesthetic qualities, wilderness areas can provide important economic, social and environmental benefits for local communities, landholders and society at large.
  • Wild areas
    • Smaller and often fragmented areas, where the condition of natural habitat and relevant species is either partially or substantially modified by grazing, sporting activity, forestry or general imprint of human artifact.
    • They are scattered across the continent and need to be connected through functional ecological corridors

2. A special Report of the European Parliament led to a motion for a Resolution of 15/12/2008
(http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+REPORT+A6-2008-0478+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN) adopted on 5th February 2009.

3.The CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook Report (http://gbo3.cbd.int ) page 75

“There are opportunities for rewilding landscapes from farmland abandonment in some regions – in Europe, for example, about 200,000 square kilometers of land are expected to be freed up by 2050. Ecological restoration and reintroduction of large herbivores and carnivores will be important in creating self-sustaining ecosystems with minimal need for further human intervention.”

A smaller, but still very significant, land area applies within EU territory.

4.Oulanka National Park in Finland, income and employment statistics. see whole METLA study at:
http://www.metla.fi/julkaisut/workingpapers/2010/mwp149.pdf

5. A study on the value of wilderness to tourism in the Bayerischer Wald National Park can be found at:
http://www.nationalpark-bayerischer-wald.bayern.de/doc/service/publikationen/d_berichte/en_studie_job_kurz_ba.pdf

 

Valuing benefits

Many elements of wilderness and wild lands, including their intrinsic spiritual, landscape and biodiversity values, are literally priceless.

The quantification approach is thus intended to supplement and not supplant traditional approaches to assessment of wildland.

However it is increasingly feasible and indeed important to quantify the benefits of wilderness, wildlands and large natural habitat areas, both in monetary terms and for wider societal gain.

Why valuation?

Sheep, conifers, wind farms or wild areas? Relative valuations are one way of determiningSheep, conifers, wind farms or wild areas? Relative valuations are one way of determining

It is important to quantify the benefits of wild areas:

  • To provide cost:benefit based argument against threats and alternative land uses
  • In support of funding requests for protection or restoration projects
  • To inform policy decisions, particularly in competition with other sectors

Valuation of wild areas helps articulate their importance to key decision takers, whether local landholders or national politicians who tend to be predominantly urban.

It can also help underwrite wider support among media and the general public, with wilderness increasingly seen as an integral part of modern society.

Quantifying the benefits

1. Direct benefit valuation

  • Income flows, cost savings, employment creation
  • Additional benefits from ancillary activities (accommodation and branding opportunities, possible increases in land values.  Assess the multiplier effect.
  • Use sensitivity analysis to factor in alternative assumptions about subsidy levels, income and employment potential from benefits etc.

2. Indirect benefit valuation

  •  Environmental benefits – eg flood mitigation: examples of savings in downstream capital expenditure, running costs and insurance claims as the result of natural habitat restoration in catchment areas and lowland flood sinks reducing run-off variability or pollution.
  • Social benefits of wild areas: eg youth at risk – costs saved through reduced re-offence rates or non-custodial sentencing; remedial or palliative healthcare – eg less working days lost from stress or; shorter and thus cheaper psychotherapy courses

3. Opportunity for use of Contingent Valuation and Willingness to Pay (WTP)

Communities can benefit for multiple wild area benefits, but their value is seldom quantified – Maramures in Romania. - Frans SchepersCommunities can benefit for multiple wild area benefits, but their value is seldom quantified – Maramures in Romania. – Frans Schepers

These econometric methods can help quantify the worth of landscape and species conservation through assessments the values ascribed to these by consumers, taxpayers and general public.

Contingent Valuation represents the value of a particular measure – for example how much of the last 5% of their Income Tax would a tax payer like to see spent on restoring a wetland containing beaver, as against a marginal increase in housing subsidy or road building.

Willingness to Pay measures how much a consumer would contribute towards a particular experience – eg visiting a wild area; this can then be aggregated to calculate its consumption value.

4.   Review the overall cost-benefit of protection or restoration

There are three steps in this process:

  1. Assessment of the aggregate “net value” of a particular protection or restoration measure. Take into account income and employment created on the one hand, and costs on the other: including direct land cost, the loss of alternative land use (‘opportunity cost’ in economist’s parlance) and any costs associated with restoration (through natural and assisted regeneration) or protection. Measures of Contingent Valuation and Willingness to Pay can also be used here.
  2. Comparison of cost:benefit – as against alternative land uses: eg logging or agricultural use. There is a need to take account of trends in subsidies – eg the future impact of Common Agricultural Reform reforms – and of farm and timber prices
  3. Draw conclusions on the quantifiable rationale for protecting or restoring a wild area. These should be run alongside aesthetic, biodiversity and other arguments

Economic benefits

As well as containing an irreplaceable natural heritage for Europe’s biodiversity and landscapes, wild areas can offer substantial economic benefits – for local communities, landholders and society in general.

In addition to payments related to biodiversity conservation, nature tourism in wild areas already contributes substantially to local economies, particularly in remoter rural areas where alternative sources of income and employment are relatively scarce. The ‘multiplier’ effect of income injections in the local economy can also be disproportionately strong in such areas.

In marketing terms alone, wilderness is a strong ‘brand’ – underwritten by experiential impact and size: the latter enabling a scale of activity that might compromise conservation objectives in smaller traditional reserves.

For example, in 2010 Oulanka National Park in Finland generated over 14 million euro per year in income effect (including local multiplier) and employed 183 personnel.

See the METLA study at: METLA Study

Studies in the Bayerischer Wald National Park (Germany) indicate a similar impact 

These benefit are increasingly paralleled by funding to landholders and communities for provision of ecosystem services (see Environmental Benefits).

Programmes addressing urban social issues such as youth development, healthcare and conflict resolution can provide further economic potential (see Social Benefits).

Linking with the TEEB initiative

Pavan Sukhdev, Coordinator of the EC funded study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEBPavan Sukhdev, Coordinator of the EC funded study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and current President of WWF

This capacity to provide cost-effective returns from investment in protection and restoration is a key feature of the report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) which is identifying initiatives that deliver a high rate of return.

A growing number of wild area projects are now being quantified on such a basis, which is intended to reinforce rather than substitute for more traditional values of biodiversity as an intrinsic benefit.

Further work is required to ensure that wild area benefits are linked to payment systems that bring direct benefit to local communities and landholders, in return for enabling appropriate protection and restoration measures.

To view the TEEB report: http://www.teebweb.org/Home/tabid/924/Default.aspx

Alternative land uses

Growing recognition and quantification of wilderness and wild area benefits is reinforcing support for their intrinsic and biodiversity benefits – leading to development of further innovative funding instruments. Cost per unit area of non intervention management can also be significantly lower

Extensive land abandonment and the marginal productive value of much existing land use, particularly in remoter or geographically more challenging areas, further emphasizes the economic basis for protecting and restoring wilderness and wild lands.

There is substantial potential to build a joint position among conservation, landholding, farming, forestry and other interests to promote appropriate funding and policy reforms in pursuit of this agenda – particularly with regard to CAP reform.

Addressing concerns

  • There can be some local reduction in income and employment resulting from exclusion of extractive activities such as logging and commercial grazing from core areas, but these involve minimal overall productive capacity and are usually of marginal profitability. Any such loss can be counter-balanced by the funding and income potential together with employment benefits outlined elsewhere.
  • The attitude of local communities towards wilderness and its wildlife is of central importance, and appropriate awareness raising of their benefits should form part of any protection or restoration programme.
  • Lack of service infrastructure can prevent local communities in areas adjacent to wilderness from benefiting fully from tourism and other opportunities. Training, business counselling, quality accreditation and marketing support are often needed to ensure maximum value added is gained.
  • Whilst all activities outlined here are non-extractive, it is important that their scale and conduct does not undermine the very wilderness values they are intended to help support. Clear management guidelines and codes of professional conduct are needed.

A checklist of economic benefits

Business related:

  • Direct income and employment generation – in contrast with likely diminution in subsidy for traditional farming in more marginal, particularly upland, areas.
  • Ecotourism and other tertiary activities – including agri-tourism (model farms), cultural and historic tourism, specialist sporting, corporate incentive and leisure fields. There is substantial scope for marketing joint packages, enhancing existing regional attractions.
  • Wild areas as a backdrop for corporate activities involving negotiation, training and team-building by participants from business and other organizations.
  • Ancillary local commercial activities provide additional income: accommodation, retail, transport, distribution and craft businesses – generating a “multiplier effect” whereby wealth generated is recycled in the local economy.
  • Use of “Wild” and related brands and logos in marketing promotions for local and regional agricultural produce, and other goods and services.
  • Increases in land values of properties within and alongside wild natural habitat areas, although this can create problems for local communities requiring special address.
  • Evidence of taxpayers ascribing substantial value to species in wild areas when questioned about allocation of their incremental levies between alternative uses. This can be used in representations to secure funding for protection or restoration.

Social related:

  • Income and employment gains, particularly in more remote areas, could provide opportunity to stem the decline of rural communities and bring support to local landholders.
  • Opportunity for sustainable development within local communities that can also help articulate and maintain traditional culture and lifestyles.
  • An effective location for urban social programmes, offering substantial benefit to participants and savings for taxpayers from outcomes – eg lower reoffending rates and custodial sentences for youth at risk, benefits from successful conflict resolution
  • Use of wild areas for physiological, recuperation and trauma therapy is also increasingly recognized as a cost:effective form of healthcare.
  • Capacity to accommodate a range of school and adult education programmes – thus reinforcing the role of conservation and sustainable development in school curricula.

Environmental related:

  • Substantial potential for carbon sequestration, with potential for carbon offset and credit funding
  • Flood mitigation bringing commercial returns in the form of downstream flood mitigation and.
  • Water storage, balancing of water tables in areas of more erratic rainfall with benefits for farming and urban land use in adjacent areas
  • Enhanced water and soil quality, mitigating impact of pollution and improving productivity of fisheries
  • Scope for developing sea defence alignments with rising sea levels, involving managed coastal retreat and creation of new coastal wild areas, for which there are also strong economic arguments.

Social benefits

There is growing recognition of the beneficial impact of wilderness experience for personal therapy and social skills development. This is increasingly underpinned by an expanding body of scientific research.

A range of newer related initiatives has emerged – many of which, combined with more traditional treatment programmes, address important inner urban issues such as youth at risk, youth development, rehabilitation, healthcare and conflict reconciliation.

Wild areas can facilitate conflict resolution projectsWild areas can facilitate conflict resolution projects
Helping to address urban social problems Helping to address urban social problems

One project in this latter category, supported by the Wilderness Foundation UK, brings together former terrorist adversaries from the Northern Ireland conflict as a recognizably successful element in the ongoing peace process.

The effectiveness of these programmes is underwritten by the large scale of areas involved, enabling such activities to occur without compromising biodiversity goals, and the psychological attributes of large wild areas that can facilitate a range of relevant remedial therapies.

In addition to the income and employment they bring, the societal value of such programmes can be quantified – in terms, for example, of the financial benefit to society of custodial expenses avoided, lower criminal reoffending rates or lower medical costs from improved physiological healthcare results.

They also provide a growing link between biodiversity interests and the social priorities of urban politicians, which the ‘traditional’ conservation agenda has generally failed to achieve to any significant degree.

This aspect alone can help make a significant contribution to the policy and funding profile of conservation generally among decision takers in the mainline political arena.

For further information, see: A study of the social benefits of wildlands for youth at risk, healthcare and conflict resolution

Next steps in utilising social benefits

Many social programmes are still being developed on a relatively limited scale.

Three key actions are required to fully realize their potential:

  • clear representation of the scientific research underpinning their effectiveness, particularly  in relation to wilderness and wild area experience
  • proactive identification and development of markets for each benefit category
  • incentives for capacity building to deliver the benefits

Environmental benefits

Large wild areas provide ecosystem services that are essential to society.

These include carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and alleviation of soil and water pollution – all of which are important ‘green infrastructure’ benefits capable of tackling the impacts of climate change.

The value of such services can frequently be quantified and linked to prospective funding for large scale protection and restoration schemes – often from public and private sector sources not normally associated with conservation.

The sheer size of many wilderness and wild areas can deliver such services on a significant scale, and their unmanaged natural condition also offers important advantages – for example undisturbed old growth forests, peatlands and wetlands have considerably greater carbon storage capacity than their more managed equivalents.

Carbon sequestration

Undisturbed habitat has significantly higher carbon storage capacityUndisturbed habitat has significantly higher carbon storage capacity

Carbon markets already enable corporate funding from offset agreements and there is growing potential to generate finance from high energy users and polluters: carbon offset and credit income for sequestration from power utilities, industry with high energy-usage, and the general CRS and PR agendas of the corporate sector.

For example 4.5 million euro of carbon offset funding potential has been identified for old growth forest protection through a model commercial study of one area in the Carpathians, with 22 million projected for another site further East.

This opportunity applies as much to restoration as to protection projects – for example the reduction in climate changing gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) resulting from the transformation from net positive emissions on marginal agricultural land to net negative emissions on restored habitats.

Flood mitigation and other hydrological services

Protection or restoration of upland watersheds and lowland sinks that reduce downstream flooding or pollution can attract significant funding from local authorities, statutory agencies and utilities anxious to reduce the cost of downstream flood prevention and water treatment, or insurance companies seeking to lower the incidence of compensation claims.

These benefits can be supplemented by corresponding retention of water through the presence of natural habitat in the dry season – an attribute of growing significance to farming and urban interests in areas adjacent to wilderness as rainfall patterns become more erratic with the advance of climate change.

There are clear benefits of size in planning large area restoration of an entire watershed or a lowland sink, in the latter instance applying both hydrological engineering to return water courses to their former more sinuous form and re-establishing riparian marsh and wetland forest to reduce discharge energy and create capacity for absorbing surplus flow.

Research into these hydrological benefits is rapidly proving their value. In Wales, a scheme to re-establish natural vegetation in upland areas denuded of natural habitat by overgrazing has already resulted in significantly reduced rates of run-off and is now being more widely assessed by the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology (CEH) in Aberystwith.

A much larger-scale assessment of restoration potential is underway on the Danube basin.

Danube flood threat signals massive restoration potential

Large scale wild area restoration can mitigate floodingLarge scale wild area restoration can mitigate flooding

A new WWF study in 2010 showed that restoring the natural capacity of the Danube floodplains to retain flood waters would help protect people from flood impacts, cost much less than the damages caused by floods, and, in addition, provide important benefits to nature, people, and local economies.

Human intervention in the Danube area has degraded and more than halved the area of floodplains that can retain water and minimise flood impacts.

“This year Romania, for example, has been hit again by severe storms and floods, which have killed 25 people and forced 16,500 more to leave their homes. Unfortunately the frequency and intensity of flood events is expected to continue. The good news is that the solutions for flood management that work with nature, not against it exist and are within arms reach”, said Orieta Hulea, Head of Freshwater at the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

Floodplains as ‘natural sponges’

Floodplains are like natural sponges, they act as natural storage reservoirs allowing large volumes of water to be stored and slowly and safely released down rivers and into the groundwater.

If cut off from the main river beds and drained for agriculture, as has happened on the lower Danube and across most of Europe in the last century, their potential for flood retention is lost and the risks from floods are increased.

Massive restoration potential

A WWF study “Assessment of the restoration potential along the Danube and main tributaries” estimates the potential for floodplain restoration at about 800,000 ha along the Danube, about 500,000 ha of this in the lower Danube.

The Danube River Basin Management Plan, which was officially adopted by all Danube countries, including both EU and non-EU member states, already includes 473,000 ha of floodplain in Romania to be reconnected with the river. But the implementation of these measures is planned to start only after 2015 mainly due to insufficient allocation of financial resources and land ownership issues.

WWF calculated that if at least 100,000 ha from these potential areas would be restored – at an estimated cost of 500,000 €/km² – this would mean an investment of 500 million €, costing less than the damages caused by floods or the investment in higher and stronger dykes.

The restoration of the 196 areas with highest potential identified by WWF along the longest European river would cost about 6 billion Euro.

A wider EU Danube strategy

The EU Commission and Danube countries are currently developing an EU Danube Strategy in order to tackle specific challenges facing the region, including socio-economic development, sustainable transport, biodiversity and water and flood risk management.

“If the EU Danube Strategy is to become an effective tool to guarantee the necessary political commitment and funds to protect the Danube’s people and its rich biodiversity, floodplain restoration needs to become one of its key priority actions. The recent floods that have hit the area show us that inaction till 2015 is not an option. We need to make sure that at least one large scale restoration project is implemented in each Danube country by 2015.” said Sergey Moroz, EU Water Policy Officer at WWF.

Benefits to Conservation

Contribution to Biodiversity

As the failure to meet many of the 2010 targets illustrates, Europe’s biodiversity is under continued threat: from habitat destruction, pollution and climate change as well as the impact of invasive alien species.

In the EU, 60% of the most valuable habitats are in unfavorable conservation status.

With natural habitat and process still largely intact, wilderness areas provide a base point or ‘gold standard’ of natural ecological condition against which other areas can be measured. They still narrate the ongoing story of evolution,

Highly endangered - Marsican brown bear, ItalyHighly endangered – Marsican brown bear, Italy

They support species that are dependent for their survival on large, remote areas, and can harbour extensive gene pools for long-term species sustainability. They also provide opportunity for adaptation and migration in response to climate change, enabling development of more resilient ecosystems.

Their scale can also support income earning and therapeutic activities which could otherwise conflict with conservation interests in smaller areas.

It should be feasible to achieve aims for conservation of wilderness and wild areas where these occur within the Natura 2000 network, by promoting regimes of ‘non-intervention’ management and restoration.

In countries adjacent to the European Union where important areas of wilderness remain, outside Natura 2000 areas, alternative means of protection will be required – but the biodiversity benefits could be just as significant.

The Role of Wild Areas in Halting Biodiversity Loss

It is heartening that opportunities are opening up for a “re-wilding” of at least parts of Europe. These remnants, or reconstructions, of wilderness are critical in conserving biodiversity.

Judging from the ecological principle that larger areas are able to support more species, linking wild lands together to make extensive protected areas will conserve greater biodiversity than the smaller areas could.  They will also enable species to adapt to climate change, by giving them room to move as habitats change along with the climate.

Many other benefits for biodiversity are increasingly cited:

  • Higher ratio of core to margins, with less disturbance of inner area
  • A larger gene pool for species survival
  • Potential to encompass whole ecosystems, including water sources
  • Scale enables significant sustainable nature tourism without the same compromise to biodiversity interest that can occur with smaller reserves
  • Scale also enables appropriate scale for benefits from addressing climate change to be derived by landholders, local communities etc from prospective funding of ecosystem services: eg from carbon sequestration (carbon credits from energy users, polluters etc), flood mitigation (funding from government agencies, sponsorship from utility and insurance companies), pollution alleviation etc.
  • Size can facilitate use of wild land areas for urban social projects (youth development, youth at risk, healthcare) of direct relevance to mainstream political agendas and offering future funding sources from ‘social services’ from currently small but well established budget holders (Interior Ministries, Health Services, Probationary services)
  • The above attributes can enable cost:benefit calculations to promote protection, restoration or general funding of appropriate land use or biodiversity management
Iberian lynx, endangered by habitat fragmentation and loss of prey speciesIberian lynx, endangered by habitat fragmentation and loss of prey species

Restoration of wildland areas, bringing to bear the above arguments, can enable upgrading and enlargement of existing reserves, with linkage into a network – connecting biodiversity islands, enabling longer distance migration and sharing of gene pools.

As the failure to meet many of the 2010 targets illustrates, Europe’s biodiversity is under continued threat: from habitat destruction, pollution and climate change as well as the impact of invasive alien species.

In the EU, 60% of the most valuable habitats are in unfavorable conservation status.“European wilderness is the building block for a greener Europe” Ladislav Miko, Director of Natural Environment at the European Commission. Protecting and restoring the last remaining wilderness can contribution significantly to supporting EU post 2010 biodiversity strategy.

With natural habitat and process still largely intact, wilderness areas still narrate the ongoing story of evolution, providing a base point or ‘gold standard’ of natural ecological condition against which other areas can be measured.

Wilderness and wild area initiatives for connectivity

Jeffrey McNeely, IUCN Chief Scientist, explains the benefits of wild lands to biodiversityJeffrey McNeely, IUCN Chief Scientist, explains the benefits of wild lands to biodiversity

Building on global examples, Europe is now developing some significant landscape-level approaches to wilderness. The connectivity agenda is also gathering momentum.

The European Green Belt is an ecological network from the Barents to the Black Sea, and Spain, Portugal, France, Andorra and Italy are working together to strengthen the Great Ecological Connectivity Corridor, involving the Cantabrian Range, the Pyrenees, the Massif Central, and the Western Alps.

Some are even hoping that the Great Mountain Corridor, already conceived as a 1300-km corridor, can eventually extend into the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe.  While linking the Cantabrians to the Alps may seem a little bit of a stretch, a wolf from the Cantabrians was reportedly seen last year in the Pyrenees, close to a pack of wolves that arrived from the French Alps a decade ago, after having crossed the Rhone Valley.

Other more modest trans-boundary efforts are also notable, such as Bialowieza between Poland and Belarus, the last remaining habitat of the Wisant or European Bison and a World Heritage site.

Europe has many other trans-boundary protected areas, either already functioning or available in potential, for expanding potential wilderness.

Addressing supposed conflict between biodiversity and wilderness principles

The issue of conflict between conservation management and principles of wildness should be addressed, since the area of common ground and benefit is much greater than allowed for in the current debate:

  • Benefits from wildlands cited above generally outweigh concerns over diminution in richness of biodiversity
  • Any concerns that ‘wilding’ an area previously heavily managed for agricultural grazing or other purposes can be substantially mitigated by extensive management techniques, including grazing: by ungulates, beaver – even semi-feral cattle where relevant
  • Allowance can still be made for localized management related to specific species, whilst retaining an overall wildland landscape
  • Smaller scale high intensity biodiversity can be balanced out by much larger scale lower intensity

Impetus behind further re-wilding

Land use in Europe is dynamic, with many areas once devoted to agriculture now being abandoned, especially as young people move to cities, more technology is applied to high-productivity lands, and areas of marginal agriculture often mimic nature.  All of this facilitates a sort of “re-wilding” of at least certain parts of Europe.

In Eastern Europe, especially, much farmland has been abandoned in recent years, especially in the Carpathian Mountains.  Unfortunately, this abandonment of agriculture was compensated by increased harvesting of older forests, leading to forest fragmentation.

Restoration will also involve political and social decisions, as some areas of apparent wilderness are in fact domestic habitats, such as the grouse moors of Scotland.  Returning the grouse moors to the native forests that once covered much of Scotland is a highly controversial topic and will require sensitive handling.  But incorporating wilderness values into the discussion may provide a basis for productive dialogue.

Yet another challenge should be added here, namely the importance to the rest of the world for Europe to reduce its global ecological footprint.

Europe’s impact on wild lands throughout the tropics has significant implications for conservation in those countries.  Therefore, as Europe develops a strategy for conserving biodiversity in the coming decade, a “foreign policy for biodiversity” should be included, and this element should incorporate wild land issues, drawing from the experience of Europe and expressing willingness to exchange expertise and experience with other countries.

The prospects for wilderness will be greatly enhanced if wilderness is broadly accepted as a global value.

Overview

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 EC Biodiversity Strategy

For the first time, wilderness has been formally included in the EU Post 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

Utilising the benefits

There is substantial opportunity to assess and disseminate best practice for translating the benefits from wild areas into specific light impact ventures – the aim being to maximize their worth for local communities, landholders and other relevant parties.

Careful attention should be paid to ensure an appropriate balance between benefit-related activities and the need for strict maintenance of ‘wild’ principles and negligible disturbance for wildlife.

Only those activities with negligible environmental impact would be suitable in core wild areas, whilst a broader range of undertakings could apply to land undergoing substantial restoration.

Activities relevant to wild areas:

  • Nature tourism
  • Combined packages (agri-tourism, culture, history)
  • Recreational, general sporting
  • Specialist sporting
  • Corporate events, training, incentives and relationship building
  • Healthcare, physiology, eco/psycholog
  • Youth development
  • Youth at risk
  • Reconciliation and conflict mitigation
  • Education (child, adult), research

Economic benefits from these activities:

  • Direct income and employment
  • Branding and logo opportunities for specific goods and services produced in the wild areas – eg ‘wilderness experiences’ – or its vicinity – eg ‘wild’ meat, dairy products, honey; in the latter case, experience suggests the product also needs a distinguishing intrinsic quality such as being organically produced
  • The ‘umbrella effect’ whereby the existence of a wild area can strengthen the marketing appeal of unrelated tourism venues nearby
  • Ancillary services – accommodation, catering, transport, retail and handicraft

Capacity building for local communities and landholders

  • Opportunity to benefit from wild areas can be limited by lack of existing facilities, and here appropriate capacity building is important.
  • Appropriate support can help grow local businesses
  • Identifying and quantifying specific opportunities
  • Improving the quality and capacity of local provision – eg bed and breakfast, small hotels and hostels, retail merchandising
  • Appropriate advice on business planning, management, marketing, employment
  • Ensuring appropriate systems are in place – eg counseling, accreditation, collective marketing, funding, training
  • Advising on best practice in start up or development of specific initiatives or ventures: whether private sector, community, NGO or local authority

Utilising ecosystem services

The above approach mainly applies to utilization of economic and social benefits.

It is also feasible to collate best practice in identification and usage of ecosystem services – eg

  • Linking carbon markets to landowner ecosystem services – ensuring appropriate compensation for existing landholders, or sufficient funding for buy-outs of land where restoration of natural habitat (woodland or marshland) has an appreciable impact on carbon sequestration.
  • Engaging utility & insurance funding in flood mitigation, through quantifying the impact that upstream watershed or lowland sink habitat and process restoration or protection can produce by slowing and diminishing the volume and variance in discharge and thus enabling downstream savings in flood insurance, capital expenditure on flood defences.
  • Similarly, through pollution mitigation effects reducing downstream water treatment costs.

Development of markets for social benefits

As social benefits from wild areas become more widely appreciated, and increasingly underwritten by scientifically based studies, it is also increasingly feasible to develop wider ‘markets’ especially for newer activities such as youth at risk or healthcare.

Two examples here are:

  • Probationary services. Cost savings from lower reoffending rates or non-custodial treatment can be used to promote youth at risk ventures to decision takers in Home Office ministries and probation services who allocate funding and determine budgets.
  • National health services. Similar opportunities exist for quantified promotion of benefits of wild areas for treatment of psychological conditions, including general health & well-being, stress, trauma.

In both cases promotion plans are needed, developed by conservation agencies or NGOs in tandem with the relevant social service providers.