Vaclav HavelVaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel 1936 – 2011

Statesman, playwright, hero of countless millions across Europe for his enduring struggle to secure freedom, finally realized in the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Even while presiding over the rebuilding of his nation, as President of Czechoslovakia and subsequently the Czech Republic, the poet and the visionary in Vaclav Havel recognized the value of the wild in restoring meaning to our crowded lives. It was his memorable rhetoric which, in May 2009, opened the first EC Presidency Conference on wilderness, held in Prague.

“We have lost sight of eternity and are destroying nature for future generations.”

Few people deserve to be called ‘great’. Vaclav Havel was one of those. His name and memory will live on, undimmed, in our work to safeguard Europe’s last wild areas.

Doug Tompkins (Credit: Sam Beebe/Ecotrust)Doug Tompkins (Credit: Sam Beebe/Ecotrust)

Doug Tompkins, the passing of a giant

Wilderness and wildlife lost one of its greatest proponents with the death of Doug Tompkins from hypothermia following a kayaking accident in Chile.

Highly successful businessman, founder of North Face and Esprit clothing multinationals, Doug increasingly realised the value and vulnerability of the world’s last wild spaces.

He moved to South America with his dearly loved wife Kris, where they acquired over 850,000 hectares of largely pristine forest and grassland in Patagonian Chile and in Argentina, creating a series of protected wilderness areas to be given as National Parks to the two countries. Alongside these a network of local enterprises was initiated for nature tourism and sustainable, organic agriculture.

Doug also had a number of interests in Europe, becoming a much valued advisor to the Conservation Carpathia Foundation in Romania, where the scale and practicality of his vision well matched this other great endeavour to preserve one of Europe’s last great mountain wildernesses with its wolf, bear and lynx.

Doug’s conservation was underpinned by a profound belief in man’s oneness with nature. He regarded his tireless endeavours, which included campaigns on a wide variety of environmental issues, as ‘paying rent for his time on Earth’.

He leaves behind a string of priceless natural landscapes, now to be protected in perpetuity.

More than that, his legacy lives on in the minds of countless individuals who had the privilege to know and be inspired by Doug and his brand of forthright but humble genius. Our hearts reach out to Kris and all Doug’s family.

9th December 2015

Successful wilderness forum at the European Parliament

Wilderness in the political arenaWilderness in the political arena

Almost exactly three years after the EU Resolution in 2009 calling for improved support for wilderness passed by 538 votes to 19, a policy forum ’Protecting Wilderness in Europe’ was organized by PAN Parks and Wild Europe in the EU Parliament on 31st January 2012.

Presentations were opened by Pavel Poc, MEP (Czech Republic) who hosted the proceedings. He cited the vote in 2009, and suggested that the time was ripe for the profile of wilderness to be raised further.

Stefan Leiner, Head of Natura 2000 Unit (EC DG Environment), then outlined how the wilderness agenda was played an important role in Natura 2000. He confirmed that “wilderness is an essential mainstream element of the European Biodiversity Strategy.”

Targets needed for wilderness

Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe Initiative stressed the need to establish targets for wilderness in Europe. A figure of 4-5% of land area was an ambitious but achievable goal. It could be gained by further reinstatement of near-wilderness together with ‘rewilding’ of marginal and abandoned farmland and forestry.

He echoed the information in Stefan Leiner’s presentation that some 2.3% of the EU land area, lying within the N2000 network, is already protected for its wilderness attrributes.

Zoltan Kun, director of PANParks, introduced their Million Project which aims to protect one million hectares of true wilderness across Europe. He also unveiled a new study on the contribution of wilderness to payment for ecosystem services titled ’The Economics of Wilderness’.

Michael Zika, of WWF Austria, drew attention to key initiatives: the work of Rewildling Europe and momentum in Romania for preserving old growth forest; this had been spurred in late 2011 from a petition that now had over 100,000 signatures.

Hajnalka Schmidt then outlined some successful corporate ventures involving wilderness. Keijo Salenius, business entrepreneur, explained how his tourism and education undertakings were supporting wilderness around Oulanka National Park in Finland.

Key requirements for wilderness

Participants including representatives of the European Commission, NGOs and scientific organizations took part in discussions on key themes:

  • The important role of wilderness in delivery of the Green Infrastructure programme, if supported by appropriate awareness and policy development
  • The need for implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy at national level to provide adequate focus for protection and restoration of wilderness areas
  • More effective use of Neighbourhood Agreements, transition arrangements and trade & aid instruments to promote wilderness in non EU states. Caucasus was cited as an area that could benefit substantially here.
  • Increased emphasis on translating multiple non extractive benefits of wilderness into funding sources for conservation generally

The European Parliament vote

The European Parliament passed a Resolution in February 2009 calling for improved protection, funding and promotion of wilderness areas. It was adopted with 538 votes in favour and only 19 against, representing a massive cross party endorsement and a strong popular mandate for action.

…. a massive endorsement for improved protection of wilderness in Europe…. a massive endorsement for improved protection of wilderness in EuropeThe EU Parliament in StrasburgThe EU Parliament in Strasburg

Aspects requested by the Resolution

  • Develop an EU wilderness strategy, coherent with the Birds and Habitats Directives and setting priorities
  • Devote special attention to the effective protection of wilderness
  • Detect immediate threats linked to wilderness
  • Give a special status to and stricter protection for wilderness zones in the Natura 2000
  • Strengthening of wilderness-related policies and measures
  • Co-operation (by the EC and Member States) with local non-governmental organisations, stakeholders and the local population to promote the value of wilderness
  • Member States to exchange their experiences of best practices and lessons learned about wilderness areas

This Resolution was based on a Report from the Parliamentary Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The Resolution also called on the European Commission to recognize the Wild Europe initiative.

The Resolution reflects a growing awareness of the value of Europe’s remaining wilderness and wild areas, and the urgent need to protect and restore them.

Wild Europe provided a collective presentation at the European Parliament before adoption of the Resolution, and is developing a strategy for representation of wilderness and wild area issues.

Message from HRH the Prince of Wales heads wilderness and natural heritage programme

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales opened the session by video messageHis Royal Highness The Prince of Wales opened the session by video message

A programme of presentations at Forum 2000 organised by Wild Europe in Prague was opened by a video message, kindly supplied for us by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Welcoming participants, His Royal Highness focussed on the value of wilderness alongside areas of traditional agricultural livelihoods, as being essential for the wellbeing and health of modern society.

Stressing the practical as well as the aesthetic and spiritual importance of this rural heritage and the need to provide effective protection for it, His Royal Highness declared “one of the greatest assets of Central and Eastern Europe is its massive wilderness areas“.

The wilderness and natural heritage programme at Forum 2000, a high-level international gathering of politicians, media and activists, was organized by Wild Europe.

Vaclav Havel, the late President of the Czech Republic, author of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and founder of Forum 2000, played a central role in the Prague wilderness conference in 2009 which formally launched Wild Europe.

The programme was thus designed as a testament to the great statesman, built around themes from his philosophy on the environment.

A mosaic approach to land use

Christoph Promberger Director of Fundatia Carpathia, Thierry de l’Escaille Secretary General of ELO, Professor Bedrich Moldan former Environment Minister (Moderator), Jan Kriz, Deputy Minister (OBO Richard Brabec, Environment Minister), Nat Page Director of ADEPTChristoph Promberger Director of Fundatia Carpathia, Thierry de l’Escaille Secretary General of ELO, Professor Bedrich Moldan former Environment Minister (Moderator), Jan Kriz, Deputy Minister (OBO Richard Brabec, Environment Minister), Nat Page Director of ADEPT

The first day’s session on 13th October, titled Caring for our heritage to reconnect society with nature, was moderated by Professor Bedrich Moldan, former Environment Minister of the Czech Republic. An underlying message was opportunity for mutually beneficial coexistence of a range of land uses: a continuum from working agricultural landscapes to wild and wilderness habitats.

This was reflected in the range of contributions which included Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners Organization, who outlined the dual role of ELO and its membership in caring for production and nature in the countryside. He spoke alongside Christoph Promberger, Founder-Director of the huge Wilderness Reserve initiative currently being created in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. Nat Page, Founder-Director of ADEPT, the highly successful rural heritage programme in Romania, then explained how working landscapes along with wilderness areas could bring considerable benefit to communities and landholders.

The value of natural ecosystems

The session was closed by an explanation from Environment Minister Richard Brabec, through his Deputy Minister Jan Kriz, of the value of healthy natural ecosystems, with economic considerations being a means to an ultimate objective that was about social wellbeing. He also spoke of Václav Havel’s commitment to conservation, so nature should not become “the victim of man’s exploitations.

Remarking that the Velvet Revolution had its roots in ecology, the Minister noted that the situation in Sumava National Park had proved an ongoing challenge. If people better understand the full value of an area with its natural ecosystems they will better protect it.

Reaching across frontiers

The second session on 14th October, titled Reaching across frontiers, the transformative power of wild nature, was opened by Ladislav Miko, former Environment Minister in the Czech Republic and Director of Natural Environment at the European Commission in Brussels.

Jaromir Blaha, Renata Krzysciak-Kosinska, Pavel Hubeny, Ladislav Miko and Toby Aykroyd ... under the watchful eye of Vaclav HavelJaromir Blaha, Renata Krzysciak-Kosinska, Pavel Hubeny, Ladislav Miko and Toby Aykroyd … under the watchful eye of Vaclav Havel

He was followed by Toby Aykroyd Director of Wild Europe who gave a resume of progress for wilderness and wild areas since the 2009 EC Presidency Conference on Wilderness in Prague, which opened to Vaclav Havel’s ringing declaration: “we have lost sight of eternity and are destroying nature

Two presentations were devoted to the priceless natural heritage of wilderness in Sumava and the campaign to protect it, as described by Jaromir Blaha of Hnuti DUHA, Czech Friends of the Earth, followed by the Park’s recently appointed Director, Pavel Hubeny, who emphasized how in reality only small parts are truly protected.

Pavel Hubeny, Director of Sumava National Park

The session was rounded off by Renata Krzysciak-Kosinska, Head of Information and Education at Bialowieza National Park in Poland. She recounted how a huge extension of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, from 5,500 to 65,000 hectares, had been agreed in Summer 2014. This reflected important recognition for the ecological value of this great forest, some 1100 kilometers North East of Sumava.

The programme was closed by Ladislav Miko, who stressed the timeliness of the occasion: demonstrating how different interests of our rural environment could be reconciled, whilst highlighting the clear value of our vulnerable wilderness heritage and its crucial importance to contemporary society.

Film show – wilderness and society

A screening later that evening provided a rich variety of wilderness related films.

Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe and Wilderness Foundation UK introduced the first film, Brothers in Arms, an account of how wilderness had played a key role in reconciliation of former terrorist adversaries and their army and police counterparts in Northern Ireland.

Dr Jan Pinos of Hnuti DUHA, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic, then outlined the story of the campaign to protect Sumava National Park – propelled by growing civic involvement with conservation. This was followed by the film Silva Gabreta, presented by Ladislav Miko, providing unique insight into the ecology of Sumava – and precisely why protecting large areas as non-intervention wilderness is so important.

Erik Balaz, of Aevis Foundation, presented a new film Wolf Mountains – introducing a hitherto largely unknown region of Central Europe. Straddling the frontiers between South Eastern Poland. Slovakia and Western Ukraine, it hosts a rich biodiversity including unusually abundant populations of wolf, bison, bear and lynx within one of Europe’s most unspoiled wilderness landscapes in Europe. A top priority for protection.

The screening concluded with a video message from His Royal Highness Charles, The Prince of Wales, stressing the importance to society of protecting its rural heritage: “Wilderness…. provides a link to our past…as well as a link to our livelihood.

Resounding success for European wildness at WILD10

The WILD10 Congress held in Salamanca from 4-10th October 2013 was a resounding success.

Themed around Making the World a Wilder Place, this latest Congress in the longest-running series of such events in the world of conservation involved over 1,000 delegates from more than 65 countries.

Some of the WILD10 team with official supporters. Vance Martin, Congress coordinator, President of WILD Foundation and Chair of IUCN Wilderness Task Force, is fourth from right.Some of the WILD10 team with official supporters. Vance Martin, Congress coordinator, President of WILD Foundation and Chair of IUCN Wilderness Task Force, is fourth from right.

Wilderness and wild area initiatives from around the globe were highlighted – art, culture and youth engagement as well as demonstrations of economic, social and environmental impact.

The Congress produced a number of key outcomes and resolutions, encapsulated in the Statement from Salamanca.

More information

A 3 minute Video of WILD 10

Wild Europe presentation at WILD 10 (October 2014, Salamanca, Spain): European Wilderness, Where From, Where Now, Where To?

Wild Europe presentation at WILD 9 (November 2010, Merida, Mexico): Next Steps for Wilderness in Europe