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.

EC Presidency Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas

Keynote speakers for the opening session (left to right): Toby Aykroyd (Director, Wild Europe), Ladislav Miko (Environment Minister, Czech Republic), Vaclav Havel (former President, Czech Republic), Mike Hammell (Acting Director, European Commission, DG Environment), Luc Marie Gnacadja (Executive Secretary, United Nations CCD)Keynote speakers for the opening session (left to right): Toby Aykroyd (Director, Wild Europe), Ladislav Miko (Environment Minister, Czech Republic), Vaclav Havel (former President, Czech Republic), Mike Hammell (Acting Director, European Commission, DG Environment), Luc Marie Gnacadja (Executive Secretary, United Nations CCD)

The EC Presidency Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas, held in Prague on 28/29 May 2009, developed a series of policy recommendations for protection and restoration of Europe’s wilderness and wild areas.

Introduced by Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, it was organized over a two day period by the Wild Europe partnership and hosted jointly by the EU Presidency (Czech Republic) and the European Commission.

Over 240 participants from 36 countries took part, representing government ministries, conservation agencies, NGOs and academic institutions, as well as a wide range of interests from landowning, agriculture, forestry, business, academic and other sectors.

The Conference assessed a number of key issues, including:

  • The definition and location of wild areas
  • Determining their contribution to halting biodiversity loss
  • How they support the Natura 2000 network of protected areas
  • Recommendations for improved protection within the existing legal framework
  • Review of opportunities for restoration of large natural habitat areas
  • Defining the value of economic, social and environmental benefits from wild areas

An action agenda for Europe’s remaining wild areas

The participants of the Prague conference propose 24 recommendationsThe participants of the Prague conference propose 24 recommendations

A key outcome was the development of a ‘Message from Prague’, containing 24 recommendations identified by the participants, including policy

development, research and awareness building as key elements for an ambitious and groundbreaking agenda including policy development, research, awareness raising and partnerships which will create a wilder Europe, both in EU and non EU regions.

Europe should be proud and treasure the wilderness it still has, but it needs to do more” said Ladislav Miko, Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic. Wilderness and wild areas form less than one percent of Europe’s surface but are a vital part of its natural heritage. Many of them are facing imminent threats that require a rapid and effective response.

Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, commenting on the social and ethical aspects of the issue noted that “We are blurring natural boundaries: forests are no longer forests, meadows are no longer meadows. We have lost sight of eternity and infinity and are destroying nature for future generations.

Economist and study leader of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report Pavan Sukhdev, noted that “We are prisoners of a system which favors manmade capital over national capital and human capital and favor private goods over public goods… that is the problem.” Wild areas are the insurance for our future and investing in them remains critical.

Wilderness – the building block for a greener Europe

Over the last 40 years, some 25% of biodiversity on the planet has been lost due to the destruction of habitats, overexploitation, pollution, and increasingly climate change and invasive species. In the EU alone, 60% of most valuable habitats are in unfavorable conservation status. “The commitment by governments to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 seems increasingly out of reach and Europe will have to re-double its efforts if it is to come close to this target. European wilderness is the building block for a greener Europe” said Ladislav Miko.

The conference inspires us all to start rethinking our relationship to nature. During the Swedish Presidency special attention will be given to the links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change, and human well being” stated Asa Norrman, Nature Director, Ministry of the Environment of Sweden, closing the conference.

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.