500,000 Euro raised for old growth forest protection

Caption: Frankfurt Zoological Society – playing a key role in conservation of old growth forest

We are happy to announce a significant funding success for European old growth forest conservation following our September 2017 conference. 

Some 500,000 Euro has since been raised, through participants at the conference, for various projects.

Within this total, a grant of over 300,000 Euro has been awarded for a mapping, ecosystem service and protection project involving a multi-country approach with particular focus on key areas in Central & Eastern European. It will also enable work on policy impact, benefits of non-extractive enterprise for local communities, exchange of best practice and new funding models.

Wild Europe submitted an initial project proposal to the organisers, based at Griffith University, Australia, in November. We then handed this over to the Frankfurt Zoological Society (see footnote), one of our key partners who provided an application that built on the Wild Europe version and adapted it to their specialist capacity and fieldwork.

Close links to the OGF Protection Strategy for Europe

The FZS project will be closely linked with the wider Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy currently being circulated by Wild Europe. 

It is part of a wider international initiative to support primary forests – highlighting threats to their existence and raising their profile as major providers of ecosystem services. A separate grant in excess of 300,000 Euro, within the same initiative, is being awarded for work on old growth forest in Russia. 

Footnote:  Wild Europe’s current constitution precludes the holding of contracts, in line with our key operating principle agreed with our partners, to support rather than compete with them. 

Old growth forest conference (Brussels 2017) launches key protection proposals

The Wild Europe conference on 13/14th September 2017 to develop a Protection Strategy for remaining old growth forest in Europe has been hailed as a significant success by those attending.

Kindly hosted by the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels, this had 149 registrations and attendance from 28 EU and non EU countries.

The conference included representatives from the European Commission, UNESCO, Council of Europe, national and local governments. A key theme of the programme was the need for a multi-sector approach to developing the Protection Strategy. Participation by a balance of foresters, state agencies, enterprise specialists and landowners as well as conservation NGOs proved of considerable help in identifying common ground to underwrite the Strategy.

Conference participants in the opening session
Conference participants in the opening session

A welcome was provided by the Director General of DG Environment at the European Commission, Daniel Calleja. Speaking by video (he was in Beijing), he declared “Old growth forests are icons of Europe’s natural heritage… We are committed to protecting and restoring them”.

See VIDEO of Daniel Calleja

The conference was opened by Humberto Delgado, Head of Natural Capital for the European Commission, who stressed the multiple benefits of the forests, in particular their importance to the ecosystem services agenda (biodiversity, nature tourism, carbon, hydrology) – with much greater levels of ongoing carbon capture for mitigating climate change than was often appreciated.

Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Chief of the Europe and North America Department for UNESCO World Heritage, welcomed the conference and strategy. She underlined the importance of old growth forest benefits for local communities as well as biodiversity, and pointed to the potential for securing them through stronger links between Natura 2000 and World Heritage networks.

See VIDEO of Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel

Key elements of protection strategy launched

In addition to its declared aim of raising the profile of old growth forest with policy makers, the conference introduced a range of practical proposals, including:

  • A Europe wide definition structure providing a standardized approach to identifying virgin, primary and old growth forest (OGF) – vital for effective protection and restoration
  • An interactive mapping instrument to locate and monitor old growth forest sites across Europe
  • An ‘early alert system’ designed to provide early notice of prospective threats
  • Assessment of new forms of long-term protection structure
  • Funding sources: traditional and innovative, including proposals for improving cash flow opportunities from the Payment for Ecosystem Services agenda
  • Proposals for set-aside of state agency forest
  • Focus, for the first time, on potential for coordination between UNESCO World Heritage and Natura 2000 networks, as cited by Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel. Implementation of the protection strategy is proposed as an initial trial

The resulting Protection Strategy will be informed by specialist reports, also introduced at the conference: by Conservation Capital on Incentives for Landholder Protection of Old Growth Forests in the non-state (private) sector, and the ClientEarth lawyer network on Legal and Policy Aspects of Protection.

Consultation for a consensus approach

The conference was held at the EU Committee of the Regions, reflecting the importance of support at regional and local level
The conference was held at the EU Committee of the Regions, reflecting the importance of support at regional and local level

The location of the conference was highly relevant to the proceedings. As pointed out by Roby Biwer, speaking as a Council Member for the Committee of the Regions at the very start of the conference, the success of the Protection Strategy will be determined substantially by actions at local level.

The conference itself is rooted in three years of consultation involving many inspirational protection initiatives already established across Europe. This resulted in production of a guidance document “Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy” (PDF).

A full account of the conference, together with further information on the protection strategy with a proposed action plan, will follow shortly.

See conference programme

Biography of speakers, session chairs and workshop coordinators

Many thanks are due to the Committee of the Regions and all our sponsors for their generous support of this event.

‘Re-wilding’ – a wind of change gathers strength in Western Europe

Whilst wilderness is mainly associated with Northern and Eastern Europe, where the prime objective is protection of remaining great areas of natural ecology, this is increasingly complemented by re-wilding of habitats and reintroduction of species in Western Europe.

A growing number of countries are now adopting national strategies for restoration of large-scale natural ecosystems, amid increased awareness of their benefit to conservation objectives and society in general.

Kalkalpen National Park in Austria – a wilderness core (Credit: "Hintergebirge 01" by Herbert Ortner, Überraschungsbilder - Self-published work by Herbert Ortner, transferred by Überraschungsbilder. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)Kalkalpen National Park in Austria – a wilderness core (Credit: “Hintergebirge 01” by Herbert Ortner, Überraschungsbilder – Self-published work by Herbert Ortner, transferred by Überraschungsbilder. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Austria has led the fray. In December 2014 it set a 2% target in its 2020+ National Biodiversity Strategy for wilderness and areas with wilderness characteristics. This also called for the extension of wilderness areas in National Parks.

The Wild Europe definition forms the basis for wilderness in the Austrian strategy for National Parks, two of which will have core areas designated to Wild Europe criteria in 2015/16.

Furthermore development of a management strategy for bark beetle based on an all-important consensus between conservation and forestry interests, provides important support – of relevance across Europe.

France is also moving ahead. A specialist group has been formed within IUCN (from 2012) to assess potential for a wilderness strategy. Also based around the Wild Europe definition, this brings together a range of experts. Wild Europe is a member of the group and has provided input to meetings in Paris, a conference in Chambercy and via media such as the Naturalité publication. Prospective opportunities are currently being identified through preliminary mapping.

More recently, but gaining momentum rapidly, Rewilding Britain was established in December 2014 from a coalition of NGOs, with Wild Europe as a trustee. Scotland has greatest geographic potential, with Wild Europe (as Wild Scotland) originally developing a joint study on the benefits of wild areas in 2005.

In Wales Wild Europe is also partnering a project to reintroduce beaver , a keystone species for rewilding, into one of only six countries in Europe where this has yet to occur.

There is even substantial scope for rewilding in England, with initiatives such as Wild Ennerdale in the Lake District and the Great Fen in East Anglia. A strategy for Northern Ireland is pending once the main Rewilding Britain group has become established.

Germany has set a 2% national target, for wilderness and wild areas with wilderness qualities, through its Federal government. This represents some 5% of forest areas and 10% of those in state ownership.

Restoration of former military training areas, BrandenburgRestoration of former military training areas, Brandenburg

In April 2015 Frankfurt Zoological Society co-facilitated a meeting with Wild Europe to discuss opportunity for underpinning this through adoption of a standardized approach and common definition.

A growing number of individual projects

These emerging national strategies are supplemented by a growing number of individual projects, their implementation backed by Guidelines on wilderness management issued by the European Commission in 2013 and based on the Wild Europe’s definition.

The Netherlands contains perhaps the best known longstanding restoration initiative in the pioneering Oostvaardersplassen area, managed by Statsbosbeheer, the state forest agency.

This stunning example of wild nature on land originally reclaimed for industrial development that hosts white-tailed sea eagle, spoonbill and free roaming herds of feral ungulates, is only 30 km from Amsterdam city centre. It is hoped that plans to double the area, extending it Eastwards in partnership with the Province of Flevoland for the mutual benefit of urban dwellers and wild nature, will be revived. This forms part of a Green Network that is eventually envisaged to cover 17% of the country, although progress is currently stalled.

Equally well-established are ventures such as wolf-focused tourism in Abruzzi National Park, Italy, proving how economic benefits from rewilding can offer better livelihoods for communities than traditional land use, in this case sheep farming.

Abruzzo National Park - transforming economic as well as physical landscapes (Credit: "PNAbruzzo2" by Lucius - Transferred from it:wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)Abruzzo National Park – transforming economic as well as physical landscapes (Credit: “PNAbruzzo2” by Lucius – Transferred from it:wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Highly significant though less well known, in the Irish Republic there is ongoing progress with restoration of natural processes and species in the Nephin Mountains, County Mayo, where former commercial forestry plantations have been linked with adjoining bog and grassland in Ballcroy National Park. This visionary venture so far involving some 12,000 hectares was conceived and developed by Coillte, the Irish state forest agency, in tandem with Ballycroy, in 2012 and promoted internationally at a conference co-chaired by Wild Europe in 2013. It is partnered by the local authority and regional development organizations, and will see uneconomic timber extraction replaced by wilderness tourism.

There is important potential here for application across Europe, particularly relevant to loss-making areas owned by state forest agencies. At a time of slow economic recovery, the venture offers triple benefits: savings to taxpayers, sounder livelihoods for local communities – and enriched biodiversity through restoration of natural processes and reintroduction of lost species to large areas of ‘rewilded’ former commercial forest.

Wild Europe is developing an international State Agency Forest programme, based around this opportunity, which will be profiled in 2016.

Of course, restoration projects are by no means merely confined to countries in Western Europe. In Romania, Fundatia Conservation Carpathia (FCC) where Wild Europe participates through a trustee, is undertaking extensive restoration of degraded former forest and riparian habitat.

Repairing the damage: large-scale felling erodes hillsides and silts up streams in the Carpathians of Romania (Photo credit: FCC)Repairing the damage: large-scale felling erodes hillsides and silts up streams in the Carpathians of Romania (Photo credit: FCC)

There is also a collective endeavour by the Rewilding Europe organization to reintroduce species and establish a network of wilderness-based enterprises as a means of securing income and employment opportunities from non-extractive activity, thus cementing support among local communities and landholders for protection and restoration of wilderness areas.

Right across Europe there are opportunities for enterprise-based rewilding, with abandoned and marginal farmland and forestry offering particular opportunity.

From West to East and back, a powerful message

At a time when benefits of wilderness in addressing climate change, providing sustainable income and employment for local communities is increasingly realized, there is of course a strong message here.

If Western countries are striving to restore large natural ecosystems, for economic and social as well as conservation gain, that should send powerful signals Eastwards to governments and institutions where preservation of much larger, richer areas of wild nature can be undertaken at much lower cost with very significant gains for conservation and society in general.

Wide welcome for Wild Europe’s old growth forest protection strategy

A significant proportion of this most fragile element of Europe’s natural heritage lacks protection.

Beech forest, Gargano National Park, Italy (Daniel Vallauri, WWF France)
Beech forest, Gargano National Park, Italy (Daniel Vallauri, WWF France)

Rising timber demand, fragmentation from new transport routes and general development pose threats which are intensifying as the recession ends. Yet all too often these are tackled piecemeal by conservationists at local level where it is difficult to muster support. Above all, there is insufficient awareness of the value of this habitat.

Wild Europe has assembled a strategy to address these issues. It covers five key areas: policy framework, protective action, management practice, long-term opportunities and funding.

The strategy is currently in its consultation phase. Feedback from forest specialists in 12 countries has so far been highly positive. We are currently seeking national champions to implement the strategy in their country. Already IUCN together with WWF are doing this in France.

Please give us your feedback on the strategy:

  • Are there aspects that should be added?
  • Do you know areas that are under threat?
  • Would you or your organization be able to help with implementation?

All communications please in the first instance to tobyaykroyd@wildeurope.org.

Options for building a strategy for old growth forest protection in Europe


The purpose of this document is to catalyse development of a strategy for protection of remaining old growth forest areas in Europe.

A significant, if as yet undetermined, proportion of this most vulnerable and precious element of Europe’s natural heritage lacks adequate protection – both within and outside the European Union. It is central to the wilderness and wild area agenda.

Recent moves to redesignate and develop core parts of Sumava National Park have shown how rapidly even the most seemingly secure areas can fall under threat. At the same time, wider challenges are occurring across Europe: with rising timber prices and usage, impact of land restitution, fragmentation from new transport routes and pressure for measures to combat bark beetle as climate change takes hold.

Against this backdrop, there is a need to secure effective strategy for protection of remaining areas of old growth forest. Strong threats are often still being addressed piecemeal, and there is a lack of general awareness of the value of this resource and alternative means of ensuring it is preserved for posterity.

However, wilderness forest is, for the first time, recognized in the 2010 EU Biodiversity Strategy (Target 3B Action 12) and this can provide a useful basis for improved support along with a number of emerging initiatives and opportunities.

Focus should be placed on seeking consensus between conservation, landholding, forestry, local community and broader public interests.

Feedback requested on this document

The following summary suggestions are intended to establish an initial framework of reference.

They form a menu of options, and interested parties are invited to provide comments, amendments and additions for development of a working strategy.

Possible key elements of the Strategy

  1. Preparatory work: what, where and how
    1. Establish an Old Growth Forest Protection Forum, comprising representatives from key organizations in conservation, forestry, landholding and other sectors – a mainly online entity enabling collation of expert advice and development of a joint approach on specific actions
    2. Secure agreement on a practical definition of undisturbed, old growth (ancient), wilderness forest with uninterrupted habitat tradition, encompassing its interface with other habitat types (see ACT Report on Undisturbed Forests for EC, 2010) and the new EC validated definition of wilderness (produced by Wild Europe 11/2012)1
    3. Catalyze completion of a comprehensive map of old growth forest across Europe showing location and protective status. Identify priority areas with incomplete protection
    4. Use appropriate implementation of EC Guidelines on non intervention management in wilderness and wild areas for the Natura 2000 network, published in August 20132 and EC Wilderness Register3 (scheduled from Autumn 2013), along with HNV and other appropriate mapping and cataloguing initiatives, to underpin this mapping exercise
    5. Identify, wherever possible in quantifiable terms, the non-extractive multiple benefit values of old growth forest: including ecotourism4 , education – and ecosystem services5
  2. Promoting a policy framework – the EC and beyond
    1. Promote implementation where relevant of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, viz Target 3B Action 12 – which calls for Member States to ensure that forest management plans or equivalent instruments include preservation of wilderness areas. This should involve proactive assessment of plans at relevant MS level (national, local authority). Catalyse identification, promotion and implementation of next steps towards full protection
    2. Link to key elements of European Forest Strategy, Natura 2000 species categories, UNESCO World Heritage, regional initiatives (2011 Carpathia Convention; the European beech OGF inventory initiative) and individual country opportunity so far as feasible – eg Germany wilderness & forest targets, Romania (WWF initiative), UK forestry review
    3. Promote the non-extractive multiple benefit value of old growth forest to the European Commission’s DG Environment: Natura 2000 and the EC Green Infrastructure Programme – biodiversity, ecosystem and socio-economic services
    4. Link to relevant DGs: DG Environment, DG Clima, DG Reggio, DG Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Wild Europe CAP reform proposals), DG Science & Innovation, DG Social & Employment Affairs (social benefits) etc
    5. Incorporate calls for OGF protection into EU Parliamentary Questions and Resolution. These follow the successful Resolution in February 2009 passed by 538 votes to 19 which also endorsed the Wild Europe initiative
    6. Promote the non-extractive multiple benefit value of old growth forest to key forest, landholding, local community and other institutions
    7. Ensure old growth forest is well profiled in promotion and implementation of the new EC guidance on Non Intervention Management in the Natura 2000 Network. Identify key opportunity sites (Section I above), promote direct and indirect benefits for biodiversity.
    8. Correlate with input of key areas to the first edition of the EC Wilderness Register currently under development, and promote infill of the remainder with maximum speed – with linkage where relevant to appropriate individual protection plans.
    9. Assess potential for leverage in non EU states: Neighbourhood Agreements, transition arrangements, trade and aid agreements, exchange of best practice, linkage with local NGOs etc to determine strategy
  3. Protective action
    1. Support creation of an Early Warning System, for identifying and addressing new threats as soon as they emerge, before resource is invested by loggers or developers in influencing planners and decision takers. Promotion of support & capacity building for local campaign groups.
    2. Build support for appropriate collective lobbying where old growth forest and its wilderness principles are under threat – viz Sumava National Park6 , Romanian OGF petition – and link to decision taker targeting and multi media campaigns. Disseminate best practice here.
    3. Catalyze opportunities for development of appropriate protection plans linked to individual areas identified in the future Wilderness Register but not yet adequately covered, based on multi-sector consensus approach underpinned by incentives where feasible.
    4. Legal protection – no new legislation is feasible presently at EC level, but promote better implementation and enforcement of existing law, collate and disseminate information on best practice legislation at MS and local authority levels. Identify weaknesses in existing protective legislation. Link to current initiative assessing wilderness legislation at Tilburg University7 , including assessment of effectiveness of existing Natura 2000 legislation for protecting identified wilderness areas, particularly where highlighted by implementation of new EC guidance (also assess possibility for including new species/habitats).
    5. Ensure existing legal instruments are supported by appropriate research – including collection of investigative information as necessary to achieve practical results: support for full disclosure of timber sourcing in corporate accounts, liaising with investigations of timber industry where appropriate. Ensure protective coverage in HCVF and FSC and other systems.
    6. Identify existing incentives for protection – eg: subsidy best practice at EU, national and local level. Identify requirement for further incentives for OGF protection and restoration.
    7. Collate information on models for securing funds for landholders and communities for forest protection (avoided deforestation) and restoration from ecosystem services: carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, pollution alleviation. Identify in particular EC measures that could help facilitate payment for ecosystem services (PES).
    8. Develop a practical project to illustrate the value of OGF to private landowners (PES, tourism etc), identifying what further incentives may be required (consultant and format identified)
    9. Assess impact on OGF of renewable energy, including biomass, wind farms, HEP. Role of perverse subsidies.
  4. Management practice
    1. Ensure old growth forest is well profiled in promotion and implementation of the new EC guidance on Non Intervention Management in the Natura 2000 Network at field level. Identify key opportunities for enhanced protection, promote direct and indirect benefits for biodiversity.
    2. Promote a strategy to address the impact of climate change – bark beetle, fire and wind throw – in tandem with the forestry sector (institutions, government agencies and private landholders) and other interested parties.
    3. Promote effective approach at EC and national level to disease management generally where relevant – viz: ash dieback, sudden oak death, alder canker
    4. Promote best practice in management planning– eg the TENT project with BSPB in Bulgaria for District Authorities8 .
    5. Profile forest agencies that change structure from 100% timber production and develop protection strategies as model organizations: Coillte (Republic of Ireland)9 , Staatsbosbeheer (Netherlands)
    6. Ensure linkage to protective coverage by FSC and other certification systems.
  5. New opportunities for long-term protection, linkage and restoration
    1. Highlight examples of new wilderness forests creation: through protection and restoration of existing near natural forest (CCF Romania, Durrenstein Austria10); natural or assisted regeneration on marginal farmland – with reference to Target 2 of EU biodiversity Strategy in tandem with CBD GBO Report (2010).
    2. Catalyze restoration, expansion and linkage of old growth forest areas. Promote individual projects – eg Bialowieza Poland/Belarus.
    3. Assess and promote alternatives for landholding in perpetuity – land purchase: eg the Danish model for purchase, input of restrictive covenant and resale of key areas; opportunities for REDD+ support or purchase of boreal forest.
    4. Promote concept for land purchase fund11, identifying multiple sources
    5. Assess and promote model projects for forest protection and restoration in N2000 network: takeover of N2000 area management, identifying wilderness areas with zonation system, inputting benefit based incentive systems and securing lasting protection through National Park designation.
    6. Assist and catalyze development of national wilderness strategies12
    7. Implement ‘business support packages’ (see Wild Europe proposals for Green Infrastructure programme and CAP reform13)
  6. Funding and implementation of plan
    1. Canvass the ability of Wild Europe partners and other organizations to implement elements from the above strategy
    2. Assess opportunities for funding support: EC DGs, LIFE+, institutions, philanthropy, individual project partners
    3. Secure finance for a small secretariat: 1 FT coordinator within the Wild Europe structure, supported by Wild Europe promotion and administration
    4. Develop an EC backed conference for 201414 to publicly launch and promote the OGF Protection Programme (see separate document)
    5. Assess opportunity for developing a communications strategy – website based initially – encouraging a culture of old growth forest awareness in a wilderness/wild context: targeting key programmes such as N2000 and sharing information on best practice initiatives at national and local level.

Suggested objectives for the Strategy

Short-term (18 months)

  • All key OGF areas recorded and recognized
  • Natura 2000 management recognizes and plans for ‘OGF’ forest protection within its network
  • Improved protection promoted for key OGF areas external to N2000 network
  • Greater awareness of OGF benefits and threats among key interests
  • ‘OGF’ protection included in EU Parliament Resolution
  • Credible policy leverage programme in place for non EU OG forests
  • Effective Early Warning System in place for addressing key threats
  • Stronger populist political mandate for OGF protection (Europarliament etc)

Medium term (3-5 years)

  • Key OGF areas recognized and protected
  • Facilitation of funding opportunities from low impact, non-extractive benefits of OGF
  • Credible incentivized protection initiatives in place for private sector
  • Designation of new protected OGF areas, with restoration and connectivity
  • Next stage of EU Biodiversity Strategy OGF support (implementation of Target 3B, Action 12) under way
  • Network for land purchase fund established
  • Opportunity considered for targeted protection legislation, if needed

Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
+ 44 7793 551 542

[1] Document available on request

[2] Promoted by Wild Europe http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/wilderness/index_en.htm

[3] Initial proposal prepared and lobbied by Wild Europe, to provide a base-point for protection planning

[4] New market led approaches are being developed to allow more effective value added to local communities

[5] Model initiatives being trialed using carbon credits to fund protection and restoration –for forest habitat (hence the proposal to FCC in Frankfurt July 2013) and peatlands (foundation of PPL Ltd by European Nature Fund)

[6] Further information on the Wild Europe coordinated petition and current situation is available on request

[7] Currently led by Kees Bastmeijer

[8] A model project promoting recognition and protection of wilderness forest in the planning process. Further information available from the European Nature Trust.

[9] Collaborative project between Irish Forest Agency and BallycroyNational Park to create 11,000 hectares declared as forest and wetland wilderness in County Mayo, North WestIreland, personally supported by Irish PM while EU President, and launched at conference co-chaired by Wild Europe in May 2013.

[10] Where the wilderness, non-intervention area was protected through a one-off LIFE+ payment, and more recently extended through annual funding from national sources

[12] For example, Wild Europe is currently liaising closely with IUCN France on development of a national strategy for wilderness, including forests

[13] CAP reform proposals from Wild Europe developed during Danish EC Presidency – document available on request

[14] Modeled on Wild Europe’s EC Presidency conferences on wilderness in Prague (2009) and Brussels (2010)

Leading scientists dismayed by emerging EU climate policy and its impact on forests

A letter sent on 25th September by 194 leading environmental scientists to the Estonian EC Presidency and key members of the European Parliament expresses ‘concern and dismay’ at the recent vote in the European Parliament on EU climate legislation for forests. This involves the LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry) Regulation and the sustainability criteria of biomass in the Renewable Energy Directive.

The letter argues against promotion of increased harvest levels to substitute fossil-derived fuels and products with wood and bioenergy without accounting for their full climate impacts.

Such an approach, says the letter, risks having adverse effects on climate, biodiversity and resilient ecosystems by emitting more greenhouse gases and causing additional habitat loss – with particular focus on the fate of old growth forest: already under pressure from rising timber prices and illegal logging.

Accumulating evidence, argue the scientists, suggests that the proposed strategy risks being counterproductive.

This letter is sent in the wake of two reports:

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) May 2017 “Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests

Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) February 2017 “The Impacts of the Demand for Woody Biomass for Power and Heat on Climate and Forests

The impact of Brexit

Attribution: Tom Janssen

Wild Europe was on the verge of becoming a foundation with fully-fledged legal status, back in June. Then came the Brexit referendum result.

We have since been evaluating alternative ways forward, and are grateful for the highly positive feedback received during a subsequent consultation exercise.

The Endowment Fund will still be developed to provide sustainable finance for basic core costs, and initial grants have already been arranged for key initiatives.

Equally our objectives and activities will not be altered. The threats and opportunities facing natural ecosystems across the continent remain the same. And we will continue to address our agenda with colleagues in non-EU as well as EU countries.

Our overall message, that Wild Europe now has the capacity to operate as a long-term entity to champion wilderness, remains unchanged.

The one element we will need to address is geographic orientation. We will retain an office in London, but over the next two years we will progressively shift our legal and operational centre of gravity into a country with permanent EU membership.

To this end we are currently talking with a couple of partners, and further proposals will be circulated for agreement in due course.

Our Brexit objectives

Wild Europe’s three objectives in response to Brexit are currently:

  1. to encourage ongoing EU and European orientation by our associates in the United Kingdom, focused on a major role for cooperation on environmental issues in any negotiated package once Article 50 is triggered
  2. to seek full retention of the UK’s heritage of EU environmental legislation, resisting any internal “Fitness Check” which could have negative consequences beyond the UK
  3. to take advantage of new opportunities within the UK that may have wider relevance, for example CAP reform leading to greater emphasis on payment for provision of environmental benefits

Above all, we will continue with development of a core executive team to expand the range and impact of Wild Europe’s activities.


Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy launched

The strategy developed through the Wild Europe conference in September for Protection of Old Growth Forest in Europe has now been launched.

A sixteen page document summarising the proposals is being circulated to the 149 organisations and individual experts from 28 countries who participated, together with a further 1100 contacts across Europe who were invited to the conference or otherwise involved in consultation and formulation of proposals.

Beech forest habitat

“The objectives behind this Strategy are necessarily ambitious” declared Toby Aykroyd, coordinator for Wild Europe “But if the many organisations expressing an enthusiastic welcome for it are now able to translate this into practical action, these objectives can be achieved”.

A race against time

Ancient forest habitat is an exceptionally rich and fragile element of our natural heritage. Yet it is still under imminent threat of destruction in many areas. With rising timber prices, inappropriately located infrastructure, and even the impact of some misconceived renewable energy policies, there is a race against time to protect it.

Logging in Fagaras mountain

Your comments on the Strategy are welcomed:

  1. How might it be added to?
  2. How would you like to get involved?
  3. Do you know others who might also like to be involved?
  4. Can you provide information on areas of forest under threat?

Emails in the first instance please to info@wildeurope.org

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.

Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change

A study published in London on 23rd February 2017 by the well respected Royal Institute of International Affairs warns that most schemes to generate “low carbon electricity” from wood burning are actually doing the opposite, with carbon emissions from wood pellets higher than coal and considerably higher than gas.

Calculations of net carbon savings have not been counting emissions from the actual wood burning, merely assuming that these are countered by the sequestration impact of new plantings – which effectively leaves a large gap.

Hot air for climate policy - logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection MovementHot air for climate policy – logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection Movement

The Study also casts further doubt on the feasibility of BECCS (Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage), aimed at removing carbon from the environment by large-scale tree felling together with use of energy crops and storage underground of resulting carbon emissions. “However, all of the studies that the IPCC surveyed assumed that the biomass was zero-carbon at the point of combustion, which … is not a valid assumption. In addition, the slow rate of deployment of carbon capture and storage technology, and the extremely large areas of land that would be required to supply the woody biomass feedstock needed in the BECCS scenarios render its future development at scale highly unlikely.

Urgent review of biomass policy

Written by Duncan Brack, a former Special Advisor to the UK Government, the Study calls for immediate review of subsidies for biomass, which now supplies 65% of renewable power in the EU on the back of generous subsidies.

With the EC currently proposing a new Directive on Renewable Energy (draft published 30th November), there are growing calls for reallocation of subsidy exclusively towards wood waste products where there is no extra harvesting and proven carbon savings.

Impacts on biodiversity and illegal logging

This urgency of this call is underlined by an investigation published in November 2016 by BirdLife International with Transport & Environment showing that bioenergy plants are burning whole trees from protected areas rather than using forest waste.

This includes biomass from logging in Poloniny National Park (Slovakia), and riverine forests around Emilia-Romagna (Italy) where tree removal was apparently disguised as flood mitigation.

In Slovakia alone, according to the investigation, there has been an increase in use of wood for bioenergy of over 70% in the last 10 years, impelled by EU Renewable Energy targets. Under current legislation, European bioenergy plants do not have to produce evidence that their wood products have been sustainably sourced.

Beaver reintroduction confirmed in Scotland

The beaver (Castor fiber) has been formally recognized by Scottish Government as a native species.

This means that the trial project in Knapdale, on the West coast of Scotland, has become a permanent settlement, which can be expanded. The much larger, but ‘informal’ population of some 150 escapees that have been breeding wild on the River Tay in the East can remain.

24 hours a day of free ecosystem engineering Attribution: Harald Olsen24 hours a day of free ecosystem engineering Attribution: Harald Olsen

This also paves the way for further reintroductions, from which the beaver will eventually spread across Scotland – albeit with careful management under the watchful eye of landowners and farmers.

The announcement should also give impetus to reintroduction in Wales, where it is 11 years since Wild Europe launched the Welsh Beaver Forum at a conference in Newtown (July 2005), and commissioned WildCRU Consultancy of Oxford University to produce the Beavers Mean Business study of their economic impact.

This lead to formation of the Welsh Beaver Assessment Initiative to assess and promote feasibility of reintroduction (see WBAI Report). Approval to proceed has since been given by two ministers, although this has yet to be translated into action.

England, where there have been impromptu releases of a few individuals in the West Country, should not be far behind. Even after Brexit, beavers have little respect for national frontiers…

This icon of natural ecosystem restoration, or ‘rewilding’, has now been reintroduced to some 28 countries across Europe. In addition to enriching wetland biodiversity, its role in mitigation of flooding and stablisation of water tables is becoming well proven, and it offers significant scope for nature tourism.

Full steam ahead for Rewilding Britain

The Great Fen, East Anglia - not all re-wilding occurs in marginal uplandsThe Great Fen, East Anglia – not all re-wilding occurs in marginal uplands

This initiative was established in 2014 from a broad-based coalition of NGOs, with Wild Europe as a trustee.

It aims to catalyse the return of large areas of fully functioning ecosystems together with their wildlife to one of Europe’s most crowded and highly developed countries – highlighting the benefits of such areas to the general public, media and decision takers in government.

By 2030, within 15 years, Rewilding Britain has set itself the target of establishing 300,000 hectares of core land, connected wherever possible, together with three marine reserves.

The three partner countries

Remnant of the Great Forest of Caledon – Glen Affric. Copyright: Alan Watson/Forest Light.jpgRemnant of the Great Forest of Caledon – Glen Affric. Copyright: Alan Watson/Forest Light.jpg

Scotland of course has the greatest geographic potential, particularly in the Highlands and Islands – with the Cairngorms and Flow Country regions beckoning as particularly extensive opportunities. As does the Borders Country with its visionary restoration projects in and around the Carrifran Valley. Wild Europe (as Wild Scotland) set up a joint study on the social and economic benefits of wild areas in 2005, subsequently developed through Scottish Natural Heritage which is now planning an upgraded edition.

Poised for reintroduction. Photo credit: "Beaver pho34" by Per Harald Olsen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsPoised for reintroduction. Photo credit: “Beaver pho34” by Per Harald Olsen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In Wales there is also extensive potential for rewilding: in the southern Brecon Beacons, the mid-country Elan and Plynlimon Valleys, and northwards into Snowdonia.

Wild Europe is partnering a project it initiated (as Wild Wales) back in 2005 to reintroduce beaver, a keystone species for rewilding. This has already occurred in 27 countries across Europe and after much delay it is hoped there will finally be a go-ahead once the Scottish Executive takes its own decision whether to give permanence to a trial reintroduction at Knapdale. There is even substantial scope for rewilding in England, with initiatives such as Wild Ennerdale in the Lake District and the Great Fen in East Anglia already well established.

A strategy for Northern Ireland is pending once the main group has become established.

Throwing down the gauntlet … to mainland Europe

Although only recently established, Rewilding Britain’s advent has been widely welcomed by the conservation community.

It represents a considerable leap forward for the rewilding agenda, building on awareness raised by such organizations as the Wildland Network, and the consultation and planning exercise undertaken by the Wild Britain initiative back in 2004 – 06.

Substantial funding has already been raised for recruitment of a full time director and an executive team.

Perhaps most significant of all, there is potential to establish three areas – one in Scotland, Wales and England – conforming in scale to the Wild Europe definition of wilderness.

That would be a true pointer for all other countries!

Rewilding in France – the first green shoots

Rewilding through natural regeneration is widespread in the Pyrenees and many other areas of FranceRewilding through natural regeneration is widespread in the Pyrenees and many other areas of France

In 2012 a specialist Wilderness Group was established, within the IUCN National Committee, to assess potential for a wilderness strategy.

This brings together a widely acknowledged range of experts from NGOs with participation by the L’Office Nacional des Forêts (ONF), the state forestry agency.

Wild Europe has been invited to participate in the IUCN France Group, regularly providing input to meetings in Paris. We have also promoted the benefits of wilderness more generally in a European context, though a conference in Chambery (2013) and via media such as the Naturalité publication.

World class potential

With its extensive near-natural areas, relatively low rural population density, world class conservation management and well developed eco-tourism market, France has great potential for developing its strategy.

This can involved a range of habitats including forest, but also wetland, litoral, grassland and Alpine.

A strategy outline has been proposed and prospective opportunities are currently being identified through preliminary mapping.


The Economic Benefits Working Group


The economic benefits group is tasked with identifying, valuing and promoting the economic benefits of wilderness and wild areas, with focus on non extractive, no-impact benefits derived from ecotourism, ecosystem services and usage for social betterment.

The group will initially include business people, economists, ecosystem specialists, landowners, farmers, social enterprise entrepreneurs – all of whom share a profound regard for wilderness as well as contributing their professional expertise.

While the true intrinsic value of the wild is priceless, there is no doubt that realization of its economic value can attract support for its protection and expansion. However, as laid down firmly in the Group’s operating principles below, our aim is to strengthen, not replace, traditional approaches to wilderness and wild areas.

Protecting wilderness can bring economic benefits


1. To identify and promote, wherever desirable and feasible, economic benefits arising from non-extractive, minimal impact activities relating to wilderness and wild areas, viz:

  • nature tourism
  • related activities: recreation, corporate events, themed retreats
  • ecosystem services: carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, pollution alleviation, others
  • social services: education, youth development, youth at risk, healthcare, peace & reconciliation
  • ancillary activities: visitor centres, guiding, accommodation & sustenance, retail, craft, transport
  • related goods and services in adjacent areas benefiting from association (wilderness image, logo, product value added, marketing, productivity and business support)

These benefits would be additional to any relating to biodiversity value, which could, where appropriate, themselves be enhanced with restoration and species reintroduction, with associated grant and enterprise opportunity.

2. To apply these economic benefits to protection or restoration aims in specific areas, and to national and organizational strategies.

Where relevant this can involve using ANEEP – Assessment of Non Extractive Economic Potential as a multi-level instrument of analysis of benefits associated with wilderness and wild areas. According to the level chosen, the ANEEP could include:

  • overview of non-extractive economic benefit potential
  • linkage to restoration and reintroduction opportunity
  • cost:benefit exercises for alternative approaches
  • identification of specific opportunities – matching with operatives if relevant
  • signposting to sources of funding, advice, marketing networks
  • assistance with planning and upgrading of local capacity

3. To input credible economic benefit content for Wild Europe’s general strategy and individual policy objectives – eg:

  • support for establishment of national wilderness strategies
  • networking for collective address of threats
  • input to individual programmes – eg Old Growth Forest strategy, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform
  • economic rationale and business enterprise development for social benefits
  • collation and dissemination of best practice
  • promoting models for Forestry Agency adoption (replicating Coillte/Nephin Ireland, FCS Scotland, Staatsbosbeheer Netherlands)
  • demonstrating wilderness benefits to European Commission and Member States – viz support for the N2000 programme, Green Infrastructure and PES, rural development programme, other (non Environment) DG objectives
  • ensuring the equivalent for non EU countries – via input to best practice sharing, Neighbourhood Agreements, Accession Treaties, trade & aid agreements

Six Principles for operation

  1. The economic benefit approach is intended to reinforce, not replace or overshadow, traditional approaches to promotion of wilderness and wild areas – namely their intrinsic, spiritual and ecological values.
  2. Any project entered into via this economic benefits approach would have the above principle enshrined in its Mission Statement to govern all strategy and activity.
  3. Any proposals for economic benefit implementation would be preceded by an Impact Assessment to ascertain that their ultimate consequence would be not inadvertently catalyse developments damaging to the underlying wilderness and wild area objective.
  4. Management and ownership controls would be adopted to assure these principles are fully enacted.
  5. Any related developments would be located with future expansion of wilderness and wild areas in mind.
  6. In identifying beneficiaries from benefit development support, priority will be given to local communities and landholders as well as key supporting decision takers.

Mode of Operation

Principally by email and phone, meeting in parallel with the Wild Europe Executive Committee.

Some 15 – 20 members including specialisms in ecology, conservation management, tourism enterprise, business finance and management, agronomics, macro economics, ecosystem services, fund raising.

Two co-chairs: Toby Aykroyd and Neil Birnie

For further information: tobyaykroyd@wildeurope.org

Bark Beetle Breakthrough

Ips typographus – a solution in the offing?Ips typographus – a solution in the offing?

The goal: keeping this natural process away from commercial forestryThe goal: keeping this natural process away from commercial forestry

New potential for acceptance of non-intervention management by foresters

A new consensus is emerging between conservationists and forest managers on management of bark beetle in non-intervention circumstances.

The breakthrough centres on an Austrian initiative to provide guidance on dealing with bark beetle outbreaks in Austrian national parks and wilderness areas, without compromising the non-intervention philosophy in the core zone of these areas and at the same time providing sufficient protection to surrounding landowners and their managed forests.

This is the result of an intensive discussion process between Austrian conservationists, landowners, forest management authorities, park administrations and the Austrian Ministry of Forests, Agriculture, Environment and Water Management.

The initiative is based on development of a zonation model, which foresees a bark beetle control zone of varying width around the non-intervention zones of the protected areas. It builds on recent research and practical experience in the Kalkalpen National Park and the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area, both of which adhere to a strict non-intervention management regime in their core zones: 15600 ha in Kalkalpen, 3500 ha in Dürrenstein.

The model is inspired by a comparable zonation in the oldest parts of the Bavarian Forest National Park, but it is more sophisticated than the Bavarian model. It now enjoys the broad support of Austrian conservationists and forest management authorities alike.

The initiative is explained in a Position Paper which marks a milestone in Austrian wilderness policy. It will hopefully provide a basis for setting up further large scale non-intervention areas in the spruce-dominated mountain forests of Austria and elsewhere in Europe.

Wild Europe definition of wilderness

The Importance of Practical Definitions

A definition of wilderness and wild areas has now been developed by Wild Europe’s Wilderness Working Group. It builds on the existing IUCN Category 1B classification, adapting it to a European context.

One of the main reasons for the absence of a coordinated strategy on wilderness and large natural habitat areas in Europe was the lack of a common working definition.

There are many different words for ‘wilderness’ and ‘wild’ and it is impossible to adequately promote, protect or restore an area if the qualities one is focusing on remain unclear, or are understood differently according to geographic location, individual perception or local culture.

Equally, if inappropriate definitions are employed, this can itself create an obstacle to achieving conservation objectives. Whilst the words ‘wilderness’ or ‘wild’ can evoke strong support in some quarters, they can lead to confusion among traditional conservationists and provoke negative reaction from landholding or farming interests whose resource has produced a well tended landscape which they do not wish to see ‘reverting to scrub’.

Wildness – what’s in a word?

Swiss Alpine forest: wild area or wilderness? The devil’s in the detailSwiss Alpine forest: wild area or wilderness? The devil’s in the detail

There are a few areas in Europe where wilderness can currently be found in the sense of the IUCN Classification, referring to very substantial regions that are largely untouched by the hand of man. It occurs in parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ukraine and Western Russia together with bordering states. There are also elements in Central and Southern Europe.

By contrast “wild areas” can be said to cover a range of intermediate landscapes – from near wilderness where natural process and habitat is virtually unaltered, to other areas where the condition of natural processes and habitats is more substantially modified by grazing, sporting activity, forestry or general imprint of human artifact. Wild areas are smaller, often fragmented and scattered across the continent.

Attainment of “wilderness” status is the ultimate goal in this process wherever scale, biodiversity needs, geography and landholding interests permit.

The above map of wildness in Europe is derived by amalgamating measures of land cover, population density and remoteness from road or rail access.

Any definition involves a multi-angled consideration of scale, landscape impact, prevalence of natural process and ability to deliver significant ecological services (most notably in addressing climate change) as well as host a range of wild area related recreational or social activities. It is further determined by subjective opinion: the spirit of wild areas that enables solitude, sense of wholeness, belonging, healing, awareness and self-development.

In this latter context, there is also the concept of “urban and neo-urban wildness” where issues of personal perception and values play as much of a role as geography. However, it is important to remain focused on practical objectives, and not get overly enmeshed in academic debate.

A note of caution

There are many interested parties for whom the concept of “wilderness” or “wild areas” carries negative commutations or is relatively unknown. It is thus often most helpful to think in terms of large areas of natural habitat and natural process, with “wild” as a promotional

‘Non intervention’ management guidelines in operation

Białowieża Forest, Poland: the carbon cycle at work (Photo credit: Ralf Lotys)Białowieża Forest, Poland: the carbon cycle at work (Photo credit: Ralf Lotys)

Guidelines for the management of wilderness and wild areas in the Natura 2000 network, published by the European Commission in August 2013, are now being implemented.

They will help ensure that natural habitat and processes in such areas are left undisturbed by more traditional forms of intervention – including cutting of vegetation, development of infrastructure or other impactive activity.

These EC Guidelines embody an approach to conservation management which involves a central role for natural processes, focusing on the integrity of a functioning ecosystem rather than the requirements of individual species or habitats. They use a definition of wilderness developed by Wild Europe.

Ips typographus, the bark beetle. Natural process to a conservationist, prospective commercial nightmare to a forester. The solution – cooperative planning! (Photo credit: Daniel Adam)Ips typographus, the bark beetle. Natural process to a conservationist, prospective commercial nightmare to a forester. The solution – cooperative planning! (Photo credit: Daniel Adam)

Where the EC Guidelines are applied to wild areas, rather than core wilderness, there is a greater degree of accommodation with intervention management – whether for more traditional conservation practice or where there is mixed land use with some timber extraction, grazing or other type of human impact. Although by definition applying to EU member states, the Guidelines will also help influence management of wilderness and wild areas in non-EU states.

Next steps

There are three aspects to active implementation of the EC Guidelines:

  1. Their dissemination to all relevant parties, particularly conservation NGOs involved with field level management, together with explanation of their value and use
  2. Identification of funding sources for implementing the Guidelines, with advice where needed on accessing these
  3. Highlighting key examples for application of the Guidelines, which can serve to instruct or catalyse wider usage

The need for consensus

In adopting the EC Guidelines, it is important to ensure prior consultation and engagement with relevant parties.

This should include a sensitive approach to the interests of ‘traditional’ conservation: recognizing for example that non-intervention may not be appropriate in areas harbouring species that are globally threatened.

Equally, issues of importance to landholders, such as management of possible bark beetle outbreaks and ensuring compensation for loss of productive use, should be discussed and planned in advance.

The EC Guidelines can be adopted in their entirety for core wilderness zones, but with varying degrees in other areas – depending on circumstances.

Background to the guidelines

An EC contract for providing input to development of Guidelines was awarded to a consortium of Alterra, Eurosite and PANParks Foundation in 2011.

The EC Guidelines have been examined by the Expert Committee on Nature 2000 Management, and progressed through the EC inter-service consultation process.

Securing them has been a key objective of Wild Europe, which was involved in scripting and coordination of the Resolution for improved protection of European wilderness in 2008 signed by over 140 organizations, which led to development of the Guidelines.

Non-intervention is the lowest impact, most natural element in a range of practices that also includes naturalistic and intervention management.

What is non-intervention management?

So what are the different approaches to management?

‘Non-intervention’ management, as explained above, involves in effect a zero engagement approach, allowing natural processes to determine the form and distribution of habitat and species, with minimized or no artificial interruption in the natural succession of vegetation.

Natural processes at work – will this lake eventually silt up? Perkuć Reserve in Augustów Primeval Forest, PolandNatural processes at work – will this lake eventually silt up? Perkuć Reserve in Augustów Primeval Forest, Poland

Climax vegetation? Old growth beech forest allows little competition in Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro (Photo credit: Snežana Trifunović)Climax vegetation? Old growth beech forest allows little competition in Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro (Photo credit: Snežana Trifunović)

A larger scale future for coastal wilderness? Non-intervention as a buffer against rising sea level – defensive walls were breached to create salt marsh on former cropland. Abbotts Hall Farm, UK (Essex Wildlife Trust)A larger scale future for coastal wilderness? Non-intervention as a buffer against rising sea level – defensive walls were breached to create salt marsh on former cropland. Abbotts Hall Farm, UK (Essex Wildlife Trust)

Natural processes include: carnivore/herbivore action, the nutrient cycle (dead wood being a key element), wind, fire, disease, pests (including bark beetle), hydrological action, siltation – and genetic evolution itself.

Introduction of the EC Guidelines will in particular help address the current situation whereby conservation management that is traditionally more focused on particular species can involve intervention activities which conflict with wilderness principles that emphasise undisturbed landscape and process.

An original motive behind development of the EC Guidelines was a misconception in conservation practice to assume Natura 2000 areas should be kept in their condition at the time of designation. This has been an issue for example in Sweden as well as several Central European countries following their accession to the EU and establishment of the N2000 network.

The principles underlying non-intervention involve acceptance that there may as a result be localised diminution in some species, but that integrity and naturalness of ecosystems is an important conservation objective in itself, from which other species will gain.

Addressing climate change

Other benefits from non-intervention, which can be combined with large-scale restoration, include alleviating climate change through absorption of carbon emissions, with ‘wilderness’ forest having a considerably higher storage capacity than its managed equivalent. Equally, whether applied to natural forests and peatlands on upland watersheds or forests in lowland sinks, non intervention can mitigate flooding and alleviate water pollution.

Similarly, non-intervention can provide more cost-effective defences against rising sea levels than manmade infrastructure.

Non intervention does not of course mean no management: ongoing input is still required for protection, research, education and visitor guidance. However it does represent a cost-effective approach that can free resources for higher priority conservation actions elsewhere.

Naturalistic management

The naturalistic management approach involves using extensive grazing to maintain a mosaic of different habitats, rather than leaving natural progression to occur unhindered towards climax vegetation – often of forest.

The overall aim of its exponents is to ensure maximum wildness of landscape and process along with richness of biodiversity for which mixed habitat with ecotones is important.

This approach should so far as possible involve naturally occurring species including bison, deer, boar, beaver.

Substitute species are also proposed, such as auroch-type breeds, Konik horses and Heck cattle. There is general consensus that these latter species should not be used in areas of wilderness.

Natural browsers help maintain mixed habitat – European bison in Vermuelen, Netherlands (Photo credit: Twan Teunissen, FREE Foundation)Natural browsers help maintain mixed habitat – European bison in Vermuelen, Netherlands (Photo credit: Twan Teunissen, FREE Foundation)
Mixed land use in this montane habitat – the mire with cotton sedge may be natural, non-intervention, but what of the grasslands around it? Chamois or cattle....? Glarus Alps, SwitzerlandMixed land use in this montane habitat – the mire with cotton sedge may be natural, non-intervention, but what of the grasslands around it? Chamois or cattle….? Glarus Alps, Switzerland
Large herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat. A returned native ... or engineered surrogate? (Photo credit: Pierre Devilliers CMS)Large herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat. A returned native … or engineered surrogate? (Photo credit: Pierre Devilliers CMS)

A key element of such naturalistic management involves the need to calculate the intended habitat impact of grazing and browsing, adjusting the mix and number of animals involved.

Issues for consideration include welfare (management of disease, age, starvation), health (leaving of carcasses – important for scavenger species), addressing conflict with other land uses (eg interaction between wild species and livestock), public safety, management and control.

Cost effectiveness

Both non-intervention and naturalistic approaches are key elements in restoration schemes for wild areas (as opposed to wilderness) – particularly where large scale re-establishment of natural habitat is occurring on land formerly used for agriculture.

They can be highly cost-effective as an alternative to traditional interventionist management, especially over large areas, allowing resources to be diverted to alternative conservation objectives. However there would still be a requirement for activities involving protection, monitoring, research and visitor management.

Close cooperation is required with local landholders and communities. This can be enhanced when benefits from ecotourism and other sources of income and employment become apparent.

Intervention management

Non-intervention and naturalistic management contrasts with more man-centred approaches often adopted – particularly in traditional conservation.

These usually focus on a particular habitat or species and involve a cycle of highly interventionist actions – such as coppicing of woodland, maintenance through felling of trees and shrubs on heathland, topping and mowing of grasslands, mechanical dredging or reed cutting in wetlands.

Such practices are regarded as inimical to the principles and philosophy of wilderness. However, where a degree of man-centred intervention management has to occur in support of a key species or habitat type, it should be undertaken with great sensitivity to natural (aesthetic) landscape and process.

Intervention management is not acceptable in core areas of wilderness.