New findings accentuate value of old growth forest in addressing climate change

The bigger the better… natural solutions addressing climate change

A UK study published in December 2022 suggests carbon volume in larger trees is likely to be much higher than previously estimated. 

This potentially has huge implications for the value of forests, old growth in particular, for mitigating climate change – and underlines a correspondingly much greater cost of their destruction.

The indepth study is based on 3D terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), a remote sensing technique that accurately captures the volume and mass of carbon from pulse emissions. This methodology supplants more sketchy estimates currently based on allometric models from calculation of tree diameter, which assume size and mass grow at a steady rate; these are deemed more suitable for trees less than 50 cm diameter.

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Australia declassifies wood from natural forests as renewable energy

Saved from the incinerator – Australia’s natural heritage

On 15th December Australia became the first G20 nation to renounce natural forests as a legitimate feedstock for bioenergy. They will no longer qualify for subsidies through Large-Scale Generation Certificates.

It underlines the need for strict protection of remaining primary/old growth forest, coinciding with the latest report to demonstrate a much higher carbon carrying capacity of larger trees than previously calculated.

Read More …

Our trustees & key personnel

Foundation Trustees 

Erika Stanciu (Romania)

Chair of Trustees from 2022

Former Secretary of State for Forests in the Romanian government, now Vice Chair of World Council for Protected Areas (WCPA) for Europe. Founder-director of the Propark Foundation providing training and consultancy services, and Coordinator of Wild Europe’s Wilderness Working Group. Previously President of Europarc Federation (c 400 organisations) and Director of Retezat National Park.

Ladislav Miko (Slovakia)

Trustee and Chair from 2009

Currently lead advisor on environmental affairs to the Czech EC Presidency, with a role encompassing COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh and COP15 in Montreal. Formerly Director of Natural Environment at DG Environment with the European Commission, Environment Minister in the Czech government, Deputy Director-General of DG Sanco (EC), and subsequently Head of the EC delegation in Slovakia. Author of 116 publications.

Cyril Kormos (USA)


Chair of IUCN World Heritage Network, Vice Chair for World Heritage on WCPA, Founder-Director of Wild Heritage a project of the Earth Island Institute, Founder-Director of the global Primary Forest Alliance (formerly IntAct). Previously with WILD (US) and Conservation International. Author of books on Transboundary Conservation, Natural World Heritage and A Handbook on International Wilderness Law & Policy

Erik Balaz (Slovakia)


Chairman of the Aevis Foundation, forest ecology specialist, writer, Director of Arolla Films producing documentaries on wild nature including Keeper of the Wilderness, The Living River and Wolf Mountains. Active campaigner for the protection of ancient natural forests, and originator of the Eastern Carpathian Mountain conservation strategy.

Gernant Magnin (Netherlands)

Foundation Secretary

Environmental consultant. Formerly with WWF Netherlands, and previously Director of the Eurosite network and WWF Turkey. Bird specialist, campaigner against illegal shooting, author of several publications focused on the Danube Basin, fish migration, bird guides and falconry.

Foundation Executive 

Toby Aykroyd (UK)

Director and Trustee

Background including economic development (UN Development Programme), enterprise management and forestry; also formerly director of SME lobby group representing 12,500 businesses. Involved in conservation of large natural ecosystems for the last 20 years. Trustee of the European Nature Trust, Rewilding Britain, FCC (Romania). Chair of CHASE Africa Foundation. Former Chair of Funding Support Group for BBC Wildlife Fund.

Zoltan Kun (Hungary)

Head of Conservation

Member of IUCN Primary Forest Task Force and IUCN Rewilding Thematic Group, representing Griffiths Primary Forest programme and PFPI (US), with specific interest in management of wilderness protected. Member of Wildland Research Institute. Former Director of the PAN Parks Foundation operating in 12 European countries, prior to that with WWF Hungary. President of the Federation of Large Lakes & Wetlands in Hungary.

Ambitious Restoration Strategy outlined at SERE symposium

Key proposals for a Restoration Strategy based were laid out in a symposium held at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SERE, Europe Chapter) in Alicante on 9th September.

Titled “Large scale rewilding across Europe: overcoming challenges to achieve a historic opportunity“, the symposium suggested ambitious objectives and called for extensive reforms to achieve these.

It was headed by Ladislav Miko, lead environmental advisor to the current EC Presidency and Wild Europe trustee. Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe coordinated the event with Kris Decleer of SERE Council and there was further keynote participation from Erika Stanciu, Vice Chair of WCPA, Chair of Wild Europe, and Cara Nelson, Chair of the IUCN Ecosystem Thematic Group.

Key proposals

The symposium’s proposals ranged widely cross the spectrum of habitat types and conservation modes. They included:

  1. Non-intervention management through natural processes to be a core default element in restoration and ‘strict protection’ of 10% of the EU terrestrial and maritime territory: to secure cost-effective conservation, effective protection of dependent species, mitigation, resilience and adaptation to climate change, with scale delivery of quality ecosystem services
  2. Strict protection of primary/old growth forest, involving a ban on all extractive activity, to be extended to 15% of European forest cover – enabling consolidation of fragmented remnants, effective ecosystem function, buffering and connectivity; wherever possible this will be based on recovery through natural regeneration for the c 12% needing restoration.
  3. The interface between areas with conservation governed solely by natural processes and those where conservation is actively managed (secondary habitats such as grasslands, healthlands, silvopastoral landscapes, together with individual endangered species) to be carefully identified, specified, and enacted; this includes initial intervention where needed followed by long-term set aside.
  4. The above proposals to be implemented through multi-sector cooperation based on reformed grants for protection & restoration, together with a fully activated

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) agenda and emphasis on securing long-term protection.

Close alignment with EU plans

The proposals are designed to be supportive of the necessarily far-reaching EU Biodiversity and Forest Strategies, and relate to emerging elements for the forthcoming EU Restoration Law – as well as linking to requests by conservation networks more generally.

The call for non-intervention management as a default within the definition of ‘strict protection echoes the representations of the European Habitat Forum on the Biodiversity Strategy produced in May 2019.

Growing momentum for the key role of non-intervention

Equally, Resolution 127 at IUCN Marseilles in 2021 called for a ban on logging and extraction generally as a key element in stronger support for protection & restoration of primary/old growth forest. This was backed by a massive vote of 674 members, 93 of whom category A – ie including governments; it is in turn based on Wild Europe’s 2018 Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy.

The need for far-reaching reforms

The symposium welcomed the extra funding to be made available by the EU for biodiversity targets. However far-reaching reforms are still needed, against a backdrop of growing climate crisis ,with the main 2020 Biodiversity Strategy targets missed and 81% of habitats and 63% of species in poor conservation status.

Among further proposals from the symposium:

Crucial linkage between restoration and addressing climate change
  • A systematic strengthening in the capacity of the conservation sector for economic valuation, enterprise management, financial procurement and lobbying specialisms was cited as a key requirement – at all strategic and operational levels. This is felt essential, to strengthen rather than supplant traditional conservation approaches, if the EU Strategies are to be adequately funded and win out against competitive or damaging land use practices.
  • More immediately, there is a requirement for carefully collated restoration targets: per country, area and habitat type – with sequential milestones up to 2050. These should be based on clearly formulated baseline and achievement goals, aiming to maximise both the extent of ecosystem renovation and of the total areas involved.
  • Adoption of SERE principles of restoration has a crucial role to play here, bringing together stakeholders, identifying common ground and setting clear goals along a continuum of restorative activity – in both strictly protected and protected areas.
  • Clearer linkage is also needed in practical planning to address the twin climate change and biodiversity crises – focused on a joint UNFCC/CBD approach, reflected at national and local level.
  • One element of this is a costed strategy to abolish climate-damaging subsidies for commercial scale forest bioenergy, and reallocate these to genuine renewables, conservation of carbon absorbent landscapes and measures to reduce emissions and boost the green economy

The overall Restoration Strategy is being finalized. It draws substantially off Wild Europe’s 2020 Action Plan and will include inputs provided by the Symposium audience after the presentations on 9th September.

For further information read

Large scale rewilding across Europe: Can we overcome challenges to achieve a historic opportunity? Ladislav Miko, Ministry of Environment, Czech Republic; lead environmental advisor to current EU Presidency; former Chairman, now trustee, Wild Europe Foundation

Let nature do the job. Large-scale spontaneous regeneration: where and where not? Kris Decleer, SERE Council; Senior Researcher Research Institute for Nature and Forest Belgium

An effective supporting strategy for successful rewilding strategy, Erika Stanciu, Chair of Wild Europe Foundation, Vice Chair WCPA Europe. Founder of ProPark Foundation and former President Europarc Foundation

EU Conservation and Restoration Strategies: Insights from a Global Perspective, Cara Nelson, Chair of the Ecosystem Thematic Group for IUCN

Funding a restoration strategy: the need for extensive reform, Toby Aykroyd, Director of Wild Europe Foundation, trustee European Nature Trust, FCC Romania and Rewilding Britain

Three speakers at the BioStrategy launch
Frans Timmermans launches the BioStrategy with Commisioners Kyriakides (Health, Food Safety) & Sinkevičius (Environment)

EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: A major step forward

The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy published on 20th May 2020 retains the visionary key targets in its earlier version. 

Proper implementation of the Strategy will require adequate funding and enforcement on the ground. Nonetheless the Commission is to be congratulated for sticking to its guns, so far, in advocating necessarily ambitious objectives for protection and restoration.

This represents good news for large natural ecosystem areas (“wilderness”) and natural forests – responding positively to major requests in Wild Europe’s most recent representation to Frans Timmermans and the Commissioners for Environment, Agriculture & Rural Development and Energy. This was subsequently responded to by Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius.

Ecologically priceless, beautiful – but is it protected? Matthias Schickhofer

Strong EC Commitments to protection

Key commitments by the Commission in the Biodiversity Strategy include

Legal protection by 2030 for a minimum 30% of the EU’s land and seas:

  • Strict protection for at least a third of these Protected Areas – ie 10% of total area, offering great potential for large natural ecosystem areas
  • This stipulation includes strict protection of all remaining EU old growth/primary forests along with other ecosystems
  • Establishment of comprehensive green & blue ecological connectivity
  • Call for effective definitions, mapping and management of the above – with implicit funding availability

For restoration – there is a new EU Nature Restoration Plan, with core focus on ecosystem services:

Aerial view of fenland landscape
The Great Fen – international icon for peatland restoration, IUCN UK National Committee
  • Legally binding Nature Restoration Targets by 2021 for degraded ecosystems, now delayed to end of 2022
  • These include no deterioration in PA conservation status by 2030
  • Criteria for additional areas to be determined at national level by end 2021, with effective action by 2023
  • 3 billion trees planted by 2030 (natural forest is needed)
  • 25,000 km of free flowing rivers, which can be linked to ‘blue connectivity’ and basin-scale flood mitigation, including restoration of riverine, flood sink and upland watershed forest and wetland
  • A new CAP to deliver at least 10% of agricultural area under “high diversity landscape features”. Wild Europe will be re-stressing its proposal for a supplementary Ecological Focus Area, tradable at regional level, to promote creation of consolidated large areas of natural ecosystem funded by CAP

A more mixed picture for renewable energy

For renewable energy, and the related RE Strategy, the picture is more mixed. 

A stain on the EU image: subsidised destruction of beech forest for commercial burning
  • Wording of permitted inputs for bioenergy remains significantly vague. Use of whole trees should be disallowed for financial support, not just “minimised”
  • It is unclear whether improved operational guidance on RED II sustainability criteria will support further improvements needed to recent TEG Taxonomy suggestions 
  • Subsidies for wood burning bioenergy must cease forthwith or this damaging practice, now representing half of timber consumption in Europe, will continue to undermine all eight elements of the EU Green Deal and compromise the EU’s coveted position as global leader in sound environmental practice. A poor image at COP15 in Kunming, 2021.

As Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius said at the Biodiversity Strategy launch “We cannot halt and reverse biodiversity loss without achieving Paris Agreement goals, and vice versa”.

Next steps in implementation

Much work is required to translate the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy commitments into adequate action.

  • Protection of old growth/primary forest should involve linkage of fragmented remnants and restoration of adjacent areas to enable proper ecosystem function and resilience 
  • The importance of scale and the central role of non-intervention management in delivering ecosystem services for strictly protected areas needs full recognition and application
  • The EC should promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice
  • The 2021 EU Forestry Strategy needs to be truly aligned to biodiversity objectives with appropriate conservation measures
  • The new Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) should be an effective instrument for protection as well as restoration
  • Capacity building must address major gaps in the conservation sector’s ability to utilise macro-economic approaches and PES enterprise (payment for ecosystem services) for achievement of biodiversity objectives
  • The ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Instrument.
A strategy for all of Europe

A strategy for all of Europe 

The European Commission should also promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries.

Many of these contain the most valuable remaining areas of natural ecology in our continent, but generally have the lowest budgets for protection and the least effective legal protection. The EC can achieve much here: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice.

Implementation of Stage II of the current EU Wilderness Register, proposed by Wild Europe, will be an important step here. This would incorporate non EU countries into the existing Register and focus on non-extractive enterprise to secure conservation funding and local community and landholder support from the PES agenda

Funding and enforcement

The 20 bn Euro funding per year is relatively under budgeted for the scale of the task, and will have to come from private as well as public funds

There is additionally a ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions. This allocation needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Initiative.

The need to ensure full enforcement is also critical. Many areas in the Natura 2000 network have little or no appropriate protection. Poor management at local level and slow prosecution are a major problem – with Court action at EC level (ECJ) on infringements of environmental law often being a very slow process.

Another glaringly simple problem is key habitats such as old growth forest are still not directly identified as requiring protection – one reason among many why the EU Guidelines on the Management of Wilderness and Wild Areas now need a Stage II version.

Effective reform of the Arhus Convention, strengthening access to information and justice for NGOs and individual citizens, will be helpful.

A complete overhaul of the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure is also urgently needed.

Congratulations and cooperation

Subject to the above, the EU is to be warmly congratulated for advocating the visionary aims in its Biodiversity Strategy that are so critical for addressing the dual crises of climate change and species extinction.

For its part Wild Europe also looks forward to liaising closely with representatives from forestry and land user sectors – including CEPF, EUSTAFOR and EFI – in identifying common ground and ensuring benefit for local landholders and communities as well as conservation.

Further previous top stories

Update shows wide use of the wilderness definition in 2022

Rewilding opportunities in Britain emerging

IUCN ‘Rewilding’ Task Force meeting in Brussels

President Macron announces 10% natural habitat vision for France

Large Carnivore Management Best Practice

New protection for ancient English woodland

New IUCN Task Force on Rewilding established 

Wild Europe funds for mapping of France’s potential wild nature areas

President of Slovakia to participate at Wild Europe conference

Further 5 Million funding secured for FCC in Romania

Welcome back to Erika Stanciu as Head of Policy

CEEWEB joins Wild Europe

Global management guidelines – published for wilderness protected areas

Overview of 2% wilderness target in Germany

500,000 Euro raised for old growth forest protection

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

Rewilding – a wind of change in Western Europe

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

Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy launched

Message from HRH the Prince of Wales

The impact of Brexit

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

Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change

Holland goes Wild – a message for developed landscapes

Full steam ahead for Rewilding Britain

Wild Europe joins new rewilding group in France

The Economic Benefits Working Group

Bark Bettle Breakthrough

Wild Europe definition of wilderness

‘Non intervention’ management guidelines in operation

Wilderness Register developed

Wild Europe presentation to Chambery conference (France)

Wild Europe strategy in Naturalité publication

First bison roam free in Germany

Beaver reintroduction confirmed in Scotland

Old Growth Forest Protection Strategy launched

Support the IUCN Motion on old growth forest

A Motion calling for improved policy and funding support for old growth/primary forest is now proceeding.

Based on the Protection Strategy from Wild Europe’s 2017 Brussels conference and associated consultations, the Motion for this Resolution was developed by Daniel Vallauri of WWF France. It is currently being discussed online: (

The Motion will be proposed for adoption online in late March (online), or in June during the IUCN Congress in Marseilles. The resulting Resolution will provide a significant platform at the 2020 IUCN Marseille Congress for promoting stringent protection and extensive restoration across Europe.

ACTION: Please comment online, support – and forward this information to your networks. Deadline 11th of March!

Final stage for mapping wild France

Wild Europe signed an agreement on 31st January 2020 to fund the third and final stage of this initiative title “CARTNAT” to identify and map actual and potential wild and wilderness areas. 

France: Mapping for a vision of true nature

The exercise is undertaken by IGN (Institut National de l’Information Géographique et Forestiere), Nantes University and the Wildland Research Institute at Leeds University

Phase 1 ending in October 2018 developed methodology appropriate to project objectives and geographic criteria.

Phase 2 ending in October 2019 mapped ten test sites, of which seven contain significant wild or even prospective wilderness areas. The remainder provided a context of different land uses.

Phase 3, now starting, will extend the exercise to remaining areas across France. Along with its partners IUCN France and WWF France, Wild Europe has provided funding for all three stages.

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Give your views on wood bioenergy for an IUCN motion

Use of wood as bioenergy worsens climate change, is an expensive and inefficient form of energy generation and causes huge damage to forests across Europe and in the USA (see below).

Fighting for forests? IUCN Marseilles 2020

If you represent an IUCN member organisation or are a member of WCPA or any IUCN commission, you can comment on submitted motions for the IUCN 2020 Marseilles conference. 

Motion # 038 ‘Promoting biodiversity preservation through energy transformation measures’

Representations could include (a) end subsidies for burning wood for bioenergy (b) burning wood is not carbon zero (c) safeguards are needed to protect forest biodiversity. If you have a chance to comment the document, please do so before 26 February (and encourage other allies eg. European Paper Network network to do so too).

ACTION: Log into the conference website using this procedure

Need more information on wood fuel bioenergy?

Read More …

Snapshots of the conference on wilderness and old-growth/primary forests in Bratislava

With the permission of attendees, this post includes a few images of the Conference on Wilderness and Old-Growth/Primary Forest in Bratislava on 20-21 November 2019.

Presentations of the conference on wilderness and old-growth forest, Day 2

Session 1. Model initiatives for the wild

Session Chair: Eladio Fernandez Galliano, Former Head of Biodiversity and Heritage, Council of Europe

Session 2. Launch of the European Wilderness Forum

Session Chair: Gernant Magnin, Wild Europe Executive Committee

Session 3. Natural habitats, ecosystem services and climate change: the need for sound science

Session Chair: Martin Mikolas, Forestry Faculty, Czech University of Life Sciences

  • Ecosystem services and climate change – why sound science must guide the New Green Deal and beyond Michael Norton, Director of the Environment Programme, European Academies of Science Advisory Council (EASAC)
  • Linking incentives to science: action for bioenergy in Europe – EU level and country model replication, Mary S Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) USA
Session 4. Promoting best practice in the wild

Session Chair: Bill Murphy, former Head of Environment and Recreation, Coillte Irish Forestry Agency

Session 5. A framework for large-scale restoration in Europe

Session Chair: Theresa Frei, European Forest Institute

Session 6. New legal, enterprise and funding frameworks

Session Chair: Viktoria Hasler, Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, Austria

Session 7. EU Parliamentary Resolutions: to date and looking ahead

Session Chair: Zoltan Kun, Head of Conservation, Wild Europe

Session 8. European policy & practice – the wider impact

Session Chair: Andreas Beckmann, Chief Executive, WWF Central & East Europe

  • The New Green Deal and the global impact of Europe, Katja Garson, FERN (video conference)
  • European linkage with key international instruments, (UN Decade for Restoration, CBD) – the Carpathian Convention and UNEP, Harald Egerer, Head of the UN Environment Programme Vienna Office Head of the Carpathian Convention
  • Updating key instruments: Stage II of Management Guidelines for N2000 wilderness, and the Wilderness Register, Steve Carver, Director Wildland Research Institute (Leeds University), Co-Chair IUCN Rewilding Task Force
Closing session: Implementing and communicating the Action Plan for wilderness and old growth/ primary forest in Europe

Session Chair: Ladislav Miko, Head of EU Representation in Slovakia, Chairman, Wild Europe

Presentations of the conference on wilderness and old-growth forest, Day 1

Following upon the successful event in Bratislava, the presentations of the conference on wilderness and old-growth / primary forests are available now through our website.

Opening session
  • Introduction and objectives Ladislav Miko, Head of EU Representation in Slovakia Chairman, Wild Europe
  • The President of the Slovak Republic Her Excellency Zuzana Caputova
  • New Green Deal for ecosystems in an era of climate change Daniel Calleja, Director General DG Environment, EC (video) with introduction by EC personnel
  • Sustainable conservation for Europe’s natural heritage Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Head of Europe and North America Department, UNESCO World Heritage (video)
Session 1. Overview: challenges and achievements for Europe in an era of climate change

Session Chair: Harald Egerer, Head of the UN Environment Programme Vienna Office Head of the Carpathian Convention

Session 2. Model initiatives in Slovakia, for wider replication

Session Chair: Ladislav Miko, Head of EU Representation in Slovakia, Chairman, Wild Europe

Session 3. Progress with the old growth/primary forest protection strategy in Europe

Session Chair: Zoltan Kun, Head of Conservation, Wild Europe

Session 4. Workshops - Building a European Action Plan

Each of the themes was related to a practical initiative, so input from participants could make a direct difference.

  1. Addressing the wood biofuel challenge – the urgency of action, Coordinators: Mary S Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) USA Michael Norton, Director of the Environment Programme, European Academies of Science Advisory Council (EASAC)
  2. Implementing the New Green Deal & Biodiversity Strategy – for EU and non EU states Coordinators: Kris Decleer, International Board, Society for Ecological Restoration Zoltan Kun, Head of Conservation, Wild Europe
  3. Research: addressing the gaps, Coordinators: Bernhard Kohler, PA & Forests Programme, WWF Austria Anastaysiya Bakteeva, Conservation Capital
  4. The new IUCN Rewilding Task Forcewhat is needed? Coordinator: Steve Carver, Co-Chairman IUCN Task Force
  5. Illegal and inappropriate logging, innovative solutions, Coordinator: David Gehl, European Director, Environmental Investigation Agency
Conference Gala Dinner

Presenting the Clima Carpathia initiative – A world class vision proposed for the Carpathians, Christoph & Barbara Promberger, Directors, Fundatia Conservation Carpathia (FCC Romania)

Continue reading the presentations of Day 2

POSTPONED India welcomes you to the World’s premier wilderness gathering

WILD 11, the World Wilderness Congress, will be held in the city of Jaipur, in the Rajasthan province of North West India from 19th to 26th March.

In what has become the premier global wilderness gathering, some 1500 participants from 60 countries are expected.

Birla Auditorium
The magnificent Birla Auditorium at the Convention Centre, opened in 1963 by Pandit Nehru

Based at the Birla Convention Centre, the Congress provides an opportunity to shape policies and actions on wilderness, in time to influence ambitious wild nature targets at the seminal UN CBD Kunming Congress in October 2020. Surrounding this focus is a vibrant array of talks, specialist symposia, workshops, youth programmes, training sessions, exhibits and expeditions.

Jaipur and its surrounding province, with its palaces and forts, lush tiger forests of Ranthambore and arid Thar Desert, is steeped in history of the British Raj and Maratha and Moghul empires before it – stretching back thousands of years to the most ancient Indus civilizations.

See for WILD 11 objectives, programme detail and ancillary activities.

Wolf Mountains: a trans-frontier wilderness in the making

The Wolf Mountain project, in the Eastern Carpathians, straddles the borders of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine. It comprises a mosaic of some of the most intact montane grassland, old growth forest and wetland habitats remaining in Europe.

These areas harbour a rich biodiversity of endemic flora and fauna together with still healthy populations of wolf, bison, bear, lynx, beaver, eagle and black stork.

The core area, covering some 100,000 hectares, includes three national parks and three landscape parks. Despite nominal protection, the area is under pressure from logging and hunting.

The aim of the project is to increase levels of protection and promote connectivity between key ecosystems, supporting local non-extractive enterprises, such as ecotourism and branded products, to provide more sustainable income and employment for local communities and landholders.

The stunning landscape of Cisna-Wetlina, Kamil Soos

Wild Europe, in tandem with the European Nature Trust, originally introduced Frankfurt Zoological Society to the project, and has provided support for strategy promotion and enterprise development.

Currently overseen by Aevis Foundation from Slovakia, alongside the Natural Heritage Foundation of Poland, the project is underwritten by long-term support from FZS.

Further 5 Million funding secured for FCC in Romania

In 2019 Wild Europe helped facilitate a further 5 million euros of funding for Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, the pioneering conservation initiative that seeks to protect a large wilderness area in the Southern Carpathians.

A spectacular vision for Carpathian wilderness
(Carpathia Foundation)

So far FCC has purchased over 22,000 hectares of forest, much of it old growth, along with Alpine pasture in a remote part of Romania that harbours significant populations of wolf, bear and lynx along with many endemic species.  The ultimate intention is to create a national park in the Fagaras Mountains, providing a world class conservation and tourism destination already being dubbed “The Yellowstone of Europe”. 

The 5 million grant, from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s visionary Endangered Landscapes Programme, will help fund restoration of logged and degraded forest, and reintroduce missing species such as bison and beaver while enhancing FCC’s local community enterprise programme.

Wild Europe, a member of the FCC board of trustees, is also on the list of CCI’s approved organisations, and was able to introduce and support FCC’s funding application.

Wilderness benefits for EU Strategy


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

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

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

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

1) Background

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

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

2) Wilderness in the EU Biodiversity Strategy

Protection of the last remaining wilderness areas, together with appropriate restoration, can make an important contribution to achieving the EU biodiversity objectives for the post 2010 strategy, particularly with reference to the Headline Target: “Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss”

Therefore the Wild Europe partnership suggests incorporating the following reference to wilderness in the post 2010 strategy:

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

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

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

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

3) How wilderness can support EU Biodiversity Strategy

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

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

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

Problematic issues:

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

Sub-target 2 (ST2) Over-exploitation

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

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

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

Sub-target 3 (ST3) Fragmentation and Green Infrastructure

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

Sub-target 4 (ST4) Invasive Species

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

Sub-target 5 (ST5) Nature Conservation

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

Problematic issues:

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

Sub-target 6 (ST6) Contribution to global biodiversity

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

4) Implementation of wilderness strategy

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

4.1 Translating the strategy into practice

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

4.2 Ensuring inter-sectoral coordination

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

4.3 Coherent approach to spatial planning

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

4.4 A multi-source funding strategy

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

5) Notes to the above

1. Brief definitions

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

2. A special Report of the European Parliament led to a motion for a Resolution of 15/12/2008 adopted on 5th February 2009.

3.The CBD Global Biodiversity Outlook Report ( ) page 75

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

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

4.Oulanka National Park in Finland, income and employment statistics. see whole METLA study at:

5. A study on the value of wilderness to tourism in the Bayerischer Wald National Park can be found at:

Key elements in the wording of the EU Parliament Resolution on wilderness, February 2009

In its Resolution  “expresses its strong support for the strengthening of wilderness-related policies and measures” and 

 “Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and Commission, and to the governments and parliaments of the Member States”.


Main Actions (numbers taken from the Resolution)

Better protection of wilderness 10. Commission and Member States to devote special attention to the effective protection of wilderness areas;

11. Commission to detect immediate threats to wilderness areas;

12. Commission to develop appropriate recommendations that provide guidance to the Member States on the best approaches for ensuring the protection of natural habitats;

13. Commission and Member States to protect wilderness areas by implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in a more effective and more consistent way, with better financing, in order to avoid the destruction of these areas by harmful, non-sustainable development;

14. Welcomes the review of the Birds and Habitats Directives with a view, where necessary, to amending them to provide better protection for threatened species and biotopes;

15. Commission to accept the Wild Europe Initiative, a partnership of several nature conservation organisations including IUCN, IUCN-WCPA, WWF, Birdlife International and PAN Parks, with a strong interest in wild lands or nearly wild areas;

Appropriate management of wilderness in Natura 2000 areas 16. Commission, in cooperation with stakeholders, to develop guidelines on how to protect, manage, use sustainably,monitor and finance wilderness areas under the Natura 2000 network, especially with regard to challenges such as climate change, illegal logging and increasing demand for goods;

17. Expresses deep concerns for European biodiversity policy due to lack of funding for management of the Natura 2000 network; in this context, calls on the Commission to prepare, as foreseen in the Habitats Directive, Community co-funding for the management of sites in Member States;

18.  Commission to give a special status to and stricter protection for wilderness zones in the Natura 2000 network;

19. Rural development policy and the integration of environmental protection into the EU agricultural sector must be reinforced; however, the Rural Development Fund insufficient to finance biodiversity and wilderness conservation in terms of resources and its programming and expertise;

20.  Commission to ensure that the Natura 2000 network will be strengthened further to become a coherent and functioning ecological network in which wilderness areas have a central place; stresses the need for coherent policies, in particular in the common agricultural policy, transport, energy and the budget in order not to undermine the conservation objectives of Natura 2000;

Developing wilderness areas 4.   Commission to develop an EU wilderness strategy, coherent with the Birds and Habitats Directives, using an ecosystem approach, identifying threatened species and biotopes, and setting priorities;

5.  Commission and the Member States to develop wilderness areas; stresses the need for the provision of special funding for reducing fragmentation, careful management of re-wilding areas, development of compensation mechanisms, raising awareness, building understanding and introducing wilderness-related concepts such as the role of free natural processes into the monitoring and measurement of favourable conservation status; this work should be carried out in cooperation with the local population and other stakeholders;

Promotion of wilderness 6.   Commission and Member States to co-operate with local non-governmental organisations, stakeholders and the local population to promote the value of wilderness;

7.   Member States to launch and support information campaigns to raise awareness among the general public about wilderness and its significance and to cultivate the perception that biodiversity protection can be compatible with economic growth and jobs;

8.   Member States to exchange their experiences of best practices and lessons learnedabout wilderness areas by bringing together key European experts to examine the concept of wilderness in the European Union and place wilderness on the European agenda;

9.   Commission and the Member States to ensure that tourism, even if focusing on introducing visitors to the habitats and wildlife of a wilderness area, is handled with extreme care, making full use of experience gained inside and outside Europe on how to minimise its impact, and with reference, where appropriate, to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive.

Wilderness and climate change 22. Commission to monitor and assess the impact of climate change on wilderness;

23. Commission and the Member States to set wilderness conservation as a priority in their strategy to address climate change;

24. Commission, in the context of climate change, to undertake research and provide guidance as to when and how human intervention can manage wilderness in order to preserve it;

Definition and mapping of wilderness 1.  Commission to define wilderness; the definition should address aspects such as ecosystem services, conservation value, climate change and sustainable use;

2.   Commission to mandate the EEA and other relevant European bodies to map Europe’s last wilderness areas, in order to ascertain the current distribution, level of biodiversity and cover of still-untouched areas as well as areas where human activities are minimal (divided into major habitats types: forest, freshwater and marine wilderness areas);

3.   Commission to undertake a study on the value and benefits of wilderness protection; the study should particularly address the issues of ecosystem services, the level of biodiversity of wilderness areas, climate change adaptation and sustainable nature touri

Tackling alien species in wilderness areas 21. Commission and Member States to work together to develop a robust legislative framework on invasive alien species that tackles both ecological and economic impacts arising from such species and the particular vulnerability of wilderness areas to this threat.

Wild Europe Programme 2017/18

Despite the uncertainties created by Brexit, 2016/17 saw further solid progress by Wild Europe.

A key focus has been the urgent need to develop a coordinated protection strategy for remaining ancient, or old growth, forests; this iconic habitat for the wilderness agenda is coming under growing threat as Europe emerges from recession, timber prices rise and illegal logging proliferates.

We have continued our support for developing model areas and national level programmes for wildlands and wilderness, alongside a range of projects designed to promote their value.

Objectives for 2017/18 have now been published. For a strategic outline of the previous year see Achievements & Objectives in 2017/18 More detailed reports are available on request.”
Despite the uncertainties created by Brexit, 2016/17 saw further solid progress by Wild Europe.

A key focus has been the urgent need to develop a coordinated protection strategy for remaining ancient, or old growth, forests; this iconic habitat for the wilderness agenda is coming under growing threat as Europe emerges from recession, timber prices rise and illegal logging proliferates.

We have continued our support for developing model areas and national level programmes for wildlands and wilderness, alongside a range of projects designed to promote their value.

Objectives for 2017/18 have now been published. For a strategic outline of the previous year see Achievements & Objectives in 2018/19 More detailed reports are available on request.

Benefits to Conservation

Contribution to Biodiversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Wild Areas in Halting Biodiversity Loss

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

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

Many other benefits for biodiversity are increasingly cited:

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

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

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

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

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

Wilderness and wild area initiatives for connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing supposed conflict between biodiversity and wilderness principles

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

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

Impetus behind further re-wilding

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

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

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

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

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

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

EC Presidency Conference pointed the way to large scale restoration

Kurt Vandenberghe - Wilderness was included in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy
Kurt Vandenberghe – Wilderness was included in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy

10 years after it was held in Brussels, Wild Europe’s conference on restoration remains highly relevant.

An updated strategy of ecological restoration is currently being developed within Wild Europe network and further announcements will follow. Meanwhile it was useful to retain key elements from the 2010 conference.

Hailed as a timely success, the Conference initiated development of an effective strategy for restoring natural habitat and process to very large areas. A broad range of proposals was provided by participants.

Organized in Brussels on 16th and 17th November by Wild Europe, the Conference took place just a week after the Nagoya summit with its urgent call to halt the loss of global biodiversity.

With the current recession in mind, emphasis throughout was on the potential for such restoration to deliver cost:effective outcomes for the Natura 2000 network, both within the EU and relevant conservation initiatives in neighbouring states.

There is unprecedented opportunity for large scale restoration of wilderness and wild areas. The CBD’s 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook published in mid 2010 defined potential for ‘rewilding’ 200,000 km2 of marginal and abandoned land across Europe. This is paralleled by a key objective announced at Nagoya which targets restoration of 15% of degraded lands by 2020.

The restoration strategy outlined by the Conference will now be developed through a wider inter-sector consultation exercise.

Key announcements for wilderness

Stefan Leiner - A Wilderness Register would be developed in 2011
Stefan Leiner – A Wilderness Register would be developed in 2011

A considerable boost was provided for this strategy towards the end of the conference by two announcements:

Kurt Vandenberghe, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Potocnik, declared that, for the first time, wilderness was formally included in the EU Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy.

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

Stefan Leiner, Head of Unit for Natura 2000, delivering the final presentation which summarised recommendations from the conference, confirmed that implementation of a Wilderness Register would proceed in 2011. Wild Europe had provided proposals for this.

This will be of relevance to newly restored as well as existing wilderness and wild areas.

There is an Agenda and a list of Presentations from the conference.

A background of great opportunity

Jo Mulongoy – global significant of wild area restoration in Europe
Jo Mulongoy – global significant of wild area restoration in Europe

Jo Mulongoy, Head of Science for the CBD in Montreal who opened the conference along with Ladislav Miko, Director of Natural Environment at the European Commission, hailed the opportunity for restoration of large wild areas with natural processes, habitats and wildlife in Europe as a contribution to global biodiversity objectives.

This had already been cited in the CBD’s 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook. It was now further enshrined in the Nagoya Strategic Plan, not least in the target for restoring 15% of degraded land by 2020, as well as associated documents and COP 10 decisions.

Ladislav Miko spoke of the need to adopt an ecosystem approach based on natural processes in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, underlining a three pronged plan: protecting existing wilderness, restoring large wild areas, and reinstating natural processes on marginal farm and forestry land.

Ladislav Miko - the conference can contribute significantly to EU Biodiversity Strategy
Ladislav Miko – the conference can contribute significantly to EU Biodiversity Strategy

Natural process restoration and non intervention management were cost-effective. In addition to its intrinsic and spiritual worth as our natural heritage, and its importance for biodiversity, wilderness offered significant economic benefits from tourism and ecosystem services that was especially valuable in time of recession.

A comprehensive definition of wild area restoration was then provided by Vlado Vancura, conservation director for PANParks Foundation. This engaged a spectrum of opportunity from existing wild areas needing relatively minor transition management to become ‘wilderness’ – to the wholesale restoration of natural process and habitat on marginal farmland, for which there was extensive potential.

The Million Project, to protect a million hectares of wilderness across Europe, was a key parallel initiative recently launched by PANParks.

If they can do it….

This overview was followed by presentations highlighting success stories already achieved – even in the most unlikely parts of the EU’s original economic heartland.

Alan Bowley, Senior Reserves Manager for Natural England, explained how formerly fertile croplands in East Anglia were being converted into thriving examples of landscape scale ecosystems producing multiple benefits of carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and tourism revenue for local communities – as well as substantial biodiversity gains.

Christof Schenck from The Foundation for Natural Landscapes outlined a similar picture for purchase and restoration of former military training areas in Brandenburg, Germany – where a target for wilderness on 2% of national territory has been set by 2020.

The achievement of riverine floodplain re-establishment across central eastern Netherlands was highlighted by Johan Bekhuis, Ark Foundation; partnerships with local community and business, cultural and social interests and innovative fund raising were all important facets.

Three stories of restoration in the old EU heartland - former cropland in England, military land in Germany, and riverine floodplain in NetherlandsThree stories of restoration in the old EU heartland – former cropland in England, military land in Germany, and riverine floodplain in Netherlands

The agenda then widened to encompass actual and potential restoration opportunity across Europe.

Magnus Sylven, international consultant former director of WWF Europe & Middle East, provided an overview of how an ecosystem approach focused on natural processes and species reintroductions was an increasingly important aspect of conservation policy in a growing range of countries, illustrating this with examples that included forest, wetland, natural grazing and connectivity schemes.

From vision to practicality – 1 million hectares

Wilderness in the Eastern Carpathians, Frans Schepers WWF Netherlands
Wilderness in the Eastern Carpathians, Frans Schepers WWF Netherlands

The vision for future restoration potential was linked with current practicality by Frans Schepers, Programme Leader for the Rewilding Europe initiative (Wild Europe Field Programme), who announced establishment of five areas, each with a minimum of 100,000 hectares where community focused restoration initiatives based on wilderness principles are to be initiated throughout Europe.

Chosen from many candidate sites following an initial presentation at the Wild Europe conference in Prague in May 2009 these include: Western Iberia, Velebit (Croatia), Danube Delta (Romania), Southern Carpathians (Romania), and Eastern Carpathians in the borderlands of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine; this latter area alone could extend to some 250,000 hectares.

The launch of Rewilding Europe, also in Brussels, took place immediately following the conference, on 18th November, moderated by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien van Oranje of the Netherlands.

The rationale for restoration

Harvey Locke, Vice President of Wild Foundation (US) provided a timely reminder that ‘wilderness’ or ‘will of the land’ originated as a European term. He pointed out that restoration of abandoned farmlands along with connectivity is well established practice in North America, achieving the benefits for conservation and ecosystem services already evident from existing schemes in Europe and providing capacity for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Some of the key drivers underwriting the potential for wild area restoration were outlined in the following three sessions.

David Baldock, director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), assessed current and likely future scenarios for land abandonment, relating these to commodity price trends, reform of Common Agricultural Policy, global competitiveness and more localized economic and cultural phenomena.

Lech river: restored to its natural hydrological process – Anton Vorauer WWF Austria
Lech river: restored to its natural hydrological process – Anton Vorauer WWF Austria

These suggested an overall prospect equating to 3 or 4% of Europe’s land area, allowing comfortable spatial capacity for large scale restoration targets.

The ecosystem services benefits that can flow from such opportunity were sketched by two specialists: Hugh Fullerton Smith director of the European Nature Trust for carbon sequestration and Anton Vorauer from WWF’s Alpine Programme on flood mitigation using the example of the Lech river in Tyrol.

Both emphasized the economic gains from innovative funding – just one project for carbon offset identifying 4.5 million euro of direct funding potential.

Esa Härkönen, Senior Advisor for the Metsahällitus forestry agency (Finland) paralleled these benefits by demonstrating the impact of ecotourism and other non extractive activities associated with wild areas in providing sustainable development for local communities and the wider regional economy – often in remoter areas where the income and employment secured had considerable effect.

Wild by Design – new landscapes, natural ecosystems

Large herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ surrogate can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat – Pierre Devilliers CMS
Large herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ surrogate can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat – Pierre Devilliers CMS

For its next stage, the conference went on to assess requirements for effective restoration ecology within the overall Strategy. Paul Grigoriev, Programme Coordinator for IUCN’s European Office, chaired a session involving examination of four key elements of restoration ecology.

  • Process: Vania Proenca from Lisbon University underlined the impact of abandonment, assessing the benefits of natural process restoration for biodiversity and local economies. She addressed the need for self-sustaining ecosystems with resilience to climate change and fire risk – the latter particularly important in the Mediterranean region.
  • Management: while non intervention was appropriate for existing areas of wilderness, naturalistic management involving extensive grazing by natural herbivore substitutes such as auroch can play a key role in maintaining a species rich habitat mosaic in newly restored areas. Feiko Prins for the Large Herbivore Foundation also made it clear that natural process management could be cost-effective, although sensitive local communication was required on landscape changes and interactions between wildlife and livestock.
  • Connectivity: linkage of existing and newly restored wild areas is important to strengthen gene pools and enable migration and adaptation in the face of climate change. Giacomo Luciani from the UN Environmental Programme in Vienna explained the example of the Carpathian Convention in establishing corridors though seven countries, with links to the Austrian Alps through the AKK project.
  • Reintroductions of keystone species was championed by Pierre Devilliers Chair of the Scientific Council for the Convention on Migratory Species, as a vital element for ensuring a balanced, healthy ecosystem. There was a moral and cultural as well as ecological imperative to ensure ‘space for nature’, reinstating herbivore and carnivore species formerly present.

Reappearance of keystone species, essential for a balanced ecosystem – Pierre Devilliers CMS
Reappearance of keystone species, essential for a balanced ecosystem – Pierre Devillliers CMS

Day 2 – Developing the Strategy

A tale of two restorations

The Dutch Econet, international linkage of wild areas
The Dutch Econet, international linkage of wild areas

Day Two, Wednesday 17th November, began with two very different but highly significant examples, showing both the challenges and opportunities for a visionary Restoration Strategy.

Chris Kalden, Director General of Staatsbosbeheer, originally a timber producing agency now managing a large proportion of Dutch protected areas and promoting the benefits of nature conservation based on natural processes, began by outlining the National Ecological Network – targeting no less than 17% of national territory by 2018 and extending into Belgium and Germany.

This policy had been achieved by close inter sector cooperation backed by political will. One of its crown jewels, the Oostvaardersplassen, has become an internationally iconic neo-urban wild area with a envisaged expansion that aims to double its size to some 18,000 hectares at a cost of around 400 million euro, an ambitious project of the Province of Flevoland. To manage a wild area in an urban and commercial agricultural setting means that one has to deal sensitively with conflicting value orientations.

In stark contrast was the equally widely applicable model of wild forest restoration undertaken in the Bayerischer Wald (Bavaria, Germany) since its establishment as a national park in 1970.

The ‘Wild Heart of Europe’, Sumava-Bayerisch Wald spans the Czech Bavarian borderThe ‘Wild Heart of Europe’, Sumava-Bayerisch Wald spans the Czech Bavarian border

Hans Keiner, Deputy Director of the Park, demonstrated how natural process reinstatement and non intervention management – even following die back across large areas of forestry caused by windfall and bark beetle – can produce highly beneficial biodiversity outcomes that provide significant benefits for local communities and the wider economy, creating nearly 1000 jobs in the ‘Wild Heart of Europe’.

Since 1999 the area has been linked in a transboundary initiative with Sumava in the Czech Republic.

Building consensus between sectors

Wider replication of such examples can best be achieved through building a consensus on benefits among different sectors. The next session exemplified this, with three presentations from very different perspectives.

Forest restoration – natural processes can offer conservation, ecosystem and tourism income for landholders – Daniel Vallauri, WWF France
Forest restoration – natural processes can offer conservation, ecosystem and tourism income for landholders – Daniel Vallauri, WWF France

Representing the landholder and farmer viewpoint, Marie-Alice Budniok of the European Landowners Association, outlined a number of schemes being developed that demonstrated how private sector estates could gain from restoring natural habitat and processes, given appropriate incentive. There is great potential for closer linkage with conservation interests here.

The viewpoint of the forestry sector was explained by Daniel Vallauri of WWF France, focusing on opportunity for consensus to address the technical challenges of ‘wild area’ forest restoration.

Social benefits from wilderness help address urban social problems
Social benefits from wilderness help address urban social problems

Whilst clarifying the benefits of such restoration, he also stressed the need for the Strategy to identify effective procedure to resolve prospective conflicts from windfall, bark beetle and fire risk.

Jo Roberts, Director of the Wilderness Foundation UK, spoke of the opportunity for urban social programmes derived from wild area experience.

The next steps will be to identify and promote clear scientific evidence for development of large potential markets in youth development, youth at risk, healthcare and conflict resolution.

TEEB and the economic value of wild areas

Moving the conference on to the economic core of wild area restoration, Giacomo Luciani of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Vienna Office introduced presentations on valuation, business and funding potential.

Pavan Sukhdev – rewilding landscapes across 200,000 km2 in Europe offers cost effective opportunity for biodiversity objectives
Pavan Sukhdev – rewilding landscapes across 200,000 km2 in Europe offers cost effective opportunity for biodiversity objectives

Pavan Sukhdev, the coordinator of the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and head of UNEP’s Green Economy initiative, stressed the crucial importance to a Strategy of a framework to quantify benefits, and costs, of restoration projects.

These must reinforce rather than supplant more traditional views of the intrinsic value of nature, but experience worldwide – as exemplified in Nagoya – has shown that ‘returns on investment’ are often high and thus important in gaining policy and funding support.

Emphasis on natural process efficiency is a strong card for wild areas, especially in time of recession with even fewer resources for conservation funding.

Business has a key role in helping deliver these benefits for local communities and landholders. But Neil Birnie, Chief Executive of Conservation Capital Ltd, stressed the need for wilderness conservation objectives to be explicitly stated from the outset.

A new approach was required, more rigorously driven by business practice, and initiatives he proposed to underpin this included a private sector Investment Fund for new low impact ventures, a European Ecotourism Network with focus on wild areas, and development of the Business for Wilderness Forum initiated at the Prague conference in 2009.

Marianne Kettenun from IEEP rounded off this economic focus by considering a range of funding options: better use of existing sources along with effective development of innovative grant, fiscal and private sector capital instruments as well as new markets for services. Multiple benefits of wilderness enabled address of a correspondingly broad set of EC related opportunities – including EU Structural Funds and Social Funds, alongside a reformed CAP and further LIFE schemes. Diversity was the key.

These key drivers were then linked by Alberto Arroyo, Natura 2000 policy coordinator for WWF, to an assessment of the EC policy framework. This affirmed the importance of restoration, explicitly cited in the headline target for the post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy. Protection in Natura 2000 areas would shortly be underwritten by guidelines for non intervention management, with emphasis on better implementation of existing legislation.

In the current difficult economic circumstances, wilderness offered a cost:effective approach through operation of natural process. The underlining focus, in EU and neighbouring states, should be on proving and promoting the values of wilderness and wild area benefits.

What do we need to know, and how do we project the knowledge?

Attention turned to what further knowledge was needed to advance the restoration strategy.

Steve Carver, Director of the recently formed Wildland Research Institute in Leeds University, outlined a research agenda which included practical definitions, mapping and guidelines to inform restoration management, together with a scientific underpin for benefits and development of innovative funding mechanisms.

Today’s children in the wild are tomorrow’s committed environmentalists and voters
Today’s children in the wild are tomorrow’s committed environmentalists and voters

Helen McDade, Policy Director for John Muir Trust, then stressed the importance of including wild areas in the education curriculum – both to reinforce appreciation of the value of conservation, and unlock the great potential for social wellbeing from experiential learning. Of the 100,000 people completing the JMT Award for environmental projects, nearly a quarter are from socially excluded groups.

Amid ever lessening contact with nature, direct experience was the most powerful means of building future support for its protection, among children but also politicians and other decision takers.

Wilderness in the Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy

Kurt Vandenberghe, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Potocnik in the European Commission, delivered the keynote presentation – declaring that, for the first time, wilderness was formally included in the EU Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy.

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

Referring to the successes (such as ABS) as well as the challenges arising from the Nagoya conference, he cited grounds for optimism through adoption of a green agenda. So far a wilderness was concerned, the restoration agenda fitted well with growing recognition of the value of wild areas and their delivery of ecosystem and other services – as well as the need for focusing on productivity in use of existing resources for conservation outcomes.

The Restoration Strategy should in particular seek to interface with the EU Biodiversity Strategy, CAP reform opportunities, Cohesion Funding and the Green Paper on Forestry Strategy

Communication – the power of imagery

A ‘hearts and minds theme’ was central to Staffan Widstrand’s presentation on communication.

Communicating wilderness to hearts and minds – Staffan Widstrand, Wild Wonders of Europe
Communicating wilderness to hearts and minds – Staffan Widstrand, Wild Wonders of Europe

As founder-director of the Wild Wonders of Europe photographic initiative, he sketched the need for a communication strategy for restoration to have a two pronged approach – for the ‘heart’ of the general public and how to capture it with imagery, emotion, mass communication – and the ‘mind’: ie decision takers in government, the institutions, conservation, business and other sectors.

The power of such imagery was a background theme to the conference.

After the formal close of Day 1, on 16th November, there was a social reception featuring two films – both outstanding examples of creative communication. First, the internationally acclaimed entrée for global Year of Biodiversity made by Wild Wonders of Europe, depicting … the wonders of wild Europe, with emphasis on opportunity for restoration.

Then came Keeper of the Wilderness – a visually stunning story of how Ticha Valley, a formerly burned forest and degraded pastureland in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, has over the last 50 years become a haven for rich biodiversity, symbolized by healthy populations of brown bear, red deer and wolf.

Gyula Heguy coordinator of the massively supported Resolution for wilderness and its restoration from the EU Parliament
Gyula Heguy coordinator of the massively supported Resolution for wilderness and its restoration from the EU Parliament

Gyula Hegyi, who as MEP coordinated the EU Parliamentary on improved protection and funding for wilderness in 2009 by a massive 538 votes to only 19, was well placed to speak on the importance of communicating the right messages to the right ears.

He defined a number of key decision taking points where representation of the value for wilderness and the need for its restoration could have most impact.

Inputting amendments to proposed legislation via a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) was one way in which individuals could get involved. On a broader basis, it was important to take decision takers and journalists into wilderness areas – they understood the moral, conservation and economic arguments once these were explained, but the impact of direct experience was especially enlightening.

There is also potential to develop closer links between the Environment, Climate and Employment and Social Affairs DG among others.

Building the restoration strategy

Central to the proceedings were two sets of workshop sessions where participants contributed their individual expertise.

On Day 1, alternative visions for restoration over 25, 50 and 100 years were laid out – an important exercise given what is by definition a long term concept, but anchored firmly in economic, business, policy and social as well as ecological and biodiversity principles.

This base of practical vision was built on during Day 2 by a further set of participant workshops – covering assessment of the need for new policies and incentives, biodiversity benefits of wilderness, the role of corporates in funding and the sustainability agenda, building a standard ‘toolkit’ for restoration, and development of a communications strategy.

The Wilderness Register – a significant step forward for wild area protection in Europe – Daniel Vallauri WWF France
The Wilderness Register – a significant step forward for wild area protection in Europe – Daniel Vallauri WWF France

Stefan Leiner, Head of Unit for Natura 2000, delivering the final presentation provided a thorough summary of recommendations from the conference.

He highlighted five elements in particular: measures to support a more rigorous business based approach for developing local community capacity to gain from ecotourism and other non extractive activities, the importance of building cross-sectoral consensus behind a restoration strategy, planning restoration projects within a clear cost-benefit framework, and focusing on improved delivery from existing resource as well as seeking new funding.

He also confirmed that implementation of the Wilderness Register produced by Wild Europe will proceed in 2011. This will be of relevance to newly restored as well as existing wilderness and wild areas.

Next Steps

Hailed as a significant success, the EC Presidency conference on restoration has produced many new initiatives.

The conference deliberately avoided framing any rounded conclusions on a restoration strategy. This needs to be based on more comprehensive consultation over the next few months – involving landholding, forestry, farming, business, regional development and urban social as well as conservation interests across Europe.

However a large number of valuable recommendations will be carried forward. These included:

  • promoting the modification and strengthening of existing restoration policies and incentives, with proposal for some new measures – albeit within existing legal frameworks
  • a ‘toolkit’ for practical restoration procedure – planning, management and ancillary aspects (funding, coordination, communication, administration)
  • promoting individual opportunities and initiatives for benefit-based restoration: enlarging and strengthening existing areas, creating new areas, implementing effective linkage
  • further development of practical definitions and mapping in support of this, together with promotion of a general research agenda
  • sharing best practice on identification, valuation and usage of wilderness benefits
  • identifying improved mechanisms for gaining from these benefits, particularly ecosystem and social services
  • development of supportive instruments for local community and landholder enterprise
  • fund raising – improved usage of existing resource, facilitating access to new sources, development of innovative instruments
  • promotion of education and urban related social projects
  • building joint approaches based on common ground with landholding, forestry, farming, business, social and other interests
  • a ‘hearts and minds’ communication strategy, including representation of the value of wilderness to key decision takers – via local, national and regional government and institutions
  • emphasis on sustainable, long term protection of restored areas

From Ireland to the Urals – Europe wide opportunity for large scale restoration
From Ireland to the Urals – Europe wide opportunity for large scale restoration

Coupling ambitious vision with hardheaded economic and political reality offers unprecedented potential to bring substantial benefits to conservation across Europe – from the West coast of Ireland to the Ural Mountains in the East.

Value to global biodiversity

As the CBD and the targets resulting from the Nagoya conerence make clear, the value of such strategy to global biodiversity objectives can also be significant.

If we in Europe are restoring natural processes, habitats and wildlife in our crowded and developed continent – and doing so moreover for economic and social as well as conservation motives – we stand a greater chance of persuading those countries with much larger remaining areas of relatively pristine ecosystem to protect their own natural heritage.

See also:
Conference Agenda


In addition to reinstatement of natural habitat and process, restoration can involve reintroduction of species previously occurring in a particular area.

Some reintroductions occur naturally, such as the return of the osprey to England or the spread of wolf into South Eastern France from the Italian Alps.

Bringing biodiversity and tourism benefits
Bringing biodiversity and tourism benefits

Many reintroductions involve forward planning, including beaver now reintroduced to 26 countries across Europe, or European bison to the Rothaargebirge region in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Such reintroductions are provided for in Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive and can bring significant enrichment to local biodiversity. To many, they also mark the fulfillment of a responsibility by man to reinstate a species he has extirpated.

Such reintroductions can also be controversial and require careful handling with full prior consultation, particularly among local communities and landholders where releases are to occur.

However, they can also help restore more balanced natural processes and enable enrichment of biodiversity as well as bringing economic benefits. Beaver create a wider variety of wetland habitats that support yet further species including mammals, birds, amphibians. Fish and invertebrates.

Similarly, by maintaining a mosaic of forest and grassland, European bison can help support a wider range of fauna and flora than would occur if a monoculture of climax arboreal vegetation were to occur.

There is increasingly widespread use of ‘surrogate’ species in place of their wild counterparts for naturalistic management of vegetation – including Heck cattle as a substitute for the extinct auroch and Konik horses for Tarpan, although there is some question over how far such comparisons reflect genetic reality.

Economic benefits from reintroduction

The wolf has brought prosperity to local communities in Abruzzi
The wolf has brought prosperity to local communities in Abruzzi

Reappearance of species formerly present can provide a major tourist attraction, of significance to the local and even regional economy.

In Scotland, wildlife tourism brings some £65 million annual revenue together with employment for nearly 2,800 – often in relatively poor rural areas. Reintroduction of Sea Eagle, the fourth largest in the world, to the Isle of Mull now produces significantly more income to local communities than farming.

In Abruzzo National Park, only 130 kilometers from Rome, local farming communities now gain better livelihoods from tourism based on the return of the wolf to restored areas of natural habitat than were previously earned from livestock herding.

Located in the Central Apennines the National Park covers 44,000 hectares of mountain forest and grassland and enjoys the Marsican brown bear as its symbol.

Reintroductions can bring similar economic benefits for local landholders and communities across central and eastern Europe as well. This can have a particularly stong impact in remoter areas, where traditional agricultural and forestry practice is less viable. However, alongside reintroduction programmes, there is often a need to focus on capacity building – eg provision of adequate local accommodation, guidance and general services if local communities are to gain maximum benefit from nature tourism.

Provider of valuable engineering services for wetland habitat
Provider of valuable engineering services for wetland habitat

Beaver are particularly prized for their economic benefit. Negative impacts from the 26 countries where reintroduction has occurred over the last 80 years have been almost without exception very limited and localised.

Positive benefits on the other hand have included flood mitigation, alleviation of pollution – together with revenue and employment from nature tourism. Because beaver consume a low calorie diet they forage for up to 18 hours a day, thus making ideal subjects for wildlife watchers.

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.

Achievements & Objectives – Summary

Wild Europe with its partners has a rolling programme. Many activities and objectives are not promoted on our website, so if you are interested in receiving more information on any particular topic, please contact:


Main achievements for 2018/19

1. Drafting of Strategy for Old Growth Forest Protection from recommendations of 2017 Brussels Conference, involving 149 participants from 28 countries

1a. Initiation of Strategy – FZS partner programme through Griffiths global primary forest initiative

Of the 550,000 euro raised as a result of Wild Europe’s October 2017 conference on OGF protection, some 320,000 euro was provided for the European element of the primary forest project funded by Griffiths, and undertaken by Frankfurt Zoological Society which has been working on the following projects:

  • Updated mapping of OGF locations with Humboldt University (Berlin)
  • Development of a forest carbon model
  • Planning and establishment of community enterprise in lieu of logging in East Slovakia as part of the Wolf Mountains initiative
  • Wood fuel bioenergy project
  • Link to Griffith University (Australia) Global Primary Forest Protection network, reference international trade and policy

FZS has also now secured representation on the IUCN Primary Forest Task Force through this project

1b. Initiation of strategy for old growth forest protection – other projects

A range of other projects arising from the conference were developed in parallel:

  • Report developed on protection incentives for OGF in non-state owned areas
  • Further consultation on a standard definition structure for old growth forest
  • Representation of OGF and protection strategy to 50 Bern Convention member state (ministry) parties, generating positive feedback
  • Development of a freehold/leasehold structure for long-term protection on privately owned land
  • Proposals for working party and best practice collation with EUSTAFOR state forest agency association

2. Large Wilderness Area programme – Ongoing input to partners’ model wilderness and wild areas:

  • Sumava National Park– Czech Republic. Agreement by the Czech government to our wild nature enterprise initiative for Sumava NP, which also proposes links to BayerischerWald NP in Germany. This is thethird, non-extractive enterprise phase of our support here.
  • Romanian Carpathians– Fagaras Mountains. As an approved organisation with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), we provided introduction for Fundatia Conservation Carpathia (FCC) to CCI’s Endangered Landscape Programme, and input to its funding request. A grant of 5 million Euro subsequently gained. Also input to enterprise and education elements aiming at establishment of a model 250,000 ha National Park in the Fagaras Mountains
  • Bialowieza Forest– Ongoing consultation for our concept plan for significant enlargement of the core area into the UNESCO World Heritage site, first suggested in 2014 and based on community wild nature enterprise and extensive restoration
  • Wolf Mountains programme (East Slovakia, West Ukraine, South East Poland) – follow up on the non-extractive enterprise projects from the specification to Conservation Capital, initially provided and 50% funded by Wild Europe, with Aevis Foundation and Frankfurt Zoological Society as partners

3. National level

  • IUCN France– further engagement through Wild Europe’s membership of the Wilderness Group, with funding for a mapping exercise, identifying model wild and prospective wilderness areas, and strategy for addressing restoration opportunities
  • Rewilding Britain– ongoing support, including for the multi agency Pumlumon area initiative in central Wales which recently won 5 million Euro from the ELP. A new project has been identified for the Peak District National Park in Central England, and costed proposals put to government for large-scale natural habitat restoration to sequester carbon emissions
  • German government wilderness strategy– definition for Federal target at 2% of national territory reaffirms linkage to Wild Europe definition
  • Slovakia– correspondence with government, expressing appreciation of proposals for prospective transfer of national park management to the Environment Ministry

4. Development of key topic/strategy agendas

  • CAP reform proposals promoted, involving reallocation of payments towards ecosystem service provision, modification of GAEC regulations, input of Ecological Focus Area supplements tradable at regional level, and general promotion of a stronger socio-economic agenda in coordination with land user associations.
  • Definition for wild areas, now under consultation. We are seeking to parallel our 2013 wilderness definition, adopted for the EC Management Guidelines and Wilderness Register. The aim is to provide flexible criteria for wildness and its restoration with standardized application in any biogeographic and cultural circumstance.
  • Working partnership with a legal network and newly formed conservation body, developing a new form of long-term legal protection for wilderness and wild areas on private land, including those with old growth forest.
  • EC Guidelines: Phase II project developed and proposed

5. Strengthening Wild Europe’s organizational capacity

  • Wild Europe office opened at the IUCN building in Boulevard Louis Schmidt, Brussels. Wild Europe’s EU legal foundation status assessed in 4 countries for post Brexit scenario
  • Alternative national legislatures assessed for Wild Europe future constitution post Brexit

Further information is available on all these initiatives, via


Main achievements for 2019/20

1. Implementation of old growth/primary forest strategy

  • Wild Europe OGF/wilderness conference in Bratislava 20/21stNovember 2019
  • Lobbying for total protection of old growth/primary forest in the EU
  • Further funding and launch of Francesco Sabatini forest mapping
  • Production of definition & management principles for OGF/primary forest
  • Support for developing carbon benefits model of OGF
  • Creation of IUCN motion for improved OGF protection (Daniel Vallauri) based on WEI Strategy for Protection
  • State agency project: best practice and set-aside represented to EUSTAFOR
  • Agreement on value of OGF secured from Presidents of CEPF & EUSTAFOR

2. Further support for wilderness and wild areas

  • Wild Europe conference in Bratislava 20/21stNovember sets key targets
  • Lobbying for 10% wilderness target in EU and non-EU states
  • Support for FCC Romania, including 5.5 million Euro facilitated from ELP
  • Extended protection agreed by Czech government to Sumava NP
  • Substantial inputs to Clima Carpathia mega protection initiative
  • Support for Central European Wolf Mountains project
  • Finalisation of freehold/leasehold non-state landowning structure in UK to support very long-term protection & restoration of wild areas

3. Input for national strategies

  • Proposal for France Sauvage NGO network, including support for Macron vision of 10% haute naturalité/protection forte
  • Funding for mapping project to identify key wilderness areas in France
  • Proposals for implementation of German 2% target: PES potential
  • Finalisation & promotion of the definition for ‘wild areas’ in Europe
  • Launch of enlarged Hohe Tauern NP, Austria wilderness (Wild Europe criteria)
  • Rewilding Britain – through board, including input to English Tree Strategy

4. Development of key topic/strategy agendas

  • Membership of EC Working Party on Forests & Nature for 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy implementation
  • Development of briefing materials for the Working Party
  • Inputs to updated 2015 EC Guidelines for Forest Management in N2000
  • Input to EU Biodiversity and Forest Strategies
  • Input to EU Restoration Strategy & targets, building on 2010 Strategy
  • Sound Science initiative launched for forest bioenergy campaign
  • Further input to 2020 CAP programme
  • Combatting bias in EC consultation on forest bioenergy

5. Promotion of conservation infrastructure development

  • Meeting facilitation and input for IUCN Rewilding Task Force
  • Development of proposals for European Investment Bank role
  • Proposals for linkage between EC N2000, Bern Convention Emerald Network and UNESCO WH and Biosphere networks

6. Strengthening Wild Europe’s organizational capacity

  • Stichting foundation structure (Netherlands legislature) chosen and prepared
  • Zoltan Kun appointed Head of Conservation, Erika Stanciu appointed Head of Policy