‘Model’ wilderness area in Alps based on Wild Europe definition

Gateway to the Sulzbachtäler/Hohe Tauern Wilderness © Josef Schrank

Author: Bernhard Kohler, WWF Austria

A wilderness area covering 6,700 hectares has been unveiled in the North West of Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, following formal designation in 2019.

This is based on criteria from the Wild Europe definition and comes under the aegis of the Salzburg municipality.

The wilderness area has great promise as a model for the restoration strategy to implement targets in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy – echoing Wild Europe’s own objectives of strict protection for at least 10% of EU and non-EU terrestrial areas.

Read More …

Definition of old growth / primary forest produced 

Sometimes hard to define. Even harder to protect.

A draft definition structure has now been produced to support objectives in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for protection and restoration of natural forest.

Applicable throughout Europe, this was initiated at the 2017 Brussels conference involving input from conservation and forestry interests among others.

It covers an overview of primary forest together with its constituent elements of old growth and virgin forest – the latter a narrower interpretation used mainly in Romania. 

Your feedback is welcome please:

  • Do you have any comments on the definition?
  • How readily could it be applied in your country?
Read More …

Concern expressed over EC consultation on climate change target

Areal view of Romanian logged landscape
Romania’s new landscape. What message does EU wood bioenergy policy send to Bolsonaro about the Amazon rainforest?
(Andrei Ciurcanu, Agent Green)

A collective representation organized by Wild Europe in partnership with Birdlife International, expresses widely held concerns that the current EC consultation on the 2030 climate targets is misleading, and could end up undermining the mitigation of climate change.

It has been signed by 49 organisations across Europe in little over 48 hours.

The EC consultation questionnaire, which aims to collate opinion for developing energy and climate policies, effectively encourages agreement to more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reduction in 2030 with greater use of renewable energy to achieve these. 

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“LEAF” initiative to support 2030 BioStrategy forest protection target

Logging lorry
An Early Warning System can help prevent illegal logging (Agent Green, Romania)

A proposal by Wild Europe involves the creation of an international network of local NGOs, individual conservationists, land owners and community members dedicated to protection of old growth/primary forests.

Named by its acronym of LEAF, Last European Ancient Forests, the network would be coordinated by a small secretariat. Its initial objective will be to provide an Early Warning System: monitoring the condition of those forests, identifying and reporting any threats from logging or other degradation.

Read More …

EU Biodiversity Strategy: a major step forward

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

The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy published on 20th May 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.

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European Investment Bank – a major player for wilderness?

European Investment Bank sign
European Wilderness Bank?

Our response to the consultation on EIB’s road to becoming a “Climate Bank” stresses its great potential opportunity to underpin major natural ecosystem conservation.

True protection principles must be safeguarded, given greater need to rely on private sector participation as COVID undermines official funding sources. There will also be a need for a more ‘balanced portfolio approach’ to include softer loans and grants. And projects funded must genuinely support the Paris Agreement in addressing climate change, with no more scope for image-tarnishing subsidised wood burning bioenergy.

However, if these issues are addressed, EIB could have a highly important potential role to play in achieving ambitious targets old growth forest protection, and restoration of large no-extraction natural ecosystem areas (AKA wilderness).

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New Slovakian government unveils potent support for wilderness

The Slovakian government, newly elected on 29th February,  has announced strong protection for wilderness, forests and conservation generally.

Gerlachovsky stit in the High Tatras – Slovakia’s precious heritage deserves the respect of conservation

The programme presented by Prime Minister Igor Matovic introduces three measures of particular importance:

  1. In national parks at least 50% of land will be left unmanaged, promoting fullest re-establishment of natural ecosystem processes and resilience through a land use zonation system.
  2. Administration of protected areas will be unified under the Ministry of Environment, a move long requested by the conservation movement
  3. Increased public scrutiny of forest operations will be encouraged. A mobile phone app will be available for mass use to monitor logging and timber transport, and full forest management programmes with logging data are to be publicly available.
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New legal structure for long-term protection

The transformative effect of a 150 year protection lease? 

A mechanism is being developed to offer private owners the opportunity to protect wild or wilderness areas on their land effectively ‘in perpetuity’.

The initiative has been created by a partnership between Wild Europe and the Lifescape Project conservation charity in tandem with international law firm Clifford Chance LLP.

Known as “The Legal Mechanism”, this involves legal owners granting a guardian charity the right to enforce ecological protections over the land for 150 years or more, whilst retaining effective ownership of the land for themselves and their descendants, using a leasehold structure. The leases would contain covenants stipulating land use that gives full protection to ecosystems with their wildlife.

Based on well-established procedure in the ‘built’ property sector, the concept is now proven for legislatures in England, Wales and Scotland; a technical brochure has been produced and initial consultations are taking place with landowners. 

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Wild Europe input to Consultation on EU Climate Target

Wild Europe’s feedback on 15th April welcomed the more ambitious target of a 50%+ drop in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

However it warned that, if subsidies for wood biomass continue, this target would be at risk – as would the EU’s continuing credibility as a respected proponent of best environmental practice.

Payment of these subsidies is a burden on productive business and personal livelihoods. As economies slowly rebuild post COVID-19, proponents of wood bioenergy subsidy will not be lightly forgiven for supporting the wastage of scarce capital on an expensive myth of renewable energy that actually worsens the climate change it claims to mitigate.

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TEG report calls for sharp curb to wood biomass burning

An independent EU Technical Expert Group (TEG) report just published recommends that only residues, thinnings and stumps should qualify as wood bioenergy fuel, along with separate “advanced bioenergy” feedstocks under the new Sustainable Finance Taxonomy (see technical annex for feedstocks). 

This in turn will determine eligibility for “green investment” status, counting towards renewable energy targets and involving literally hundreds of billions of Euros.

The recommendation is in sharp contrast to the broad leeway given for “whole tree” wood use by the EU’s Renewable Directive II. 

Read More …

Wild Europe online submission to EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy

Our input to the consultation exercise stressed the key importance of large natural ecosystem areas to the Strategy for adoption at the October 2020 UN Kunming conference.

This provided a brief summary, with input to follow in a Message from Bratislava containing recommendations from our conference in Slovakia on 20/21 November, and from partners in the Wild Europe network.

For climate change and biodiversity loss to be effectively tackled, and the failures of the 2010 Strategy not to be repeated, a quantum change in the capacity of the conservation sector, NGOs and EC alike, will be essential.

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Brexit – still time to influence UK environmental policy

Our suited Briton has finally sawn off his branch

The Shakespearean theatre of Brexit completed its final act on 31st January 2020.  Accomplishment of a damaging misrepresentation or a visionary “taking back of control”, according to your viewpoint. We now need to move on.

Wild Europe marked the occasion by funding the latest stage of a wild nature mapping and strategy programme by our partners in France.

There is scope for us all to influence the consequences for environmental policy, from within the UK and – for a short while – also through pan European representation to EC negotiators

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Forestry leaders confirm their support for old growth forest

Europe’s largest forestry associations support old growth forest Attribution: European Union

Clear support for the concept and value of old growth forest was expressed by leaders of the European forestry sector at the seminal EU International Conference on Forests for Biodiversity and Climate Change in Brussels.

Hubert de Schorlemer President of the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) – in grey suit – confirmed “If the small forests we still have which are really really old, we don’t afford to cut them down, no that’s clear“

Reinhardt Nerf, President of the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR) – in green jacket – stated “We see the very old forest as a focus of biodiversity and we take it out of timber usage” 

Read More …

European Natural Forest School project cancelled

Yet another victim of the Coronavirus pandemic, the inaugural programme of this pioneering educational project has been cancelled.

Due to run in Lubeck, Germany from 30/08/20 – 10/09/20 the Summer School was designed for advanced students and young professionals in conservation and forestry.

Involving a partnership between Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Natural Forest Academy together with Wild Europe, the programme covered natural forest ecology, protection and management from those with a practical understanding of the challenges involved.

There has been great interest, and the programme should be re-established soon. 

Update shows wide use of the wilderness definition

A recent review of Wild Europe’s definition of wilderness, originally produced in 2014, shows its use is widespread and expanding. The intention was to create a set of criteria that produce uniformly high standards for protection and restoration, regardless of biogeographical or cultural circumstance.

Below are some of the applications:

  • The Wild Europe definition has been adopted by the European Commission for its Wilderness Register, and for its Guidelines on wilderness and wild area management in the Natura 2000 network – reference: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/wilderness/pdf/WildernessGuidelines.pdf
  • The German Federal government is using linkage to the definition within a broader approach for their 2% wilderness target, albeit tied to a smaller minimum size in order to be able to achieve this ambitious national objective within a reasonably short timescale – reference: https://www.bfn.de/themen/biotop-und-landschaftsschutz/wildnisgebiete/qualitaetskriterien.html 
  • The Austrian National Parks Association has adopted the Wild Europe minimum size along with its other criteria because the definition is seen as offering a credible and practical instrument. It has already been used as the basis for designation of wilderness areas for Kalkalpen and Hohe Tauern National Parks.
  • Fundatia Conservation Carpathia (FCC) Romania, aiming to assemble the largest privately funded wilderness reserve in Europe, is using the definition as the basis for planning its acquired landholdings, negotiating community land use agreements where purchase is not possible.
  • The European Wilderness Society has developed the EWQA (European Wilderness Quality Assessment), a programme of certification based on the Wild Europe definition, which it is rolling out in a number of countries across Europe.
  • The definition has a key role to play in long-term wilderness planning for Sumava National Park (Czech Republic), alongside a model programme of ‘wilderness support’ which Wild Europe has run since 2012 in conjunction with local NGOs, involving international representation, economic feasibility assessment and enterprise implementation

Valley Head of Krimmler Achental, Hohe Tauern NP

December 2019

Czech Government supports wilderness enterprise initiative

Support has been received from the Czech government for Wild Europe’s enterprise initiative for Sumava National Park – the Wild Heart of Europe. This will be initiated by a feasibility study assessing opportunities for business related to wilderness areas in Sumava, designed to benefit local communities; it also proposes close links to the adjoining Bayerischer Wald NP in Germany.

Quote from Vice Minister Vladimir Dolejsky:

“I consider elaboration of this study very important not only for the development of the National Park Sumava region, but also in terms of future course of national parks in the Czech Republic in general” (Environment Ministry, Prague, September 2018)

The wild heart of Europe (Zdenka Krenova)

Wild Europe congratulates the Vice Minister for his vision, and we will do all we can to support this initiative.

We have been involved since 2012 at the invitation of local organizations, including Hnuti DUHA (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic) and the Czech Globe Institute, with a threefold programme that has included representation, economic appraisal (commissioning an independent study) and enterprise implementation.

There is potential for wider replication of this approach in Europe. For further information please contact info@wildeurope.org

Large Carnivore Management Best Practice


A study collating best practice on protection management of wolf, bear, lynx and wolverine in EU member states has been produced by the EC DG for Internal Policies (February 2018).

It was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the EP Committee on Petitions (PETI).

The legal framework for protection is reviewed under conditions of derogation, along with measures to promote coexistence and implications for management.

While populations are recovering, the Study concludes that significant further endeavour is required to recover fuller functionality across former ranges where ecological and spatial conditions remain favourable or can be restored.

Key findings:

  • Lethal control has little effect as a management measure
  • Hunting worsens the impact of intolerance, eg poaching
  • Wider dissemination of successful livestock management practices to mitigate conflict is crucial
  • Compensation must be linked to such practices, and not operated in isolation, to produce sustainable outcomes
  • More focus needed on promotion, communication and engagement of all stakeholders

Global management guidelines published for wilderness protected areas

The IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, in tandem with the Wild Foundation, published in 2016 a comprehensive set of guidelines governing all key aspects of management for wilderness areas.

These are applied under all forms of governance – public, private, local community. They also address a range of management instruments, including rewilding and restoration.

A range of case studies are examined, including the Natura 2000 network (Page 38 Case Study 11 provided by Wild Europe), where EC guidelines for management of wilderness areas are based on our definition of wilderness. 

Some 2.5% of the EU land area (then including the UK) is protected for its wilderness attributes within the Natura 2000 network, although the proportion covered by wilderness as defined by the minimum scale in Wild Europe’s definition is nearer 2%.

Read more: Wilderness protected area management guidelines

How the Wild Europe definition of wilderness builds on the IUCN Category 1b definition


The Wild Europe definition of wilderness was developed over four years by over 50 experts with the input and support of IUCN personnel. It has been adopted by the European Commission and is now used in many areas across Europe.

The definition was established to cater specifically for the needs of a European context, and to offer a relatively rigorous and standardized underpin for both protection and restoration initiatives across a wide variety of geographic and cultural circumstances.

It seeks to build on and strengthen rather than replace the existing IUCN Category 1b definition – which is excellent but global and thus relatively generalised.

Far from being a dilution of the IUCN definition, the Wild Europe definition thus is widely regarded as considerably strengthening the credibility and practical implementation of wilderness in Europe.

IUCN Category 1b definition of wilderness

“Large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence, without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.”

The Wild Europe definition

“A wilderness is an area governed by natural processes. It is composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. It is unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.”

Building on the IUCN definition

There are key elements in the Wild Europe definition of wilderness which in practice help it to build effectively on its Category 1b origin, focusing for a European context:

  1. Minimum size is stipulated by the Wild Europe definition. This aspect alone is critical. Under the IUCN 1b Category definition there are for example many areas of only around 50 hectares; this is fine for the USA and other countries that also have large tracts of ‘real’ wilderness by any definition. However a more rigorous approach is felt necessary for the wilderness concept to be credible in crowded and highly developed Europe.
  2. Clear specification on the impact and location of human activities and artifacts is offered by the Wild Europe definition, with zonation principles and a set of criteria. It is difficult in practice to protect and restore wilderness areas in Europe, where human presence is almost ubiquitous, without these specific elements.
  3. A strong stance, in practice, on prohibition of extractive uses in core zones and their regulation in buffer and transition zones. Again, the extra rigour provided by the Wild Europe definition lends credibility to the concept, a clear standpoint for other land uses which could otherwise encroach.
  4. Specific stipulations on natural processes – particularly important in identifying the component elements of a wilderness in order to protect or reconstruct it in a European context where such process have often been substantially altered
  5. Other – there are less significant differentiations as well, for example of the presence of large mammals, and stipulations on volume of visitors

The Wild Europe definition of wilderness is intended to provide a practical holistic approach: whether in an ecological, economic (non extractive), psychological, aesthetic or spiritual sense.

Illegal road threat to Romanian National Park

Construction of the illegal 66A road has reached the core area of Domogled National Park in the Carpathians threatening a key area of old growth forest, designated as an Intact Forest Landscape.

A road to nowhere? Protesters against illegal constructionA road to nowhere? Protesters against illegal construction

Approval by the Romanian National Environmental Protection Agency has not been granted due to the reported deficiencies in the environmental impact assessment, including lack of review of the impact of the road itself.

Representatives from local organizations organized a protest camp at the construction site this summer and there is a growing movement against the road, with thousands signing an online petition and liaising through Facebook.

The second section of the road, from Campu lui Neag to Campusel in Hunedoara county, has already been built – without approval of the Environment Protection Agency or the Retezat National Park administration.

It is the third phase, also illegal, which now threatens the core area of Domogled’s ancient forests.

Protesters regard this issue as symptomatic of a wider disregard for safeguarding supposedly protected areas, particularly such a key example of wilderness heritage with its rich biodiversity.  On this latter point alone, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the road construction appears to significantly under-report the range of species present.

Local NGOs commissioned a biodiversity counter-study and asked the National Environment Protection Agency not to approve the project.

„The preliminary results of the counter-study already show that the biodiversity here is much higher than stated in the beneficiary’s study”, said Luminiţa Tănasie, WWF Programme Director in Romania. “For example, until now we have registered 109 distinct points where large and medium mammals cross the road. The assessment commissioned by the beneficiary discovered only one bear trace. We found 26 bat species, whereas the beneficiary said that there are no bats in the area. We found 34 breeding places for reptiles and amphibians, as opposed to only two in the beneficiary’s assessment. The differences are significant and they cannot be ignored by the National Environment Protection Agency”.

”But above all to us this road is symbolic of the disregard for protected areas in Romania. The European Commission has already instigated several penalty procedures against the country for not complying with the law when it comes to nature protection”, Tănasie added.

For further information, see this WWF article (external link): Romanian authorities ignore NGO invitation to discuss the 66A road

Malgorzata Gorska, Poland

Malgorzata Gorska winner of Goldman Prize for saving Rospuda Valley

Malgorzata GorskaMalgorzata Gorska

When plans were drafted in 1996 for a motorway linking Warsaw with Helsinki, the so-called ‘Via Baltica’, the proposed route threatened the wild Rospuda River Valley in North Eastern Poland.

With its extensive network of peat bogs and undisturbed forests, Rospuda is home to a rich biodiversity of species including wolf, bear, lynx, beaver, eagle and orchids.

Notwithstanding its classification as a Natura 2000 site, the route would not only devastate Rospuda, but also despoil three other key Natura sites: Augustow and Knyszyn Primeval Forests along with the internationally acclaimed Biebrza Marshes.

Malgorzata Gorska, an activist with the Polish Society for Protection of Birds, set to work collecting data to develop a case against the motorway route, forming a coalition of conservation NGOs, organizing legal representation and galvanizing public support.

When this failed to halt the motorway plans, she took her case to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, arranging a visit for MEPs and scientific advisors to the Rospuda Valley and convincing them of the need to change the route.

The European Court of Justice subsequently called for a halt to further construction under European law, whilst back in Poland the courts found the route to be in violation of national law.

In March 2009 the Polish government to its credit agreed to a change of route, preserving all four sites.

A landmark victory for wild areas

This decision not only represents a landmark in Polish environmental history – virtually the first time protection of a wild area has taken precedence over an important economic objective – but also provides an invaluable model for other groups across Europe on how planning, orchestration of collective support and careful targeting of pressure it is possible to win sensible compromise against even the most powerful vested interests.

Carpathian Convention

New protection measures announced for Carpathian forest

Primeval beech forests of UkrainePrimeval beech forests of Ukraine

The threat of logging is still widespreadThe threat of logging is still widespread

Old growth forest should receive greater protection following signature of a Protocol on ‘sustainable forest management’ by ministers from the 7 Carpathian Convention countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine

Clarification of how the Protocol will be implemented on the ground is still needed, but it does specify identification and protection of virgin forests.

This initiative comes at a time when old growth forest wilderness has, for the first time, been specifically cited in the EU Biodiversity Strategy. It also follows recent legislation on illegal logging – and coincides with the Wilderness Register which started being being developed for the EC during 2012.

Areas to be covered

Roughly 300,000 hectares of old growth forest still remain across the Carpathian mountains, generally in less accessible areas.

Much of this is still under threat of logging – both legal and illegal – particularly in Romania where only 18% of the estimated 250,000 hectares of virgin forest are in protected areas; with state held land being restituted to its former owners, the problem has accelerated in recent years – large scale felling has occurred even in national parks.

The first task involves identification of genuine old growth forest, replacing the looser terminology that applies the ‘virgin’ label across many conditions and age categories. An assessment conducted in 2009 in Slovakia for example found only 0.47% of forests were truly old growth as against 2% previously estimated. Similarly, a survey of a Biosphere Reserve in Bulgaria on the border with Greece, found that forest previously categorised as old growth was in fact substantially managed.

The Protocol is also aimed at over 10,000 hectares of beech forests in Eastern Slovakia and Ukraine

Opportunities for restoration

In addition to protection of forest, a key objective of the Protocol is also to promote substantial restoration – both enlarging this habitat and reinstating the full integrity of its natural processes: improving ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, general water cycle operation and carbon sequestration, and prevention of soil erosion and landslips.

This can be linked to a key goal of the EU Biodiversity Strategy – restoration of 15% of degraded habitat by 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See VIDEO of Daniel Calleja

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

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

See VIDEO of Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel

Key elements of protection strategy launched

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

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

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

Consultation for a consensus approach

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

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

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

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

See conference programme

Biography of speakers, session chairs and workshop coordinators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please give us your feedback on the strategy:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Feedback requested on this document

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

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

Possible key elements of the Strategy

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

Suggested objectives for the Strategy

Short-term (18 months)

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

Medium term (3-5 years)

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

Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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[1] Document available on request

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Currently led by Kees Bastmeijer

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

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

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

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

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

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

How wilderness contributes to the Green Infrastructure programme

The importance of wilderness and wild areas to a fully functioning ecosystem has been consistently promoted by Wild Europe.

Undisturbed ‘wilderness’ habitats have higher carbon storage capacityUndisturbed ‘wilderness’ habitats have higher carbon storage capacity

The EU’s Green Infrastructure programme under the former 2010 Biodiversity Strategy sought to establish priorities for restoration, in particular as related to Target 2 which focused on reinstatement of 15% of degraded ecosystems in Europe by 2020.

This target has been widely missed, and establishing a large scale restoration strategy forms a key objective in the 2020-2030 Biodiversity Strategy.

“There is much the EC can do to enhance the already substantial contribution of wilderness to its Green Infrastructure programme – and it isn’t just about paying the bill. Facilitating new and innovative funding opportunities from ecosystem services and other sources is an equally important role”, said Toby Aykroyd, Wild Europe director.

“The Green Infrastructure programme should also promote a strong protection agenda, focusing for example on inclusion of wilderness – particularly all remaining old growth forest – in forest management plans. It’s far cheaper to keep an existing ecosystem intact than to restore a degraded one.”

The benefits of wilderness and wild areas have a substantial role to play in supporting the objectives of the Green Infrastructure programme.


Benefits for biodiversity

It is widely known that wilderness and wild areas harbour key species that gain most from remoter, less disturbed locations. Such areas provide a crucible for ongoing evolution and a base point for assessing the health of natural processes generally. They support more resilient natural ecosystems and larger gene pools, aiding species adaptation and migration in response to climate change.

Less well recognized are their socio-economic benefits, which can enable restoration, and expansion of existing areas, as well as creation of new areas and connectivity corridors between them.

Ecosystem services addressing climate change

Undisturbed, unmanaged forests and wetlands have significantly higher carbon sequestration capacity than their more managed counterparts. Business-based initiatives by Wild Europe partners to gain carbon funding for conservation from wetland restoration are already proving successful, and the initiative will shortly be extended to forests.

Restoration of large-scale natural habitat areas can mitigate downstream floodingRestoration of large-scale natural habitat areas can mitigate downstream flooding

The same arguments can apply to other ecosystem services, including flood mitigation (through watershed or lowland sink locations), improved water-table retention and pollution alleviation.  Restoration of large natural ecosystem areas in upland watersheds and lowland sinks can help mitigate flooding which currently causes millions of euros of damage to downstream buildings, infrastructure and agricultural production.

The substantial size of these wilderness areas, together with the effectiveness of their natural processes (eg carbon or water storage) enables them to deliver ecosystem service benefits on a significant scale likely to attract a wide and sustainable range of funding from private as well as public sources: including corporations, public utilities, insurance and local authorities not traditionally supportive of conservation. This opportunity applies as much to restoration as to protection projects: for example the overall reduction in carbon dioxide from net emissions from land used for (often marginal) agriculture to net storage by subsequently restored natural habitats can create a considerable impact on climate change – and raise funding in the process.

The EC role here could be as much about facilitating the potential from ecosystem services as providing policy or funding support. For example, to encourage carbon sequestration initiatives, it could:

  • promote a more substantial voluntary PES market, with a compliance market like the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) to follow
  • facilitate development of common measurement standards for PES market services, and a validation & monitoring framework – building on entrepreneurial standards already being established
  • encourage greater usage of Greened Authorised Amount units (AAUs) and RMUs (CO2 removal units) by member states – focusing initially on accredited intermediaries eg in Romania, Bulgaria
  • consider inclusion of old growth forestry (higher carbon storage capacity) in the ETS

Economic benefits from non-extractive activities

Nature tourism, recreation and many forms of special event are well suited to large natural areas, bringing important income and employment to communities and landholders in remoter regions where alternative livelihoods are least in evidence. A range of reforms are needed, however, to ensure such enterprises are based on sound business practice – which need not compromise the integrity of wilderness principles. Much can be learned from best practice being adopted, for example, in the PANParks network and by the recently established Rewilding Europe initiative. The large scale of the wilderness areas involved enables such activities to occur without compromising important biodiversity goals.

Equally the psychological attributes of wilderness can facilitate a range of relevant remedial therapies that address urban social issues. Wilderness and wild areas are increasingly used for emerging initiatives involving healthcare, youth development, youth at risk and conflict reconciliation. One such venture uses wilderness experience as a key element in forging bonds between former adversaries in the Northern Ireland conflict; there are moves to replicate this in the Balkans.

Although so far involving relatively small numbers, these sort of initiatives have important and quantifiable societal benefits and can be developed as models for wider application. These benefits are as relevant for the N2000 network as for Green Infrastructure programmes. They enable engagement with the rural development programme by supporting business enterprise and bringing funding, and their relation to urban social issues can help the conservation sector to gain attention in the mainstream political arena with a profile that it has not adequately achieved through more traditional advocacy approaches.

Wilderness restoration creates livelihoods as well as ecosystem servicesWilderness restoration creates livelihoods as well as ecosystem services

EC support for the role of wilderness in Green Infrastructure

There are many ways in which the EC can support wilderness restoration and protection through the EU Biodiversity Strategy and other mechanisms, eg:

  • ensuring existing and forthcoming legislation and guidance is understood and complied with
  • providing and encouraging appropriate funding support for restoration and protection projects
  • facilitating linkages between ecosystem services and funding benefits for conservation, landholders and communities – as outlined above
  • coordinating the DG programmes to minimize avoidable cross purposes – eg between connectivity (DG Environment) and infrastructure integration (DG Transport)
  • linking wilderness restoration opportunity and its socio-economic benefits to reallocation of funding from reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy
  • promoting dedicated financial provision by LIFE, Structure and other funding sources
  • encouragement of innovative capital and fiscal proposals currently being promoted by Wild Europe to fund wilderness area creation and protection

Wilderness and natural process restoration

Case Study 1····
Watershed restoration links with rural development

A seedcorn grant of 55,000 euro by European Nature Trust has been turned into a major 5 million euro riparian restoration programme along 50 km of river in Northern Scotland, attracting contributions from landowners and the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

Resulting connectivity corridors of native trees up to 400 meters wide are improving water quality, with benefits for biodiversity and fishing, as well as increased retention of precipitation and reduction in downstream flood potential.

This initiative demonstrates the benefits from reinstatement of natural processes and habitats – a key principle of wild area and wilderness restoration, echoing for example the much larger-scale Danube catchment initiatives.

Case Study 2····
Carbon funding from wetland reinstatement

Corporate funding from purchase of carbon offset units is enabling the transformation of extensive areas of uplands, degraded by decades of drainage and overgrazing, into wetlands with greatly enriched biodiversity.

In this win-win scenario the funding obtained is split between a payment for the landowner and the costs of restoration. A substantial surplus is also generated for wilderness and wild area related conservation elsewhere: including the breeding of European bison and wildcat.

Potential for wider application

Both these projects demonstrate clearly how restoration of natural processes and habitats can support the Green Infrastructure agenda, with potential for replication elsewhere.

Wild Europe strategy for wilderness: a driver for Green Infrastructure

Wild Europe’s strategy for wilderness dovetails in well with five key aspects highlighted by the European Commission during its preliminary consultation:

1. Making the concept operational

Wild Europe’s threefold emphasis on protection, restoration and communication strategy is grounded in a practical consensus for landholding, forestry, farming, business, urban social as well as conservation interests.

This also involves a core/ buffer/transition zoning approach to design and management of wilderness areas that enables reconciliation of different sector land use objectives while operating key wilderness principles  [see Definitions].

Development of guidance for non-intervention management, currently underway through the EC, will enable adoption of appropriate standards for wilderness in the field – enhancing its contribution to ecosystem services provision and biodiversity.

2. Making the concept integration compatible

With its emphasis on economics and business specialists working fully in tandem with conservationists, Wild Europe believes it is vital to achieve linkage between sectors, paralleled by linkage among the EC Directorate Generals (DGs) – Environment, Clima, Agriculture, Transport and Energy in particular.

We are promoting multi-sector alliances to support CAP reform, particularly relating to marginal agriculture and land abandonment. The aim is to create large new natural habitat – wilderness – areas that can link to the rural development agenda as well as supporting the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

3. A coherent approach to spatial planning

This is a vital element, with wilderness and wild areas being planned as part of a broader context that enables improved productivity in commercial forestry and agricultural areas and links with urban recreational, hydrological, environmental and social requirements

The zonation approach [see Definitions] enables flexible and practical integration with these multiple spatial interests, as well as supporting the connectivity agenda.

4. Providing funding possibilities

As emphasised above, Wild Europe is focusing on identifying new as well as traditional funding sources, through the private sector (philanthropy, corporate, recreation and tourism) and public institutions (education, healthcare, probationary services) in addition to more traditional NGO, agency, governmental and EC provision. We are also assessing a range of capital input and fiscal funding opportunities.

Our agenda is as much about promoting appropriate policy as actual sourcing: eg facilitating linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and relevant funding flows. It is important to work closely with the TEEB 3 programme, promoting a cost-benefit valuation approach to project work.

New capital and fiscal initiatives can also prove important. Three of these for example involve: application of biodiversity offsets from aggregates and landfill levies at regional level; consolidation of future CAP liabilities into a Net Present Value format to match fund land purchases; buying land, establishing wilderness management covenants and reselling it.

5. The international agenda

This figures highly in our initiative, not least through broad-based partnership of international conservation NGOs. The CBD ecosystem linkage objectives are central in our strategy, with objectives from Nagoya in 2010 and Rio+12 later this year being a key emphasis.

There are also growing connections to other international fora – eg the 2009 World Wilderness Congress which produced the 11/09 Merida Declaration on ecosystems and climate change, the Convention on Migratory Species, the RAMSAR convention and UNESCO’s EuroMAB. There has, above all, been strong endorsement from the international conservation community.

If we in Europe are seen to protect and restore large wilderness and wild areas of undisturbed natural habitat and process, and do so moreover for economic and social as well as conservation motives, that sends powerful signals to less developed countries still determining the fate of their much larger and more pristine natural areas of habitat and wildlife.