Update shows wide use in 2020 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.
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.
Sumava National Park (Czech Republic) is using the definition to play a key role in long-term wilderness planning, 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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.