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.

Protection measures announced for Carpathian forest in 2011

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

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

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[1] Document available on request

[2] Promoted by Wild Europe

[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.

2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy – a great step forward for wilderness

This Strategy is currently under review. It will be replaced by the 2020 – 2030 version, for which Wild Europe is providing a range of inputs.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy published in 2011 has been an important step forward for wilderness and wild areas across Europe.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik introducing the Biodiversity StrategyEU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik introducing the Biodiversity Strategy

Wilderness was specifically included, for the first time – and furthermore directly in the context of forest protection (Target 3B Action 12). With old growth forest still being lost on a daily basis, this is the most urgent requirement on our agenda currently.

Such inclusion will help with promotion of the Wilderness Register and of non intervention management approaches – both important elements in a protection strategy supported by Wild Europe.

There is an ambitious aim of restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020 (Target 2). This reflects the Nagoya declaration. It also relates to the CBD’s 3rd Global Biodiversity Outlook report in 2010 which identified 200,000 sq kms of marginal and abandoned land in Europe where large scale ‘re-wilding’ (their term) with reinstatement of natural processes, habitats and species could significantly boost global conservation objectives.

There is, as expected, key focus on the economic benefits of biodiversity and in particular the role of ecosystem services in addressing climate change. This offers a further opportunity to prove and extend the remit for wilderness as an important element in EU European conservation strategy.

There are also many other elements in the EU Biodiversity Strategy through which the wilderness cause can be advanced, including issues such as connectivity, genetic diversity and resilience to invasive species.

This applies equally to wilderness and wild areas in EU and non EU states in Europe, with opportunities to support the latter through direct funding, neighbourhood agreements and trade policy.

Next Steps

With only 17% of the habitats and species and 11% of ecosystems theoretically protected under EC law actually identified as being in favourable condition, there is much that the wilderness cause can offer to European conservation.

Wild Europe will now be finalising development of its Wilderness Strategy and, within this, its proposals for Restoration Strategy and CAP reform – linked closely to support for the main objectives of the EU Strategy and its twin pillars of Natura 2000 and green infrastructure.

For a full version of the new Biodiversity Strategy, see: An EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020

Read more: Benefits of wilderness in supporting EU Strategy targets

Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change

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

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

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

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

Urgent review of biomass policy

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

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

Impacts on biodiversity and illegal logging

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

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

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

‘Non intervention’ management guidelines in operation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next steps

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

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

The need for consensus

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

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

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

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

Background to the guidelines

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

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

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

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

What is non-intervention management?

So what are the different approaches to management?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing climate change

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

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

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

Naturalistic management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost effectiveness

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

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

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

Intervention management

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

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

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

Intervention management is not acceptable in core areas of wilderness.

Forest with large areas of cut down pine trees
There are widespread threats to wilderness across Europe. Attribution: Horatiu Hanganu, Wild Europe Carpathia programme

Wilderness Register developed

The Wilderness Register identifies and records the most important sites in the EU. It thus lays the basis for monitoring and addressing prospective threats, as well as developing individual strategies for protection.

Bearing in mind targets for strictly protecting 10% of the EU’s terrestrial area in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the Register also provides a key stage in creation of a Europe-wide network of linked areas.


The concept for the Register was originally developed by Wild Europe and promoted to the European Commission in a proposal document.

The go-ahead for this initiative was announced in November 2010 at Wild Europe’s EC Presidency Conference on Restoration by Stefan Leiner, then Head of Unit for Natura 2000 at the European Commission.

Areal photograph of lakes and forests
Karelia – one of Europe’s most valuable remaining widerness areas

Following its development by Alterra Consultancy, the Wildland Research Institute and PAN Parks Foundation, the Register was launched in 2013.

Creation of the Register has highlighted these unique elements of Europe’s natural heritage”, said Toby Aykroyd who coordinated the initial drafting for the Register. “Further extension of the network can bring multiple benefits from carbon storage, flood mitigation and ecotourism. We need to build a consensus among for this all parties, so local landholders and communities can gain.

The next step will be to develop a Stage II Register to include non-EU countries which contain some of the largest, most relatively pristine wilderness areas remaining in Europe. Additionally it can provide signposting for capacity building to secure funding benefits from sensitively managed non-extractive enterprise; these will in turn enhance protection.

Addressing the threats

Many areas of wilderness or wild land across Europe are under threat from inappropriately located logging, extraction for bioenergy burning, infrastructure development, over-grazing and other farming impacts, mining and climate change.

Damaged and logged pine trees
…..yet the destruction of old growth forest continues

Before effective plans can be drafted for their protection, it is important to have accurate and updated information on the precise location of these areas, together with all their relevant characteristics – including threats and opportunities for addressing these.

A wide welcome

Since the Register was developed it has been widely welcomed, as providing de facto recognition for the qualities of those areas so far recorded.

Just having the Register can help provide protection” according to John Loof Green of the Swedish conservation group Nordic Forests. “Many timber interests are responsible and practice sustainable logging. But where companies are still logging priceless old growth forests to make cardboard and nappies, as is still happening in parts of my country, they ……. now think twice”. 

For further information on the Wilderness Register please visit the EC website.