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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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” 

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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

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.