Last week I talked with the organisers of the 10th World Wilderness Congress (WILD10) that will take place in Salamanca, Spain from 4 to 10 October 2013. The agenda is global, but WILD10 will obviously have a European focus. HM Queen Sofia of Spain has agreed to be the Honorary President of WILD10.
In May 2009, more than 230 representatives from governments, conservation agencies, NGOs and academic institutions met in Prague at the “Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas” hosted by the Czech European Union Presidency and the European Commission. This conference launched the Wild Europe movement, and the Re-wilding Europe initiative.
IUCN has a global definition that reads that: “wilderness areas are usually 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 conditions”. The Wild Europe Initiative has developed its own definition of wilderness in Europe, which is aligned with the IUCN wording.
In both cases the emphasis is on the low level of modification and the lack of human habitation. That made me think what wilderness really means in West Europe, as I have always believed that one of the features of the landscape in Europe is the fact that a lot has been modified over the centuries, and very little is really undisturbed. Is there really much true wilderness left in West Europe?
Restoring degraded land to nature is the objective of the Re-wilding Europe initiative which aims to create at least 1 million hectares of new wild lands in Europe. The first five areas that they are tackling are mainly in the eastern part of Europe, and while I applaud their efforts, I wonder where to find land that can be restored to wilderness in West Europe. My second concern is how wild these new areas will be, taking into account competing interests from farmers, developers and tourists.
These issues will be part of the discussions at WILD10 next year, but if you have any views now, it would be nice to get your reaction.
It is now July 2013, and the Wild10 congress is only a few months away. The latest information is on their website.
The question of what wilderness means in Western Europe remains, and I welcome your thoughts.
You may not have realised that the landscape in Europe needs restoration, but the 2010 biodiversity assessment by the European Environment Agency reports that 65% of habitat assessments in the EU are unfavourable, and only 17% is in good shape. Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy therefore focuses on restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems in Europe by 2020, and this is fully in line with the global Aichi target 15.
Will the discussions in Spain result in improvement of the state of nature for Europe? We will have to wait and see!