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European Wilderness Definition

European Wilderness Definition

European Wilderness Definition

Wilderness areas represent a vital element of Europe’s natural and cultural heritage. In addition to their intrinsic value, they offer the opportunity for people to experience the spiritual quality of nature in the widest experiential sense – beyond mere physical and visual attributes, and in particular its psychological impact. They also provide important economic, social and environmental benefits, including ecosystem services, for local communities, landholders and society at large. Wilderness performs several functions better than modified landscapes. Among these are:

  • Conserving Biodiversity
  • Protecting Ecosystem Services
  • Connecting Landscapes
  • Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide
  • Building Knowledge and Understanding of Natural Processes
  • Inspiring People

The concept of wilderness has gained considerable momentum in Europe during the last 15 years. A milestone was the adoption of the “European Parliament Resolution on Wilderness in Europe” in 2009. In February 2009, the Wild Europe Initiative (WEI) started a collaborative effort to promote the wilderness concept amongst several European nature conservation organizations, such as PAN Parks/European Wilderness Society, EUROPARC, WWF, BirdLife International, IUCN, UNESCO, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), Rewilding Europe, and including personnel from the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

European Wilderness Definition

All Wilderness and Wild Areas undergo a detailed audit to verify their compliance with the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System. Wilderness is for the purpose of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System defined as:


Natural processes govern wilderness core zones meeting the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System “Gold- or Platinum Standard”. They are composed of native habitats and species, and large enough for the effective ecological functioning of natural processes. They are unmodified or only slightly modified and without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance.

Wild Area

Wilderness core zones meeting the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System “Bronze- or Silver Standards” are wild areas that have a high level of predominance of natural process and natural habitat. They tend to be individually smaller and more fragmented than the “Gold- or Platinum Standard” wilderness areas, although they often cover extensive tracts. The condition of their natural habitat, processes and relevant species is however often partially or substantially modified by past human activities such as livestock herding, hunting, fishing, and collecting berries and mushrooms.

Wilderness thus means:

  • No Human extraction e.g.
    • No hunting
    • No logging
    • No mineral collections
    • No mining
    • No grazing
    • No commercial berry and mushroom picking
    • No deadwood collection
  • No Human intervention e.g.
    • No disease or alien species control
    • No restoration measures
    • No fire control
    • No game management
    • No active restoration
  • Open ended undefined natural dynamic processes


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