REPORT on Wilderness in Europe

5.12.2008 - (2008/2210(INI))

Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
Rapporteur: Gyula Hegyi

Procedure : 2008/2210(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected :  


on Wilderness in Europe


The European Parliament,

–   having regard to Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive)[1],

–   having regard to Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive)[2],

–   having regard to the European Union's ecological network of special areas of conservation established by the two above-mentioned Directives, called the "Natura 2000" network,

–   having regard to the outcome of the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity,

–   having regard to the report No 3/2008 of the European Environment Agency (EEA) "European forests - ecosystem conditions and sustainable use",

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (A6‑0478/2008),

A. Whereas the effective protection and, where necessary, restoration of Europe's last wilderness areas are vital to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010,

B.  Whereas the target to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010 will not be achieved and the negative social and economic impact of biodiversity loss and declining ecosystem services are already being felt,

C. Whereas the European Union should build on current achievements such as Natura 2000 and develop a significantly strengthened and ambitious new policy framework for biodiversity after 2010,

D. Whereas the Birds and Habitats Directives provide a strong and workable framework for the protection of nature, including wilderness areas, from harmful developments,

E.  Whereas the objectives of the European Union's biodiversity policy and of the Birds and Habitats Directives are still far from being properly integrated in sectoral policies, such as agriculture, regional development, energy or transport,

F.  Whereas many wilderness areas provide important carbon stocks, whose protection is both important for biodiversity and for climate protection,

G. Whereas the impacts of invasive alien species on biodiversity constitute a particularly serious threat to wilderness areas, where early detection of invasive species may not be possible, and where significant ecological and economic damage may occur before action can be taken,

Definition and mapping

1.  Calls on the Commission to define wilderness; the definition should address aspects such as ecosystem services, conservation value, climate change and sustainable use;

2.  Calls on the Commission to mandate the EEA and other relevant European bodies to map Europe's last wilderness areas, in order to ascertain the current distribution, level of biodiversity and cover of still-untouched areas as well as areas where human activities are minimal (divided into major habitats types: forest, freshwater and marine wilderness areas);

3.  Calls on the Commission to undertake a study on the value and benefits of wilderness protection; the study should particularly address the issues of ecosystem services, the level of biodiversity of wilderness areas, climate change adaptation and sustainable nature tourism;

Developing wilderness areas

4.  Calls on the Commission to develop an EU wilderness strategy, coherent with the Birds and Habitats Directives, using an ecosystem approach, identifying threatened species and biotopes, and setting priorities;

5.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to develop wilderness areas; stresses the need for the provision of special funding for reducing fragmentation, careful management of re-wilding areas, development of compensation mechanisms and programmes, raising awareness, building understanding and introducing wilderness-related concepts such as the role of free natural processes and structural elements resulting from such processes into the monitoring and measurement of favourable conservation status;considers that this work should be carried out in cooperation with the local population and other stakeholders;


6.  Calls on the Commission and Member States to co-operate with local non-governmental organisations, stakeholders and the local population to promote the value of wilderness;

7.  Calls on the Member States to launch and support information campaigns to raise awareness among the general public about wilderness and its significance and to cultivate the perception that biodiversity protection can be compatible with economic growth and jobs;

8.  Calls on the Member States to exchange their experiences of best practices and lessons learned about wilderness areas by bringing together key European experts to examine the concept of wilderness in the European Union and place wilderness on the European agenda;

9.  In view of the well-documented damage which tourism has inflicted, and continues to inflict, on a great deal of Europe’s most precious natural heritage, calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that tourism, even if focusing on introducing visitors to the habitats and wildlife of a wilderness area, is handled with extreme care, making full use of experience gained inside and outside Europe on how to minimise its impact, and with reference, where appropriate, to Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. Models where wilderness areas are for the most part closed to access (outside of permitted scientific research), but where a limited part is opened to sustainable high-quality tourism based on the wilderness experience and economically benefiting local communities, should be considered;

Better protection

10. Calls on the Commission and Member States to devote special attention to the effective protection of wilderness areas;

11. Calls on the Commission to detect immediate threats linked to wilderness areas;

12. Calls on the Commission to develop appropriate recommendations that provide guidance to the Member States on the best approaches for ensuring the protection of natural habitats;

13. Calls on the Commission and Member States to protect wilderness areas by implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive[3] and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[4] in a more effective and more consistent way, with better financing, in order to avoid the destruction of these areas by harmful, non-sustainable development;

14. Welcomes the review of the Birds and Habitats Directives with a view, where necessary, to amending them to provide better protection for threatened species and biotopes;

15. Calls on the Commission to accept the Wild Europe Initiative, a partnership of several nature conservation organisations including IUCN, IUCN-WCPA, WWF, Birdlife International and PAN Parks, with a strong interest in wild lands or nearly wild areas;

Wilderness and Natura 2000

16. Calls on the Commission, in cooperation with stakeholders, to develop guidelines on how to protect, manage, use sustainably, monitor and finance wilderness areas under the Natura 2000 network, especially with regard to upcoming challenges such as climate change, illegal logging and increasing demand for goods;

17. Expresses deep concerns for European biodiversity policy due to lack of funding for management of the Natura 2000 network; in this context, calls on the Commission to prepare, as foreseen in the Habitats Directive, Community co-funding for the management of sites in Member States;

18. Calls on the Commission to give a special status to and stricter protection for wilderness zones in the Natura 2000 network;

19. Considers that rural development policy and the integration of environmental protection into the EU agricultural sector must be reinforced; judges, however, the Rural Development Fund insufficient to finance biodiversity and wilderness conservation in terms of resources and its programming and expertise;

20. Calls on the Commission to ensure that the Natura 2000 network will be strengthened further to become a coherent and functioning ecological network in which wilderness areas have a central place; stresses the need for coherent policies, in particular in, the common agricultural policy, transport, energy and the budget in order not to undermine the conservation objectives of Natura 2000;

Invasive alien species

21. Calls on the Commission and Member States to work together to develop a robust legislative framework on invasive alien species that tackles both ecological and economic impacts arising from such species and the particular vulnerability of wilderness areas to this threat;

Wilderness and climate change

22. Calls on the Commission to monitor and assess the impact of climate change on wilderness;

23. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to set wilderness conservation as a priority in their strategy to address climate change;

24. Calls on the Commission, in the context of climate change, to undertake research and provide guidance as to when and how human intervention can manage wilderness in order to preserve it;


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25. Expresses its strong support for the strengthening of wilderness-related policies and measures;

26. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and Commission, and to the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

  • [1]  OJ L 103, 25.4.1979, p. 1.
  • [2]  OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7.
  • [3]  Directive 2000/60 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (OJ 327, 22.12.2000, p. 1).
  • [4]  Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (OJ L 164, 25.6.2008, p. 19). 


The word Wilderness means the 'virgin' areas, a natural environment that has not been significantly modified by human activity. These areas are core areas for nature. Wilderness areas are places where nature processes and wildlife thrives. These areas are large areas of land or sea, which - together with its native plant and animal communities and the ecosystems of which they are a part - is in a natural state, and where major human interference needs to be avoided. Still some 46 % of the world’s land mass is wilderness.

Wilderness has a double perception. On one hand it is viewed as a place to fear and avoid, where monsters and unknown dangers exist. On the other hand it seems as a place to enjoy and contemplate, as a place which gives us a temporary asylum from the stress of the urban-industrial civilization. There are serious debate on the advantages and disadvantages of our Wilderness cult; some says for instance that it gives us permission to evade responsibility for the places where we actually live. There is also a distinction between the concept of conservation (proper use of nature) and of preservation (protection of nature from use). These philosophical debates are above of the level of a report like this. However your Rapporteur is on the conversation’s side, at least here in Europe.

We have to protect the nature, but through human use. The territory of Europe is too small to have forbidden areas for its citizens. Forests today cover the 33% of the land area of the countries of the EEA region corresponding 185 million hectares (ha). Only about 9 million hectares of forests (5% of the total forest area) is considered as "wild". These areas together with its native plant and animal communities and the ecosystems of which they are a part, is in an essentially natural state. These wilderness areas should afford opportunity to ensure effective and special protection status. There are many reasons, why Europe should have closer look at wilderness areas. First of all, as a refuge many species and genetic reserve, which are unable to survive even in slightly altered conditions, especially large mammals, like brown bear, wolf and lynx. There are also many species which are waiting to be discovered and describe. Most of them live in the soil or in rotting timber and they are highly sensitive to changes. These undisturbed areas are perfect to examine the natural changes in nature, the evolution. Also the knowledge that these areas are ruled by nature, gives a special and unique tension, which can be used economically in developing new tourism products. At the same time these areas are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of man-made environmental changes occurring outside their boundaries, such as climate change, the introduction of invasive alien species and changes to river systems upstream of these areas. Finally there are also many purely ethical reasons to keep wilderness in Europe. We have moral obligation to ensure the future generation can enjoy and benefit from Europe's real wild areas. Sustainable tourism development is used as a means to give economic value to wilderness and to create support for conservation.

Sustainable tourism is an important part of the use of the Wilderness in Europe. Sustainable tourism encourages ordinary people to discover the hidden values of the nature without causing damage to it. Sustainable tourism strengthens the acceptance of the conservation policy, as the citizens understand the need for protection through their persona experience. Sustainable tourism helps to economically maintain Wilderness, and provides job opportunities for the conservation experts.

There is an interesting initiative for the combination of Wilderness programs and sustainable tourism in Europe, the PAN (Protected Area Network) Parks Foundation (PPF). PPF manages a network of protected areas that are still the last untouched lands in Europe. The aim of the already ten years old PPF is sustainable tourism in these areas. There are already ten PAN Parks throughout Europe from the Artic Circle to the Mediterranean. PPF stimulate tourism in order to create new supporters for conservation. There is a very strict threshold for the wilderness area. There must be at least 10.000 ha of the territory still in natural state, which excludes extractive human uses. PAN Parks wilderness zone standard:

It is required that there is an ecologically unfragmented core/wilderness zone of at least 10.000 ha where no extract uses are permitted and where the only management interventions are those aimed at maintaining or restoring natural ecological processes. The size of the core/wilderness zone has not been reduced in the past.

PAN Parks Wilderness Zones:

Wilderness conservation is the most significant achievements of the PAN Parks concept and part of PAN Parks Core Purpose. Here is short summary of this achievement:

· Archipelago National Park (Fi):            10.600 ha

· Bieszczady National Park (Pl):             18.425 ha

· Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Ge):          50.325 ha (non EU)

· Fulufjället National Park (Se):             22.140 ha

· Oulanka National Park (Fi):                           12.924 ha

· Central Balkan National Park (Bg):                 21.019 ha

· Majella National Park (I):                              25.500 ha

· Paanajärvi National Park (Ru):             30.000 ha (non EU)

· Retezat National Park (Ro):                           14.215 ha

· Rila National Park (Bg):                                 16.350 ha

· Total certified wilderness:                          226. 498 ha

· European Union member states:                 146.173ha

This approach create unique opportunity to least partially solve a problem with growing number of abundant areas throughout Europe and create small but vital network of wilderness protected areas.

There is a coalition of European NGOs such as the PAN Parks Foundation Europarc Federation, Eurosite, Wild Europe, Birdlife International and WWF, which support the improved protection of Europe’s wilderness heritage.

The European network of Natura 2000 already covers the most valuable and bio-diverse areas of the European Union. This means that at least a big part of European wilderness is protected under the Natura 2000. What we need to do is respond to this challenge. 13% of the forest zone of the 27 EU member states is designated as Natura 2000 sites, under EU Birds and Habitats directive. Natura 2000 provides a flexible framework which asks Member States to formulate conservation objectives, and protect and manage the sites in a way that restores or maintains the favourable conservation status of the species and habitats for which the sites are designated.

There is no need for a new legislation concerning Wilderness, but it is highly recommended to give a special role and extra protection for Wilderness zones inside Natura 2000. That's why European Commission should develop appropriate recommendations that provide guidance to the EU Member States on best ways of ensuring the protection of present and potential wilderness or wildlands and their natural processes, which are likely covered by the Natura 2000. This should include: definition of wilderness for European Parliament, mapping of Europe's last wilderness area, because we shall know the distribution and the current cover of still untouched area (divided in major habitats types: forest, freshwater and marine wilderness areas), establishment of a study on the value / benefits of wilderness protection, development of wilderness guidelines for the Natura 2000 network, including an European wilderness strategy. Funding should be allocated for reducing fragmentation, careful management of re-wilding areas, development of compensation mechanism and programmes, awareness, building interpretation, tourism packages, measuring and improving management effectiveness.


Date adopted





Result of final vote







Members present for the final vote

Adamos Adamou, Georgs Andrejevs, Margrete Auken, Irena Belohorská, Johannes Blokland, John Bowis, Martin Callanan, Dorette Corbey, Magor Imre Csibi, Chris Davies, Avril Doyle, Mojca Drčar Murko, Jill Evans, Matthias Groote, Françoise Grossetête, Satu Hassi, Gyula Hegyi, Jens Holm, Marie Anne Isler Béguin, Holger Krahmer, Linda McAvan, Riitta Myller, Miroslav Ouzký, Vladko Todorov Panayotov, Vittorio Prodi, Frédérique Ries, Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, Guido Sacconi, Richard Seeber, Kathy Sinnott, Glenis Willmott

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Iles Braghetto, Christofer Fjellner, Johannes Lebech