EU Guidelines on wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000
Natura 2000 protects areas of high biodiversity value across the European Union. It is the largest coordinated multi-national network of protected areas in the world, covering more than 18% of the European terrestrial territory of the Member States, as well as significant marine areas. As establishment of Natura 2000 nears completion the focus is increasingly shifting to the effective management and restoration of sites in the network. Ensuring a fully functional Natura 2000 network is central to achieving the EU target of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020.
Protection and restoration of wilderness and wild areas has gained increasing attention in recent years. Wilderness and wild areas are not explicitly mentioned in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives but applying a wilderness approach to the management of Natura 2000 sites is seen compatible with the provisions of the Directives. Furthermore, scientific evidence shows that wilderness areas are resilient against pressures affecting biodiversity and should be considered an important tool in helping achieve biodiversity targets. Wilderness areas inside and outside protected areas could, for example, deliver an important element of Green Infrastructure. This is because of the various ecosystem services these core areas could potentially deliver, and also their function as a reservoir of biodiversity that can be drawn upon to re-populate and revitalise degraded ecosystems.
The EU Natura 2000 network is generally not a network of strictly protected areas in which no economic activities should take place. Therefore in most Natura 2000 sites, a wilderness approach will not be the most appropriate form of management, because a wilderness approach advocates non-managed areas. However, in specific cases, a wilderness approach can be the most appropriate or even necessary management approach. For example, some specific Natura 2000 sites host habitat types and species of ‘Community interest’, whose maintenance or restoration to a favourable conservation status is dependent on some degree of wilderness qualities and natural processes. And there will be sites for which a wilderness approach can be useful but not necessarily the only way to restore or maintain the species and habitats at a favourable conservation status. This guidance document is applicable to those specific Natura 2000 sites: