EC Presidency Conference points the way to large scale restoration

Kurt Vandenberghe - Wilderness was included in the new EU Biodiversity StrategyKurt Vandenberghe - Wilderness was included in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy

Hailed as a timely success, the Conference initiated development of an effective strategy for restoring natural habitat and process to very large areas. A broad range of proposals was provided by participants.

Organized in Brussels on 16th and 17th November by Wild Europe, the Conference took place just a week after the Nagoya summit with its urgent call to halt the loss of global biodiversity.

With the current recession in mind, emphasis throughout was on the potential for such restoration to deliver cost:effective outcomes for the Natura 2000 network, both within the EU and relevant conservation initiatives in neighbouring states.

There is unprecedented opportunity for large scale restoration of wilderness and wild areas. The CBD’s 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook published in mid 2010 defined potential for ‘rewilding’ 200,000 km2 of marginal and abandoned land across Europe. This is paralleled by a key objective announced at Nagoya which targets restoration of 15% of degraded lands by 2020.

The restoration strategy outlined by the Conference will now be developed through a wider inter-sector consultation exercise.

Key announcements for wilderness

Stefan Leiner - A Wilderness Register would be developed in 2011Stefan Leiner - A Wilderness Register would be developed in 2011

A considerable boost was provided for this strategy towards the end of the conference by two announcements:

Kurt Vandenberghe, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Potocnik, declared that, for the first time, wilderness was formally included in the EU Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy.

This follows representations by Wild Europe and supporting organizations, and should have a significant positive influence on provision of policy and funding support.

Stefan Leiner, Head of Unit for Natura 2000, delivering the final presentation which summarised recommendations from the conference, confirmed that implementation of a Wilderness Register would proceed in 2011. Wild Europe had provided proposals for this.

This will be of relevance to newly restored as well as existing wilderness and wild areas.

There is an Agenda and a list of Presentations from the conference.

A background of great opportunity

Jo Mulongoy – global significant of wild area restoration in EuropeJo Mulongoy – global significant of wild area restoration in Europe

Jo Mulongoy, Head of Science for the CBD in Montreal who opened the conference along with Ladislav Miko, Director of Natural Environment at the European Commission, hailed the opportunity for restoration of large wild areas with natural processes, habitats and wildlife in Europe as a contribution to global biodiversity objectives.

This had already been cited in the CBD’s 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook. It was now further enshrined in the Nagoya Strategic Plan, not least in the target for restoring 15% of degraded land by 2020, as well as associated documents and COP 10 decisions.

Ladislav Miko spoke of the need to adopt an ecosystem approach based on natural processes in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, underlining a three pronged plan: protecting existing wilderness, restoring large wild areas, and reinstating natural processes on marginal farm and forestry land.

Ladislav Miko - the conference can contribute significantly to EU Biodiversity StrategyLadislav Miko - the conference can contribute significantly to EU Biodiversity Strategy

Natural process restoration and non intervention management were cost-effective. In addition to its intrinsic and spiritual worth as our natural heritage, and its importance for biodiversity, wilderness offered significant economic benefits from tourism and ecosystem services that was especially valuable in time of recession.

A comprehensive definition of wild area restoration was then provided by Vlado Vancura, conservation director for PANParks Foundation. This engaged a spectrum of opportunity from existing wild areas needing relatively minor transition management to become ‘wilderness’ - to the wholesale restoration of natural process and habitat on marginal farmland, for which there was extensive potential.

The Million Project, to protect a million hectares of wilderness across Europe, was a key parallel initiative recently launched by PANParks.

If they can do it….

This overview was followed by presentations highlighting success stories already achieved – even in the most unlikely parts of the EU’s original economic heartland.

Alan Bowley, Senior Reserves Manager for Natural England, explained how formerly fertile croplands in East Anglia were being converted into thriving examples of landscape scale ecosystems producing multiple benefits of carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and tourism revenue for local communities - as well as substantial biodiversity gains.

Christof Schenck from The Foundation for Natural Landscapes outlined a similar picture for purchase and restoration of former military training areas in Brandenburg, Germany – where a target for wilderness on 2% of national territory has been set by 2020.

The achievement of riverine floodplain re-establishment across central eastern Netherlands was highlighted by Johan Bekhuis, Ark Foundation; partnerships with local community and business, cultural and social interests and innovative fund raising were all important facets.

Three stories of restoration in the old EU heartland - former cropland in England, military land in Germany, and riverine floodplain in NetherlandsThree stories of restoration in the old EU heartland - former cropland in England, military land in Germany, and riverine floodplain in Netherlands

The agenda then widened to encompass actual and potential restoration opportunity across Europe.

Magnus Sylven, international consultant former director of WWF Europe & Middle East, provided an overview of how an ecosystem approach focused on natural processes and species reintroductions was an increasingly important aspect of conservation policy in a growing range of countries, illustrating this with examples that included forest, wetland, natural grazing and connectivity schemes.

From vision to practicality – 1 million hectares

Wilderness in the Eastern Carpathians, Frans Schepers WWF Netherlands  Wilderness in the Eastern Carpathians, Frans Schepers WWF Netherlands

The vision for future restoration potential was linked with current practicality by Frans Schepers, Programme Leader for the Rewilding Europe initiative (Wild Europe Field Programme), who announced establishment of five areas, each with a minimum of 100,000 hectares where community focused restoration initiatives based on wilderness principles are to be initiated throughout Europe.

Chosen from many candidate sites following an initial presentation at the Wild Europe conference in Prague in May 2009 these include: Western Iberia, Velebit (Croatia), Danube Delta (Romania), Southern Carpathians (Romania), and Eastern Carpathians in the borderlands of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine; this latter area alone could extend to some 250,000 hectares.

The launch of Rewilding Europe, also in Brussels, took place immediately following the conference, on 18th November, moderated by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien van Oranje of the Netherlands.

The rationale for restoration

Harvey Locke, Vice President of Wild Foundation (US) provided a timely reminder that ‘wilderness’ or ‘will of the land’ originated as a European term. He pointed out that restoration of abandoned farmlands along with connectivity is well established practice in North America, achieving the benefits for conservation and ecosystem services already evident from existing schemes in Europe and providing capacity for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Some of the key drivers underwriting the potential for wild area restoration were outlined in the following three sessions.

David Baldock, director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), assessed current and likely future scenarios for land abandonment, relating these to commodity price trends, reform of Common Agricultural Policy, global competitiveness and more localized economic and cultural phenomena.

Lech river: restored to its natural hydrological process – Anton Vorauer WWF AustriaLech river: restored to its natural hydrological process – Anton Vorauer WWF Austria

These suggested an overall prospect equating to 3 or 4% of Europe’s land area, allowing comfortable spatial capacity for large scale restoration targets.

The ecosystem services benefits that can flow from such opportunity were sketched by two specialists: Hugh Fullerton Smith director of the European Nature Trust for carbon sequestration and Anton Vorauer from WWF’s Alpine Programme on flood mitigation using the example of the Lech river in Tyrol.

Both emphasized the economic gains from innovative funding – just one project for carbon offset identifying 4.5 million euro of direct funding potential.

Esa Härkönen, Senior Advisor for the Metsahällitus forestry agency (Finland) paralleled these benefits by demonstrating the impact of ecotourism and other non extractive activities associated with wild areas in providing sustainable development for local communities and the wider regional economy – often in remoter areas where the income and employment secured had considerable effect.

Wild by Design – new landscapes, natural ecosystems

Large herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ surrogate can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat – Pierre Devilliers CMSLarge herbivores such as this ‘auroch’ surrogate can help retain biodiversity-rich mixed habitat – Pierre Devilliers CMS

For its next stage, the conference went on to assess requirements for effective restoration ecology within the overall Strategy. Paul Grigoriev, Programme Coordinator for IUCN’s European Office, chaired a session involving examination of four key elements of restoration ecology.

  • Process: Vania Proenca from Lisbon University underlined the impact of abandonment, assessing the benefits of natural process restoration for biodiversity and local economies. She addressed the need for self-sustaining ecosystems with resilience to climate change and fire risk - the latter particularly important in the Mediterranean region.
  • Management: while non intervention was appropriate for existing areas of wilderness, naturalistic management involving extensive grazing by natural herbivore substitutes such as auroch can play a key role in maintaining a species rich habitat mosaic in newly restored areas. Feiko Prins for the Large Herbivore Foundation also made it clear that natural process management could be cost-effective, although sensitive local communication was required on landscape changes and interactions between wildlife and livestock.
  • Connectivity: linkage of existing and newly restored wild areas is important to strengthen gene pools and enable migration and adaptation in the face of climate change. Giacomo Luciani from the UN Environmental Programme in Vienna explained the example of the Carpathian Convention in establishing corridors though seven countries, with links to the Austrian Alps through the AKK project.
  • Reintroductions of keystone species was championed by Pierre Devilliers Chair of the Scientific Council for the Convention on Migratory Species, as a vital element for ensuring a balanced, healthy ecosystem. There was a moral and cultural as well as ecological imperative to ensure ‘space for nature’, reinstating herbivore and carnivore species formerly present.
Reappearance of keystone species, essential for a balanced ecosystem – Pierre Devilliers CMSReappearance of keystone species, essential for a balanced ecosystem – Pierre Devilliers CMS

Day 2 – Developing the Strategy

A tale of two restorations

The Dutch Econet, international linkage of wild areas The Dutch Econet, international linkage of wild areas

Day Two, Wednesday 17th November, began with two very different but highly significant examples, showing both the challenges and opportunities for a visionary Restoration Strategy.

Chris Kalden, Director General of Staatsbosbeheer, originally a timber producing agency now managing a large proportion of Dutch protected areas and promoting the benefits of nature conservation based on natural processes, began by outlining the National Ecological Network - targeting no less than 17% of national territory by 2018 and extending into Belgium and Germany.

This policy had been achieved by close inter sector cooperation backed by political will. One of its crown jewels, the Oostvaardersplassen, has become an internationally iconic neo-urban wild area with a envisaged expansion that aims to double its size to some 18,000 hectares at a cost of around 400 million euro, an ambitious project of the Province of Flevoland. To manage a wild area in an urban and commercial agricultural setting means that one has to deal sensitively with conflicting value orientations.

In stark contrast was the equally widely applicable model of wild forest restoration undertaken in the Bayerischer Wald (Bavaria, Germany) since its establishment as a national park in 1970.

The ‘Wild Heart of Europe’, Sumava-Bayerisch Wald spans the Czech Bavarian borderThe ‘Wild Heart of Europe’, Sumava-Bayerisch Wald spans the Czech Bavarian border

Hans Keiner, Deputy Director of the Park, demonstrated how natural process reinstatement and non intervention management - even following die back across large areas of forestry caused by windfall and bark beetle - can produce highly beneficial biodiversity outcomes that provide significant benefits for local communities and the wider economy, creating nearly 1000 jobs in the ‘Wild Heart of Europe’.

Since 1999 the area has been linked in a transboundary initiative with Sumava in the Czech Republic.

Building consensus between sectors

Wider replication of such examples can best be achieved through building a consensus on benefits among different sectors. The next session exemplified this, with three presentations from very different perspectives.

Forest restoration – natural processes can offer conservation, ecosystem and tourism income for landholders – Daniel Vallauri, WWF FranceForest restoration – natural processes can offer conservation, ecosystem and tourism income for landholders – Daniel Vallauri, WWF France

Representing the landholder and farmer viewpoint, Marie-Alice Budniok of the European Landowners Association, outlined a number of schemes being developed that demonstrated how private sector estates could gain from restoring natural habitat and processes, given appropriate incentive. There is great potential for closer linkage with conservation interests here.

The viewpoint of the forestry sector was explained by Daniel Vallauri of WWF France, focusing on opportunity for consensus to address the technical challenges of ‘wild area’ forest restoration.

Social benefits from wilderness help address urban social problemsSocial benefits from wilderness help address urban social problems

Whilst clarifying the benefits of such restoration, he also stressed the need for the Strategy to identify effective procedure to resolve prospective conflicts from windfall, bark beetle and fire risk.

Jo Roberts, Director of the Wilderness Foundation UK, spoke of the opportunity for urban social programmes derived from wild area experience.

The next steps will be to identify and promote clear scientific evidence for development of large potential markets in youth development, youth at risk, healthcare and conflict resolution.

TEEB and the economic value of wild areas

Moving the conference on to the economic core of wild area restoration, Giacomo Luciani of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Vienna Office introduced presentations on valuation, business and funding potential.

Pavan Sukhdev – rewilding landscapes across 200,000 km2 in Europe offers cost effective opportunity for biodiversity objectivesPavan Sukhdev – rewilding landscapes across 200,000 km2 in Europe offers cost effective opportunity for biodiversity objectives

Pavan Sukhdev, the coordinator of the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and head of UNEP’s Green Economy initiative, stressed the crucial importance to a Strategy of a framework to quantify benefits, and costs, of restoration projects.

These must reinforce rather than supplant more traditional views of the intrinsic value of nature, but experience worldwide - as exemplified in Nagoya - has shown that ‘returns on investment’ are often high and thus important in gaining policy and funding support.

Emphasis on natural process efficiency is a strong card for wild areas, especially in time of recession with even fewer resources for conservation funding.

Business has a key role in helping deliver these benefits for local communities and landholders. But Neil Birnie, Chief Executive of Conservation Capital Ltd, stressed the need for wilderness conservation objectives to be explicitly stated from the outset.

A new approach was required, more rigorously driven by business practice, and initiatives he proposed to underpin this included a private sector Investment Fund for new low impact ventures, a European Ecotourism Network with focus on wild areas, and development of the Business for Wilderness Forum initiated at the Prague conference in 2009.

Marianne Kettenun from IEEP rounded off this economic focus by considering a range of funding options: better use of existing sources along with effective development of innovative grant, fiscal and private sector capital instruments as well as new markets for services. Multiple benefits of wilderness enabled address of a correspondingly broad set of EC related opportunities – including EU Structural Funds and Social Funds, alongside a reformed CAP and further LIFE schemes. Diversity was the key.

These key drivers were then linked by Alberto Arroyo, Natura 2000 policy coordinator for WWF, to an assessment of the EC policy framework. This affirmed the importance of restoration, explicitly cited in the headline target for the post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy. Protection in Natura 2000 areas would shortly be underwritten by guidelines for non intervention management, with emphasis on better implementation of existing legislation.

In the current difficult economic circumstances, wilderness offered a cost:effective approach through operation of natural process. The underlining focus, in EU and neighbouring states, should be on proving and promoting the values of wilderness and wild area benefits.

What do we need to know, and how do we project the knowledge?

Attention turned to what further knowledge was needed to advance the restoration strategy.

Steve Carver, Director of the recently formed Wildland Research Institute in Leeds University, outlined a research agenda which included practical definitions, mapping and guidelines to inform restoration management, together with a scientific underpin for benefits and development of innovative funding mechanisms.

Today’s children in the wild are tomorrow’s committed environmentalists and votersToday’s children in the wild are tomorrow’s committed environmentalists and voters

Helen McDade, Policy Director for John Muir Trust, then stressed the importance of including wild areas in the education curriculum – both to reinforce appreciation of the value of conservation, and unlock the great potential for social wellbeing from experiential learning. Of the 100,000 people completing the JMT Award for environmental projects, nearly a quarter are from socially excluded groups.

Amid ever lessening contact with nature, direct experience was the most powerful means of building future support for its protection, among children but also politicians and other decision takers.

Wilderness in the Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy

Kurt Vandenberghe, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Potocnik in the European Commission, delivered the keynote presentation - declaring that, for the first time, wilderness was formally included in the EU Post 2010 Biodiversity Strategy.

This follows representations by Wild Europe and supporting organizations, and should have a significant positive influence on provision of policy and funding support.

Referring to the successes (such as ABS) as well as the challenges arising from the Nagoya conference, he cited grounds for optimism through adoption of a green agenda. So far a wilderness was concerned, the restoration agenda fitted well with growing recognition of the value of wild areas and their delivery of ecosystem and other services - as well as the need for focusing on productivity in use of existing resources for conservation outcomes.

The Restoration Strategy should in particular seek to interface with the EU Biodiversity Strategy, CAP reform opportunities, Cohesion Funding and the Green Paper on Forestry Strategy

Communication - the power of imagery

A ‘hearts and minds theme’ was central to Staffan Widstrand’s presentation on communication.

Communicating wilderness to hearts and minds – Staffan Widstrand, Wild Wonders of EuropeCommunicating wilderness to hearts and minds – Staffan Widstrand, Wild Wonders of Europe

As founder-director of the Wild Wonders of Europe photographic initiative, he sketched the need for a communication strategy for restoration to have a two pronged approach – for the ‘heart’ of the general public and how to capture it with imagery, emotion, mass communication – and the ‘mind’: ie decision takers in government, the institutions, conservation, business and other sectors.

The power of such imagery was a background theme to the conference.

After the formal close of Day 1, on 16th November, there was a social reception featuring two films – both outstanding examples of creative communication. First, the internationally acclaimed entrée for global Year of Biodiversity made by Wild Wonders of Europe, depicting … the wonders of wild Europe, with emphasis on opportunity for restoration.

Then came Keeper of the Wilderness – a visually stunning story of how Ticha Valley, a formerly burned forest and degraded pastureland in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, has over the last 50 years become a haven for rich biodiversity, symbolized by healthy populations of brown bear, red deer and wolf.

Gyula Heguy coordinator of the massively supported Resolution for wilderness and its restoration from the EU ParliamentGyula Heguy coordinator of the massively supported Resolution for wilderness and its restoration from the EU Parliament

Gyula Hegyi, who as MEP coordinated the EU Parliamentary on improved protection and funding for wilderness in 2009 by a massive 538 votes to only 19, was well placed to speak on the importance of communicating the right messages to the right ears.

He defined a number of key decision taking points where representation of the value for wilderness and the need for its restoration could have most impact.

Inputting amendments to proposed legislation via a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) was one way in which individuals could get involved. On a broader basis, it was important to take decision takers and journalists into wilderness areas – they understood the moral, conservation and economic arguments once these were explained, but the impact of direct experience was especially enlightening.

There is also potential to develop closer links between the Environment, Climate and Employment and Social Affairs DG among others.

Building the restoration strategy

Central to the proceedings were two sets of workshop sessions where participants contributed their individual expertise.

On Day 1, alternative visions for restoration over 25, 50 and 100 years were laid out – an important exercise given what is by definition a long term concept, but anchored firmly in economic, business, policy and social as well as ecological and biodiversity principles.

This base of practical vision was built on during Day 2 by a further set of participant workshops – covering assessment of the need for new policies and incentives, biodiversity benefits of wilderness, the role of corporates in funding and the sustainability agenda, building a standard ‘toolkit’ for restoration, and development of a communications strategy.

The Wilderness Register – a significant step forward for wild area protection in Europe – Daniel Vallauri WWF FranceThe Wilderness Register – a significant step forward for wild area protection in Europe – Daniel Vallauri WWF France

Stefan Leiner, Head of Unit for Natura 2000, delivering the final presentation provided a thorough summary of recommendations from the conference.

He highlighted five elements in particular: measures to support a more rigorous business based approach for developing local community capacity to gain from ecotourism and other non extractive activities, the importance of building cross-sectoral consensus behind a restoration strategy, planning restoration projects within a clear cost-benefit framework, and focusing on improved delivery from existing resource as well as seeking new funding.

He also confirmed that implementation of the Wilderness Register produced by Wild Europe will proceed in 2011. This will be of relevance to newly restored as well as existing wilderness and wild areas.

Next Steps

Hailed as a significant success, the EC Presidency conference on restoration has produced many new initiatives.

The conference deliberately avoided framing any rounded conclusions on a restoration strategy. This needs to be based on more comprehensive consultation over the next few months – involving landholding, forestry, farming, business, regional development and urban social as well as conservation interests across Europe.

However a large number of valuable recommendations will be carried forward. These included:

  • promoting the modification and strengthening of existing restoration policies and incentives, with proposal for some new measures – albeit within existing legal frameworks
  • a ‘toolkit’ for practical restoration procedure – planning, management and ancillary aspects (funding, coordination, communication, administration)
  • promoting individual opportunities and initiatives for benefit-based restoration: enlarging and strengthening existing areas, creating new areas, implementing effective linkage
  • further development of practical definitions and mapping in support of this, together with promotion of a general research agenda
  • sharing best practice on identification, valuation and usage of wilderness benefits
  • identifying improved mechanisms for gaining from these benefits, particularly ecosystem and social services
  • development of supportive instruments for local community and landholder enterprise
  • fund raising – improved usage of existing resource, facilitating access to new sources, development of innovative instruments
  • promotion of education and urban related social projects
  • building joint approaches based on common ground with landholding, forestry, farming, business, social and other interests
  • a ‘hearts and minds’ communication strategy, including representation of the value of wilderness to key decision takers – via local, national and regional government and institutions
  • emphasis on sustainable, long term protection of restored areas
From Ireland to the Urals – Europe wide opportunity for large scale restorationFrom Ireland to the Urals – Europe wide opportunity for large scale restoration

Coupling ambitious vision with hardheaded economic and political reality offers unprecedented potential to bring substantial benefits to conservation across Europe - from the West coast of Ireland to the Ural Mountains in the East.

Value to global biodiversity

As the CBD and the targets resulting from the Nagoya conerence make clear, the value of such strategy to global biodiversity objectives can also be significant.

If we in Europe are restoring natural processes, habitats and wildlife in our crowded and developed continent - and doing so moreover for economic and social as well as conservation motives - we stand a greater chance of persuading those countries with much larger remaining areas of relatively pristine ecosystem to protect their own natural heritage.

See also:
Conference Agenda
Presentations