Much Wilder Than You Think It Is… Europe!

August 2016 | Volume 22, Number 2

by Vance G. Martin

People often ask me what I consider the most exciting place “for wilderness.” Expecting something exotic and super-remote, they are always surprised when I say that Europe is high on my list. That said, it was not true in 1983 when we convened the 3rd World Wilderness Congress (WWC) in Scotland. We chose Scotland to promote the wilderness concept and to protect the wild reality in that corner of the globe. It was also chosen to celebrate the Celtic “nature-awe” and kinship with wildness. However, a change occurred some 10-15 years ago when we first began to receive reports of wilderness recovering across Europe – in virtually all areas – and of a return of wildlife never before experienced in contemporary history.

What a pleasure it is to report to you that my excitement toward Europe remains high on my list today, with the continuing return of wild nature across the world’s most densely populated continent. In places we never think of as wilderness, amazing things are occurring. The wolf is expanding from Italy and eastern Europe into Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and even into the Netherlands. The European wisent (European bison) has also been reintroduced and is thriving. In the wilder parts of Europe, private sector initiatives thrive, including the Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, or community-based wildlands conservation in the Danube Delta in the south, or in Laponia in northern Sweden. The Wilderness Foundation (UK) continues a 35-year history of taking people into wilderness areas for therapy and self-discovery, while many other efforts in the long-settled (but not fully tamed!) United Kingdom are restoring wild nature, such as the world-acclaimed Trees for Life in Scotland. One of the outcomes of the 3rd WWC was the Associazione Italia per la Wilderness, reported on many times in IJW, and still pioneering wilderness designations across Italy. There are so many more!

As part of this remarkable chain of events, just a little over two years ago in October 2013, WILD10 (the 10th World Wilderness Congress) convened in Salamanca, Spain. Reported on in the April 2014 issue of IJW, planning that Congress survived the complete collapse in 2011 of the Spanish economy and a general recession across Europe, to produce a series of outcomes still in play as well as empowering a growing wilderness movement in Europe today. Two years of collaborative planning culminated in WILD10, which explored the phenomenal resurgence of wild nature across Europe and leveraged that return with enhanced media (characterized by the remarkable Wild Wonders of Europe, which provided the cover images for this issue), new information, new initiatives, then articulating it in A Vision for a Wilder Europe, a policy framework prepared for and presented at WILD10 to the European Commission and the Council of Europe (and recently both updated and translated into German).

In this issue of IJW, Tina Tin and River Yang examine the development of wilderness in both the Chinese mind and culture. Frans Schepers and Paul Jepson discuss rewilding Europe as it continues to expand and create new models of wild nature-based solutions. Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe reports on the continuing expansion and strengthening of wilderness policy in Europe. And the relatively new Rewilding Britain, announced at WILD10 by columnist and author George Monbiot (Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding), is now a fully functioning, on-the-ground organization. These initiatives and reports bring fabulous news that should inspire and encourage us. We need such vision, good news, and new models … and, amazingly … coming from Europe – such an interesting and wild place!

VANCE G. MARTIN is president of WILD Foundation, chairman of the WildernessSpecialist Group (IUCN/WCPA), and associate editor of the International Journal of Wilderness; email: