WHAT IS WILDLAND? - some online and published definitions

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The Wilderness Act 1964 -  USA

National Park Service Act 1916 -USA

Canada National Parks Act 2000

Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories – IUCN, 1994

Protected Area System in Australia

PAN Parks wilderness 1999

National Parks & Wildlife Service - Ireland

Zone Planning - Permaculture and wildland

Beyond Conservation – a wildland strategy 2005

Where are the wildest places in Britain? 2002

Self-willed Land 2003

Wild Britain - A Partnership for Community, Commerce and Conservation 2002 NEW

Natural Woodland: Ecology and Conservation in Northern Temperate Regions 1996

Ancient Woodland

National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPG 14): Natural Heritage, The Scottish Office 1998

Wild Land Policy - National Trust for Scotland 2002

Wildness in Scotland's Countryside - Scottish Natural Heritage 2003

Wild Land Policy - The John Muir Trust 2004

Last updated 28th April 2007


Definitions of wildland in Britain are compromised by exploitative, perceptual and historical contexts, the relative merits of which are incessantly argued over as each person brings their own particular slant or self-interest. This review makes use of an array of definitions from around the world that can be found online or published in books. The review is anchored by some definitions from North America since they arise from a developed policy framework, legislation and an applied operational reality. Perhaps one day, we will also have this as well.

If you have other examples of online or published wildland definitions, please send them to me.

The Wilderness Act 1964 - USA

In 1924, Aldo Leopold, forester and ecologist, persuaded the Forest Service to protect the 574,000 acre Gila National Forest of New Mexico for wilderness recreation. This was in effect the first Government-protected wilderness in the world. Six years later, Congress enacted the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act to protect over 1 million acres in the Superior Primitive Area in Minnesota -the first federal law in American history to protect a wilderness area.

In 1955 Howard Zahniser, Executive Director of the Wilderness Society, wrote a first draft of a Wilderness Bill. This Bill would designate lands to be protected from any form of resource extraction. Subsequently, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964. The Act provides for a national system of wildland in America. In Section 2(c), it defines wilderness as:


"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

"An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."


The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) was created with the passage of the Wilderness Act. It started out with 9.1 million acres within 54 individual wilderness areas. During passage of the Act some political compromises were made to allow activities that are generally incompatible with wilderness. Special provisions in the Act allow for the use of aircraft and motorboats in certain cases; the control of fire, insects, and disease; mineral exploration and mining; public water projects; livestock grazing; commercial services; and jurisdiction of the states with respect to management of fish and wildlife on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands.

The Wilderness Act expressly prohibits commercial enterprise, roads, use of motor vehicles, motorboats, and structures and installations in wilderness (with some narrow exceptions). However, many of these activities could be allowed by specific entities under the special provisions section of the Act, often as a result of an acceptance of existing rights or permits (“grandfather rights”) such as for mining or grazing. By identifying this section of the Act as ‘special provisions’, it acknowledges that the provisions in this part of the Act do not conform to the core concepts and stewardship principles described elsewhere in the Act.

Most of the wilderness areas created under the Act were located in the western states. A few years after the passage of the Act, the Forest Service opposed the designation of new wilderness in West Virginia as it argued that eastern woodland was not without a significant history of human disturbance and thus did not qualify for wilderness designation. In 1975, Congress passed the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act which aimed to include eastern wild areas in the NWPS that showed evidence of human use but were now returning to a natural state. The Eastern Areas Act recognized that in the more populous eastern half of the United States, there was an urgent need to identify, study, designate, and preserve areas for addition to the NWPS. The Act included a clutch of new wilderness designations in the Eastern states, including designating the Dolly Sods and Otter Creek Wilderness Areas in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia.

Today, the NWPS has grown to include more than 106 million acres within 644 wildernesses. Wilderness in the United States comes in many forms, including glaciated peaks, swamps, natural beaches, eastern forests and sweeping desert. While many are in remote places, they can often be found inside or bordering national parks and national forests.

Administration of this federally owned land is split between the Forest Service - 34.7 million acres (US Dept. of Agriculture), Bureau of Land Management - 6.2 million acres, National Park Service - 44 million acres; and the Fish & Wildlife Service -20.6 million acres (all US Dept of the Interior). About 4.4% of the continental US is protected as wilderness, although just over half of the land area is in Alaska. The largest wilderness is Wrangell St. Elias, Alaska - 9,767,944 acres, and the smallest is Pelican Island, Florida - 5 acres.

The compromise of Special Provisions in the original Act has left a difficult legacy, with a recently proposed bill for new wilderness in Idaho including transfer of an amount of public land into private ownership for any local rancher willing to retire some or all of their public lands grazing permit. This transfer of public lands into private ownership as a special provision in exchange for gaining wilderness designation is not supported by wilderness organisations who believe that the grazing allotments should be bought out instead. Even then, vigilance is always required as designated wilderness is often under threat from illegal grazing, as well as other exploitative practices such as commercial fungi gathering and bear hunting for organs.


National Park Service Act 1916 - USA

National parks in America were created by individual acts of legislation, starting with the first anywhere in the world in 1872 with Yellowstone. Four more national parks were created in the 1890s: Sequoia, General Grant (forerunner of King's Canyon), Yosemite and Mount Rainier. By 1916, the Department of Interior oversaw 14 national parks and 21 national monuments, but without effective administration. Thus that same year, President Wilson signed into law the National Park Service (NPS) Act, also referred to as the Park Service’s "Organic Act", setting up a park service in the Dept. of the Interior to manage those national parks and monuments. An important provision in the law states the purpose for which these federally owned parks are to be managed:


"to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."


The young National Park Service dealt mostly with natural areas west of the Mississippi. A number of historic battlefields and forts in the east had previously become national military parks and monuments, but under War Department supervision. Other national monuments established in national forests fell under the Department of Agriculture, while memorials and park lands of the nation's capital came under a separate office there.

In a 1933 government reorganization, all of these areas were united under Park Service administration forming a single national park system. A third variety of national park lands further enlarged the system in the 1930s - areas intended to serve mass recreation at least as much as to preserve natural or cultural features. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Natchez Trace Parkway, begun as Depression-era public works projects, were carefully landscaped for "recreational motoring" over scenic and historic terrain. Although new parks still arrive from time to time, the last major expansion of the system came in 1980 when Congress directed additions in Alaska totalling some 47 million acres. These spectacular national park lands more than doubled the acreage of the system. Presently, the National Park System has grown to 376 areas.

The Organic Act is often characterized as having a "contradictory mandate" that requires the NPS to perform a "balancing test" - balancing between resource protection and public enjoyment. That "contradictory mandate" is said to draw the Park Service in two quite opposite directions with respect to its primary mission, and the inability to resolve the apparent contradiction has resulted in inconsistencies in management policies. This has led to inappropriate and, at times, illegal decisions being made with respect to park resources and values.

A recent lawsuit at Canyonlands National Park in 2000 precipitated a renewed examination of how the Service interprets the non-impairment clause. The park service had prepared a Backcountry Management Plan (BMP) for Canyonlands and Glen Canyon that would have eliminated off-road vehicle (ORV) use on a 10-mile segment of Salt Creek, the only perennial freshwater stream in the park. ORV user groups were distressed by the proposed closure, and so the park adopted a plan that would allow some limited continued use under a permit system, while conducting monitoring and assessment activities that would determine whether the reduced level of use still caused harm to the area.

The park was then sued by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) on the ORV issue and lost in court. The District Court ruled that where there is "permanent impairment of unique park resources," then the Organic Act is not ambiguous: the activity cannot be allowed. The District Court ordered that the park could not allow motorized vehicle use on the 10-mile section of trail.

Sometimes an impairment may be present before the NPS assumes responsibility for managing a park. The park's legislative history is normally reviewed to see if it contains some indication of whether Congress intended that the Service would take remedial action, or that the apparent impairment would be tolerated or "grandfathered." The NPS no-impairment policy takes into account the provision of the 1978 "Redwood amendment" which recognizes that the conditions that create an impairment are sometimes "directly and specifically provided by Congress."

Congress has thus established broad policies on specific topics such as concessions management and protecting wild and scenic rivers. Congress has included in the enabling legislation for many parks specific policies applicable to those parks, which may sometimes vary markedly from the generic legislation. For example, Congress has authorized hunting in some units of the park system.


Canada National Parks Act 2000

Canada's national parks system began in 1885 when the federal government reserved "from sale or settlement of squatting" 26 square kilometres around the hot mineral springs near what is now the town of Banff. In 1897, the Rocky Mountains Park Act officially set aside the Banff Hot Springs Reserve. By the 1930 enactment of the National Parks Act, there were 14 parks.

Twenty national parks had been established by the 1960s, but there was no systematic approach. National system planning, the idea of establishing the parks according to an organized set of principles, emerged and a framework was first published in 1971. In 1988, Parks Canada introduced a scientific approach of ecosystem management based on the need to maintain ecological integrity - that is, a system that is unimpaired and thriving. The federal government's vision is to create a national parks system that represents each of Parks Canada's 39 natural regions.

Ecological integrity is defined in the Act governing national parks in Canada as:

“a condition that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes."

As explained on the Parks Canada website, ecosystems have integrity when they:


"have their native components intact, including: abiotic components (the physical elements, e.g. water, rocks), biodiversity (the composition and abundance of species and communities in an ecosystem, e.g. tundra, rainforest and grasslands represent landscape diversity; black bears, brook trout and black spruce represent species diversity) and ecosystem processes (the engines that makes ecosystem work; e.g. fire, flooding, predation).


For the National Parks Act and National Parks Regulations to apply, national park lands must be owned by the Government of Canada and free of all encumbrances. Parks Canada apply a zoning system approach by which land and water areas are classified according to ecosystem and cultural resource protection requirements, and their capability and suitability to provide opportunities for visitor experiences. The zoning system provides a means to reflect principles of ecological integrity by protecting park lands and resources and ensuring a minimum of human-induced change.

Two of the five zones, Zone I - Special Preservation and Zone II - Wilderness, provide considerable wildland protection. Zone I is an area within a National Park that deserves special preservation because it contains or supports unique, threatened or endangered natural or cultural features, or is amongst the best examples of the features that represent a natural region. Preservation is the key consideration. Motorized access and circulation is not permitted and, in some cases the fragility of the area precludes any public access.

Extensive areas which are good representations of a natural region are conserved in a wilderness state. The key consideration is the perpetuation of ecosystems with minimal human interference. Zones I and II together constitute the majority of the area of all but the smallest national parks, and make the greatest contribution toward the conservation of ecosystem integrity.

"Zone II [wilderness] areas offer opportunities for visitors to experience, first hand, a park's natural and cultural heritage values through outdoor recreation activities which are dependent upon and within the capacity of the park's ecosystems, and which require few, if any, rudimentary services and facilities. Where the area is large enough, visitors will also have the opportunity to experience remoteness and solitude. Motorized access and circulation is not permitted."

Zones I and II together constitute the majority of the area of all but the smallest national parks in Canada. The other zones - Zone III (Natural Area with Recreation), Zone IV (Recreation Area) and Zone V (Service Area) - are small by comparison.

The zoning system is not statutory. However, the National Parks Act provides for legally designated wilderness areas. Parks Canada has an Action Plan to convert existing wilderness zones (Zone II areas) in National Parks into legally designated wilderness.

The 38 national parks/reserves that now exist occupy about 2.25 per cent of Canada or 222,283 square kilometres. They range in size from just under 9 km2 (St Lawrence Islands National Park) to almost 45,000 km2 (Wood Buffalo National Park). When the system is complete, it is likely to cover about three per cent.



Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories – IUCN, 1994

Faced with over 140 names world-wide for protected areas of various types, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) adopted a single definition:

An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means

The IUCN then brought some order to the diversity by defining categories of protected area, based on the objectives of their management. The following were considered the main purposes:

  • Scientific research

  • Wilderness protection

  • Preservation of species and genetic diversity

  • Maintenance of environmental services

  • Protection of specific natural and cultural features

  • Tourism and recreation

  • Education

  • Sustainable use of resources from natural ecosystems

  • Maintenance of cultural and traditional attributes

Out of these have emerged six distinct categories of protected area in a system intended to have international application:


Protected area name Area managed for
I Strict Nature Reserve / Wilderness Area Strict protection
II National Park Ecosystem conservation and recreation
III Natural Monument Conservation of natural features
IV Habitat/Species Management Area Conservation through active management
V Protected Landscape/Seascape Landscape/seascape conservation and recreation
VI Managed Resource Protected Area Sustainable use of natural ecosystems

The range of categories imply a gradation of human intervention, both in the past and in the future management of the protected area. The IUCN recognizes that the extent of past human modification of ecosystems has been more pervasive than previously thought; and that there is no part of the globe that can escape the effects of long-distance pollution and human-induced climate change. This they believe indicates that no area on earth can be regarded as truly 'natural'. To be able to gauge relative naturalness, the IUCN use a definition that has a cut-off date of European societal development to inform their notion of what is natural:

Ecosystems where since the industrial revolution (1750) human impact:

  • has been no greater than that of any other native species, and

  • has not affected the ecosystem's structure.

 Climate change is excluded from this definition.

Using this definition of naturalness, Categories I to III are mainly concerned with the protection of natural areas where direct human intervention and modification of the environment has been limited; whereas significantly greater intervention and modification will be found  in categories IV, V and VI.


The Guidelines indicate that the size of a protected area should reflect the extent of land or water needed to accomplish the purposes of management. Thus, for a Category I area, the size should be large enough to ensure the integrity of the area to accomplish the management objective of strict protection, either as a baseline area or research site, or for wilderness protection. For a Category II area, the boundaries should be drawn sufficiently widely so that they contain one, or more, entire ecosystems, which are not subject to material modification by human exploitation or occupation.

Though the primary purposes of management will determine the category to which an area is assigned, management plans can contain management zones for a variety of purposes which take account of local conditions (cf. Canadian National Parks). However, in order to establish the appropriate category, at least three-quarters and preferably more of the area must be managed for the primary purpose; and the management of the remaining area must not be in conflict with that primary purpose.

Mangement Responsibility

IUCN believe that Governments have a fundamental responsibility for the existence and well-being of national systems of protected areas. They should regard such areas as important components of national strategies for conservation and sustainable development. The actual responsibility for management of individual protected areas may however rest with central, regional or local government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector or the local community. In practice, protected area categories I-III will usually be the responsibility of some form of governmental body. Responsibility for categories IV and V may rest with local administrations, albeit usually working within the framework of national legislation.

Protected areas are not isolated units and there is an obligation to see that their management is not negated by pressures from adjacent areas. For that reason, the planning and management of protected areas must be incorporated within regional planning, and supported by the policies adopted for wider areas.

Ownership of Land

In many countries ownership by some form of public body (whether nationally or locally based), or an appropriately constituted non-governmental body with conservation objectives, facilitates management and is therefore to be favoured in Categories I-III in particular. In the remaining categories, private ownership will be much more common, often being the predominant form of land ownership.


The IUCN Guidelines provide examples of protected areas that illustrate the differing categories:

Protected Area Reasons for classification


Strict Nature Reserve

Category Ia

Virtually pristine subantarctic islands, free of introduced mammals. Strictly protected to safeguard plant and animal populations, and natural processes. Research and monitoring is permitted. provided they do not have any long-term detrimental effects. There is no access for tourists.

KOOTZNOOWOO WILDERNESS, United States of America

Wilderness Area

Category Ib

Vast, largely uninhabited and protected wilderness of mountains, forest and coastal habitats, providing outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined types of recreation


National Park

Category II

Together with the contiguous Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S.A., Waterton Lakes protects an important ecological unit while providing for tourism


Natural Monument

Category III

Skocjan's cave systems, with their unique flora and fauna, are of outstanding significance. The emphasis of site management is protection that accommodates large numbers of visitors.


Habitat/Species Management Area

Category IV

Haleji and its surrounding seepage lagoons are protected as important staging and wintering grounds for waterfowl. Active intervention is necessary to keep water channels clear and to maintain the habitat suitable for waterfowl.


Protected Landscape/Seascape

Category V

Dartmoor is a landscape that owes its origins largely to traditional hill farming practises. The semi-natural habitat continues to be used extensively for traditional agricultural practises, while becoming increasingly important for recreation. The landscape is protected, with strict controls on planning to ensure that the unique blend of natural and cultural heritage evolved over centuries of human habitation is maintained.


Managed Resource Protected Area

Category VI

Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo is a large, predominantly natural forest that is communally managed to conserve its biological diversity, while providing its semi-indigenous inhabitants with a range of natural products for local use or consumption. Sustainable use of wild resources is restricted to an area of subsistence use that surrounds a strictly protected core.

The 2003 UN List of Protected Areas contains 102,102 protected areas covering more than 18.8 million km2, equivalent to 12.6% of the Earth’s land surface. The overview of global statistics indicates that 67% of the world’s protected areas have been assigned an IUCN management category, covering 81% of the total area protected. Among the categorised sites, the largest number lie within Category IV (Habitat/Species Management Area) and Category III (Natural Monument), but the largest area is covered by Category II (National Park) and Category VI (Managed Resource Protected Area). Interesting continental variations occur: the predominant category of protected area in North America is II (national Park) and that represents 37% of the area under protection. In Europe, the predominant category is V (Protected Landscape/Seascape), and that covers 46% of the area protected.

In Britain, our national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) fall into Category V (see Dartmoor above), our National Nature Reserves (NNR) are in Category IV as are the Marine Nature Reserves. Currently, our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) do not seem to be categorized, but it is likely from their management proscriptions that they will fall in category IV and V. Where is our land protected for values in Categories I-III?

IUCN (1994). Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories. IUCN, Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland

2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK and UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK

World Database of Protected Areas

Protected Area System in Australia

Nearly 70 per cent of all native vegetation in Australia has been removed or significantly modified by human activity since 1788. Australia has lost an estimated 75 per cent of its rainforests, and about 40 per cent of its total forest cover. The rate of land clearance accelerated over time, with as much cleared during the last 50 years as in the 150 before 1945. In addition, the introduction of feral predators and competitors resulted in many native Australian plants and animals becoming extinct or endangered.

Even so, a protected area approach began in the 1860s, when public lands were reserved from sale to protect scenic wonders such as waterfalls, volcanic features and lakes. In 1866 the Jenolan Caves in NSW were declared a water reserve. In 1871 a sizeable area of bushland in Perth WA, ‘Kings Park' was reserved. With the establishment of Yellowstone in America in 1872, the idea of national parks came to Australia, with the dedication of what is now Royal National Park south of Sydney in 1879. In 1915, the Scenery Preservation Board was established in Tasmania, the first authority in Australia created specifically for the management of parks and reserves.

The concept of a national reserve system took a long time to evolve nationally in Australia. Protection of landscapes for their natural qualities followed the adoption in 1972 by UNESCO of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. World Heritage listing became a priority for Australian nature conservation agencies, and was used to protect key Australian landscapes, especially in those States that had previously ignored conservation.

The enactment of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act in 1975 led to the appointment of a Director and the setting up of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Act established an Australian National Parks Fund, and set out the means for the establishment and management of National Parks and other parks and reserves, as well as the protection and conservation of their wildlife.

The Director establishes parks and reserves on publicly owned land, and could designate the whole or a specified part of the park or reserve as a wilderness zone. A plan of management would be drawn up for each park or reserve, and which showed any division of the park or reserve into zones, and set out the conditions under which each zone is kept and maintained.

The objectives in the plan of management were:

  • in the case of a park-the encouragement and regulation of the appropriate use, appreciation and enjoyment of the park by the public;

  • in the case of a reserve-the regulation of the use of the reserve for the purpose for which it was declared;

  • the preservation of the park or reserve in its natural condition and the protection of its special features, including objects and sites of biological, historical, palaeontological, archaeological, geological and geographical interest;

  • the protection, conservation and management of wildlife within the park or reserve; and

  • the protection of the park or reserve against damage.

A wilderness zone had to be maintained in its natural state and would be used only for scientific research authorized by the Director and such recreational and other purposes that were specified in the plan of management. Particular activities were prohibited in a wilderness zone, except where they were for purposes essential to the management of the zone, and were accordance with the plan of management relating to the zone. Thus:

  • no excavation shall be carried on;

  • no building or other structure shall be erected;

  • no works shall be carried out;

  • no timber shall be felled or taken;

  • no tracks shall be established; and

  • no vehicle, aircraft or vessel shall be used

In 1992, the Australian Prime Minister's Statement on the Environment confirmed a commitment to the development, in cooperation with the States and Territories, of a national comprehensive system of parks and reserves. Through this initiative the National Reserves System Cooperative Program (NRSCP) was established and administered by the Australian Nature Conservation Agency.

In 1994 Australia adopted the IUCN definition of a protected area and the internationally recognised IUCN six level system of categories used to describe the management intent as the basis for documenting Australia's various types of protected areas (see earlier for the IUCN Guidelines).

In 1995, the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) established 80 biogeographic regions throughout Australia as a framework for setting priorities within the NRSCP. A Biogeographic Region is a land area composed of a cluster of interacting ecosystems that are repeated in similar form across the landscape. The biogeographic regions of the IBRA are based on factors associated with climate, lithology, geology, landforms and vegetation. The IBRA undergoes revisions and the latest divides the Australian continent into 85 bioregions and with 404 sub-regions. The bioregions and sub-regions are the reporting unit for assessing the status of native ecosystems.

Government now supports three processes to work towards a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) system of protected areas - the National Reserve System (NRS), the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process and the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). The establishment of CAR arose from a requirement in the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity (1996 - see 1.4 Protected Areas). The NRS Program began in the 1996/97 financial year under the Natural Heritage Trust. Of the initial $85 million allocated in the first five years of NRS Program, about $50 million was available for land acquisitions. The program has been extended for a further five years from 2002/03 - 2006/07 under the second phase of the Natural Heritage Trust.

The NRS Program funds projects which use the IBRA to identify gaps in the representation of ecosystems in protected areas, and to set priorities for land acquisition and off-reserve conservation management strategies. Priority for funding new land acquisition is given to those projects which add unrepresented or poorly represented ecosystems to the national and regional reserve system.

The NRS focuses on ensuring rapid and significant improvements in the terrestrial reserve system, and is made up from nine Protected Area systems, one for each of the six States and two self governing Territories, and an Australian Government system. It thus represents the collective efforts of the States, Territories, the Australian Government, and non-government organisations to achieve an Australian system of protected areas as a major contribution to the conservation of its native biodiversity.

Management objectives for all types of reserves in the NRS are required to meet the IUCN definition of a protected area to be considered part of the NRS, and all protected area categories across each jurisdiction have notionally been assigned to one of the IUCN protected area categories.

The vision inspiring the NRS Program is:

"Australian native ecosystems conserved through an innovative and diverse system of protected areas managed for biodiversity conservation across the landscape."

A number of protected areas have been established on indigenous-owned lands (see The Indigenous Protected Area Programme) and a number of private protected reserves have been established under a range of covenanting programs. It is recognized that in order to meet the objectives of the NRS, private landholder involvement is an necessary component through the establishment and management of private protected areas.

To be included in the NRS, an area must be a 'protected area', and it must:

  • be dedicated for the primary purpose of protection and maintenance of biological diversity,

  • be able to be classified into one or more of the six IUCN Protected Area Managed Categories (see above),

  • be managed by legal or other effective means, which encompass both public protected areas managed by government agencies, and privately owned protected areas, including indigenous protected areas, with effective security of purpose, and

  • contribute to the comprehensiveness, representativeness and adequacy of the National Reserve System.

  • be managed in a manner which is open to public scrutiny; and

  • be able to be accurately identified on maps and on the ground

Together the 7,720 protected area reserves of Australia cover 80,895,099 ha, which constitutes just over 10% of its land mass. The non-extractive use Categories I to III constitute the largest group in both number of protected areas (4791) and overall area (65% - 52,960,826 ha).

The Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service ceased to exist when the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 75 was superceded by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Director is still in place, supported instead by the staff of Parks Australia, a division of Environment Australia (the Department of the Environment and Heritage).

In the wider landscape, the EPBC Act is a mechanism for national environment protection and biodiversity conservation by regulating actions that are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance, and by providing protection for threatened species and ecological communities, migratory, marine and other protected species. On biodiversity, the Act provides for:

  • identification and listing of Threatened Species and Threatened Ecological Communities;
  • development of Recovery Plans for listed species and ecological communities;
  • recognition of Key Threatening Processes; and where appropriate
  • reducing these processes through Threat Abatement Plans.
  • issuing of conservation orders and regulation of wildlife import/export.

Recovery plans set out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, listed threatened species or threatened ecological communities. The aim of a recovery plan is to ensure the long term survival in the wild of a threatened species or ecological community. Since the passing of the Act, there has been some discussion on what constitutes an ecological community.

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity (1996) Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories

The National Reserve System

National Reserve System Strategic Plan (1999) Environment Australia

Australian Guidelines for Establishing the National Reserve System (1999). Environment Australia

Directions for the National Reserve System - A Partnership Approach (2005) Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council

The Indigenous Protected Area Programme

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Ecological Communities: a way forward - A new approach to listing Ecological Communities (2006) Department of the Environment and Heritage

PAN Parks wilderness 1999

Europe has some notable wildland areas, such as the Bialowiecza forest in Eastern Poland, and many varying designations for protected areas. Few reach the coherency of definition of North American wildland, but a recent voluntary initiative is changing that. The PAN (Protected Area Network) Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization, founded in 1999, which aims to increase effectiveness of protected area management, and also to enhance the image and the recognition of Europe’s diverse nature. The Foundation creates a network based on synergy between outstanding nature conservation and tourism on a European level.

The main goal of the PAN Parks Foundation is to improve wilderness management in protected areas. An untouched core zone, where no extractive use as forestry or hunting are allowed makes a PAN Park different from other protected areas. This also represents economic value as it makes the protected area unique and more exciting for visitors.

Wilderness is defined as a key major component for PAN Parks, and is:

  "a large area of land, (at least 10,000 hectares) which, together with its native plant and animal communities and the ecosystems of which they are a part, is in an essentially natural state. PAN Parks wilderness areas are that lands that have been least modified by man, they represent the most intact and an undisturbed expanse of Europe’s remaining natural landscapes.".

Of the six PAN Parks certified so far - one each in Finland, Sweden, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and Russia – these core wilderness areas represent between 30-60% of the PAN Park areas that themselves range in size from 28-72,000 ha.


National Parks & Wildlife Service - Ireland

The National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) is part of the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG). It manages the Irish State's nature conservation responsibilities under National and European law. NPWS is charged with the conservation of a range of ecosystems and populations of flora and fauna in Ireland, and the management and development of National Parks and Nature Reserves. Ireland has six national parks, nine National Nature Reserves and a further 68 Nature Reserves that are managed nationally. A new, basic national designation of National Heritage Area is just coming into being (see later).

Kilarney National Park, Co. Kerry, was the first national park, opened originally as the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park in the 1930’s, with additional land added after the initial gift to the State of 4000 ha. There was a gap of almost 50 years until the 1980’s before Connemara and Glenveagh National Parks were opened, followed in the 1990’s by Wicklow, The Burren and Ballycroy National Parks.

A National Park is generally an area of not less than 1,000 hectares, where the extensive natural plant and animal communities and scenic landscapes are conserved, and where provision is made for people to visit and appreciate these features. Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal is the largest at 16,958 ha, and The Burren National Park, Co. Clare is the smallest at 1,673 ha.

All National Park land is State owned and is managed under the State Property Act, 1954, the Wildlife Act, 1976 and the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000. The national parks encompass, in some cases, one or more Nature Reserves and are also often overlaid by the more recent European designations of Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

The Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 brought into being a new, basic national landscape designation for Ireland of National Heritage Area (NHA). Some 1100 NHAs have been proposed, a few have overlapping designations of SAC and/or SPA and, amongst the national parks, Kilarney National Park is proposed for designation as part of a larger NHA.

In spite of this multi-layering of designations, a National Parks Bill is also under consideration to provide them with a separate legal basis, and it is likely that the Bill will state that the primary purpose of National Parks is the conservation of wildlife, providing for public use and education where that is compatible with the conservation of wildlife.

In lieu of that specific legislation, it has been the policy of successive Irish governments to abide by the criteria and standards for the National Parks laid down by the IUCN (see earlier). Ireland’s National Parks have thus been managed in accordance with these international criteria for the past 25 years, and are included in the UN list under IUCN II.

A national park in IUCN II is a protected area managed mainly for ecological integrity and which provides for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities. Two of the key considerations for management in the IUCN Guidelines for Category II are:

"To eliminate and thereafter prevent exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation"

"To take into account the needs of indigenous people, including subsistence resource use, in so far as these will not adversely affect the other objectives of management"

The NPWS appears to put their own interpretation on the Guidelines, the spirit of which for IUCN II is the protection of natural areas where direct human intervention and modification of the landscape has been limited both in the past, but also more vitally in the future management of the protected area. Inimical occupation appears not to be an issue in the national parks and, in the case of Glenveagh, it is a landscape regarded as being an area having had the least human influence. However, the NPWS interpretation of exploitation, and of the needs of indigenous people, has an air of convenience to suit an historically farmed landscape for most of the national park lands. Thus by way of explaining their use of grazing animals as a management tool in the national parks, the NPWS assert in management plans that:
"…… traditional practices by local people can maintain and enhance natural features and biological diversity. This applies in different situations ranging from the activities of indigenous communities at subsistence level in tropical forests, to European landscapes where some semi-natural ecosystems owe their very existence to harmonious interaction of human activities and natural processes. It is therefore increasingly accepted that national authorities must take such issues into account in considering what may be regarded as natural areas or landscapes and what human activities are appropriate in National Parks."

As would be expected from the perspective of European conservation orthodoxy, the NPWS use grazing, especially that of local breed cattle, to maintain the flora of man-made, open landscapes by controlling the encroachment of coarse vegetation and scrub, and by the trampling of bracken. In the Kilarney National Park, grazing trials with cattle (Kerry/Highland crosses) are taking place in an uplands fenced area. These grazing trials, in association with the Department of Agriculture and Food, are also being used as a demonstration project to encourage development of an extensive approach to meat production in upland areas generally. The majority of the cattle in the Kilarney National Park graze the lowland demesne grassland all year round. The possibility of supplying organic beef produced by the National Park to local restaurants and hotels is being investigated.

Grazing in the national parks is thus a pervasive issue. In Wicklow National Park, the NPWS have no option but to accept the effects of livestock, as 56% of the State-owned land area has commonage grazing rights over it. However, in Kilarney National Park there are no grazing rights in the park, but the NPWS choose to run cattle there, and there is a continuing significant problem with in excess of 1,000 sheep trespassing regularly on the Kilarney National Park lands.

Each of the parks is also under varying pressure from wild deer, feral goats and, in the case of Connemara, an iconic herd of pure bred Connemara Ponies. Parks make use of temporary and longer term exclosures to protect fragile areas such as overgrazed wetland habitats and woodlands under threat. Glenveagh National Park has a 40 km-long fence, forming an inclosure that is home to one of only two large herds of wild red deer left in Ireland.

National Parks & Wildlife Service

Killarney National Park Management Plan (2.3Mb PDF)

Wicklow National Park Management Plan

Zone Planning – Permaculture and wildland

Permaculture is an interdisciplinary earth science developed in the 1970’s by Australian biologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and derived from protracted observation of self-regulating natural systems in the wildland of Tasmania.

The concepts of Permaculture evolved in 1980’s into an applied, whole system design for sustainable human settlement, based on a land use ethic and the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes. A nature-centred ethic for wilderness conservation is a fundamental principle.

Permaculturists recognise care for surviving natural assemblies as an essential for supporting and renewing the cultivated ecology of human use

There is also a commitment to rehabilitate degraded land using multifunctional pioneer species and long-term plant assemblies, and to create around them a complex living environment that includes elements of land gifted back to wild nature.

The spatial planning of land use in Permaculture Design is based on a zonal analysis of activity – frequent activity is associated with zones of use nearer to the centre of settlement (Zones 1 and 2), whereas less or infrequent access or activity can be located further away (Zones 3 and 4). The characteristic of these zones is thus a decreasing intensity of resource extraction and management to the point where there is land that is gifted back to nature (Zone 5). In this wildland, there is no management and little or no resource extraction. People go there as visitors to observe and learn the lessons that they apply elsewhere in the other zones.

The zonation of land use in Permaculture Design, and especially the designation of an area of wildland (Zone 5), has similarities with the many protected area systems around the world. The designation of protected land implies a gradation or restriction on human land use, such as the non-extraction and management in the national parks and wildernesses of America; the zonal system of designated use by Parks, Canada in their national parks; the protected area designations of the IUCN Guidelines; the zoning for wilderness in the parks and reserves of Australia; and the core zone of wilderness in the PAN Parks of Europe (see above for these).

These protected area systems apply in the main to publicly-owned land in large scale. The advantage of a permacultural approach to land use is that it opens up a coherent route for small, private land-owners to incorporate wildland into their land use. The potential and scale of this wildland can be multiplied if adjoining small land-owners co-operate across boundaries in the overall spatial planning of their land use.


Beyond Conservation – a wildland strategy 2005

Peter Taylor believes the term wilderness is often used loosely in Britain. He argues in his book that very few areas of Britain are devoid of the present impact of agriculture and forestry, let alone past impacts. Thus while it may be possible to use the term in North America, it is however fraught with misunderstanding for the situation in Britain because wilderness has both an ecological and a spiritual dimension. He says:

  "For some, wildernesses are desolate places outside of the humanized realm, either to be avoided or brought under some kind of human dominion, and for others, they are places to practice humility, experience a certain vulnerability and acknowledge the creative and even destructive powers of the natural world."

He goes on to say:

"In Britain, an ethos of wildland is emerging in which human intervention is minimal and natural processes are respected."

Beyond Conservation - a wildland strategy, Peter Taylor (2005) Earthscan ISBN 1-84407-198-7

Where are the wildest places in Britain? 2002

Steve Carver leads research into the geographical basis of wildland in the School of Geography at Leeds University. Thus a geographical definition of wild land may be:

"Those regions or locations that are remote, devoid of human features and with natural or near-natural ecosystems."

Steve has developed methodology using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to map wilderness quality gradients across Britain. Along with others, he has set up an on-line GIS mapping tool that allows novice users to create their own wilderness maps based on multi-criteria evaluation techniques (see the link below).

Before users get to develop their maps, there is an introduction that encapsulates the British debate on wildland:


"It is suggested by some people that wilderness is just one extreme on a continuum - a kind of sliding scale of human modification of the environment - from the 100% artificial buildings of the city centre through to the pristine nature found in remote locations. The position along this wilderness continuum at which wilderness occurs has perhaps more to do with individual perceptions than it does with ecological conditions. Even so, most definitions of wilderness stress the natural state of the environment, the absence of human inhabitation, and the lack of other human-related influences and impacts.

It is perhaps safe to say that there is no true wilderness left in the British countryside………. Thousands of years of human settlement, agriculture and industry have created a landscape that, although apparently wild in parts, is at least from an ecological perspective, almost entirely artificial or at best altered in some way. Upland landscapes that may appear wild to the untrained eye, are often the result of early forest clearance and subsequent management for grazing and sport. Superficially, there is confusion among many people between that which is ecologically wild and that that is remote, dramatic or extreme."



Self-willed Land 2003

After coming back from an extended walking holiday in North America (see the travelogue) I soon recognised that there would be difficulty surrounding the use of the word wilderness in Britain. Firstly, because there is no true wilderness in Britain and, secondly, because of this lack of true wilderness to learn from, the word is often misused through an association with terms like empty, bleak and savage etc. Thus I chose instead to talk of self-willed land, a term that describes the ecologically functional characteristics of landscapes determined by their remnant and returning populations of their natural communities. The term is used by those who consider that wild nature can manage itself without the need for human interference:

  "True wilderness is a land that has supreme naturalness and is free of any human control. It is a self-willed land because plants and animals can thrive there, in their own unfettered communities."

As my homepage exclaims, there is no true wilderness in Britain today because the wildwood that once covered 90% of the land after the last glacial period has been displaced by human activity. Nowhere has been left untouched by people and their farming. Hills and mountains have been over-grazed, and rivers and marshes constrained. Every landscape has been managed by people and their livestock, leaving nothing to natural forces.

It is unlikely that Britain will ever again have any true wilderness as we are so many millennia away from anything remotely comparable and, apart from the few areas of ancient woodland (see later), our farmed landscapes have lost the constituents of its natural communities, and thus the ability to truly rewild. But we can have areas of self-willed land, and it will be the expression of a future natural wildland state when we take the decision to rewild some of Britain’s land (see Peterken below).

As a Permaculturist, I have put forward a view of our countryside as a mosaic of continuums of decreasing intensity of use until wild land is reached, and in which we as a significant species interact with dynamic climactic landscapes in that continuum, reserving the wildlands for our observation and education only, and as our gift to wild nature. This is based on a zonal analysis of land use that characterises Permaculture Design (see earlier). It has parallels in the aim and approach of the zoning system that Parks Canada use in their National Parks (see above), the core wilderness zones of the PAN Park system (see above), the zoning concept in Wild Britain (see below), with the Model Forest Network in Canada (see www.modelforest.net) with forest village communities proposed by David Blair (see www.dunbeag.org.uk) and with the proposals in New Wildwoods in Britain: The potential for developing new landscape-scale native woodlands (LUPG Report, June 2002 - www.lupg.org.uk/uploaded_photos/pubs_Wildwoods2.pdf).

While zonal analysis of land use offers hope for an overall improvement in the natural state of our cultural land (see above), it is subject to voluntary implementation by private land owners. There is thus an absolute need for wildland core areas that have a statutory basis for, if wildness and wild creatures are to survive in Britain, then so must unmanaged landscapes. These must be of a sufficiently large scale to allow the successful re-introduction and return of extirpated species, such as lynx and wild boar. This must be a key aim of our future natural landscapes. To that end:

"Self-willed land for its own sake will only exist in Britain if land is held inalienably in the public good and that legislation exists to define its natural character, and thus the limits to human intervention."

I gave a PowerPoint presentation to Leeds University students on a Wilderness Management course, which summarises the characteristics of self-willed land, the zoning approach to land use in many protected area systems, and the potential of self-willed land to be the future-natural landscapes of Britain - you can download it here.


Wild Britain - A Partnership for Community, Commerce and Conservation 2002

Wild Britain seeks to encourage the restoration of a network of large-scale natural habitat areas, promoted as wild lands. Opportunity exists for restoration in the increasing marginalization of some farming, forestry and sporting holdings. Benefits of wildlands include nature tourism and a range of recently emerging ventures which address important inner urban issues such as youth at risk, rehabilitation and healthcare. Other benefits come from flood mitigation, alleviation of water and soil pollution, carbon sequestration, cost savings from managed coastal retreat, and biodiversity conservation. Restoration could involve up to two million acres over the next 25 years.

The Wild Britain Approach has separate components for England, Wales and Scotland, which seek to identify and value all these benefits, and to assess how best to translate them into specific ventures bringing potential income and employment for local communities, farmers and landholders.

Wild Britain does not aim to turn the clock back, it offers far more than just conservation gains, and is seeking to accommodate the needs of a modern society, as well as helping support sustainable development in more deprived rural areas. It is also underwritten by belief in the fundamental principles of wildness which can instill such a profound sense of self-awareness and belonging among those who experience it.

The Wild Britain approach has secured broad support within the UK. It also been endorsed by national park personnel in several European countries and within IUCN - The World Conservation Union. Through Britain re-establishing its own natural habitat area network, and by doing so for economic as well as conservation reasons, then proposals for preservation of vanishing habitats and species in less developed countries will carry much more credibility.

A key feature of Wildland Britain is the identification and setting up of zones within the natural habitat areas. Three zones are postulated:

“core zone” – an inner area with no human impact other than minimal management for the well-being of essential habitat or species. Emphasis on nil disruption of visual appearance or atmosphere of wildness.  Grazing by domestic livestock only where strictly needed to maintain a specific habitat, and then without preventing natural regeneration by young trees etc.  Footpaths to follow game paths. No extractive activities.

“buffer zone” - around the core and with minimal impact activities only. Any grazing by livestock would be carefully controlled to ensure natural regeneration of native vegetation. The only buildings (other than culturally or archaeologically significant remains) would be shelters or bothies, disguised for minimal impact.

“transition zone” - outside the buffer and with the emphasis on maintaining a stable landscape. No clear felling, other than to recreate native habitat.  Allowance made for foraging requirements of wildlife from within the core and buffer zones.  Any development of facilities for wildland activities should be low profile in design and located so as not to impede potential expansion of the buffer zones in the future.

The core area would be as large as initial opportunity allows, and expand outwards over time into the buffer zone, which would itself grow into the transition zone.  Emphasis should thus be on phasing out built structures and heavy impact activities in the buffer zone. The size of zones will vary with local opportunity, and the zonal pattern will also vary.

Where possible, these zones should encircle each other, but the overall pattern should be opportunistically designed to accommodate local landforms etc – there could even be more than one core. As a rule of thumb, when in a core area, only core or buffer zone should be visible.





Buildings or constructions


Local material/temporary - minimal


Ruins, archaeological remains










Phase out





As required



Minimal, phase out


Tree felling


Minimal, no trace left

Selective, no clear felling

Dead timber



As required

Shooting rights


Closely controlled

As required

Fruit, nut, mushroom picking

Only by ramblers


As required

Livestock gazing

Biodiversity reasons only

For biodiversity and light commercial


Other activities (to be specified)

 Nil impact only  Minimal impact only  Low impact
Toby Aykroyd email toby.aykroyd@btinternet.com

Natural Woodland: Ecology and Conservation in Northern Temperate Regions 1996

George Peterken advocates natural woodland as a reference point for the key post-glacial vegetation of Britain, the wildwood that once covered 90% of our landscape. His absolute definition of natural is anchored in the concept of wilderness, where nature is synonymous with the absence of people, believing that this clarity aids objectivity in recognising natural as the counterpoint to artificial:


"It seems to me that my choice is endorsed by those who question and make statements about the relationship between man and nature, for, simply by contriving this antithesis, they concede the validity of a definition of nature which excludes people.”

Absolute naturalness is an elusive state, unlikely to have survived into the present when people have been a pervasive influence ever since our adoption of agriculture led to broadscale change in the landscape. Peterken therefore presents a range of qualities for naturalness, which encapsulate where we have been - and where we can go from here:

Original-natural – existed before people became a significant ecological factor;
Present-natural - a state that would exist now if people had never become a significant ecological factor. It is different from original-natural as it factors in the changes in climate and soils that have happened in the last 5000 years.

Past-natural – the quality which attaches to woods whose components have been directly inherited from the original-natural forests;
Potential-natural - a hypothetical state that could develop instantly in the absence of influence from people, and from relict species available on site and under the prevailing climate;
Future-natural – a state that would eventually develop if people’s influence was removed, and woodland were allowed to regenerate at its own pace.


Peterken notes that future-natural starts from here - it is not a re-creation of the past and it is different from current potential since it is subject to development variables such as the available species may be altered by extinction and introductions, that soils may alter as succession proceeds, and that climate may continue to change.

Natural Woodland: Ecology and Conservation in Northern Temperate Regions, George F. Peterken (1996) Cambridge Uni. Press ISBN 0-521-36792-1

Ancient Woodland

Ancient woodland is a descriptive term used for a site where there is believed to have been continuous woodland cover since at least 1600 AD. As Peterken (see above) explains in his book, the choice of 1600 to delimit ancient woodland is intentional as it was a time when tree planting was beginning to become common and when maps showing woodland were becoming more available:

“Thus ancient woodland is a mediaeval or earlier wood which, if it has not been planted in the last 400 years, has probably never been planted.”

Ancient wood is perhaps the past-natural of Peterken, linking back to the original-natural through location, genetic antecedence, and the co-locators in fauna and flora of natural woodland and its soil.

Two further definitions of ancient woodland have arisen that recognise the locational and antecedent aspects, but distinguish on the basis of the contemporary tree cover:

Ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) is composed predominantly of trees and shrubs native to the site, that have not obviously been planted. They include stands that may have been managed by coppicing or pollarding in the past, as well as those where the tree and shrub layer has grown up by natural regeneration.

Plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) (also called Ancient Replanted Woodland) are areas of ancient woodland where the original native tree cover has been felled and replaced by planted stock most commonly of a species not native to the site, for example conifers such as Norway spruce or Corsican pine, but also broadleaves such as sycamore or sweet chestnut. Important features of ancient woodland often survive in many of these woods, including characteristic flora and fauna.


The situation for ancient woodland in Scotland is slightly different in being more strictly delimited from mapping information. Two definitions arise, based on a military survey in 1750 and then subsequent mapping in the 1800s:

Ancient woods of semi-natural origin (ASNO) appear as semi-natural woods on maps from 1750 or the mid-1800s, and have been continuously wooded to the present day. Some ASNO were subsequently planted for timber, and they are also known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS)

Long-established woods of plantation origin (LEPO) appear as plantations on maps from 1750 or the mid-1800s. Native species of local provenance were generally used. These sites have been continuously wooded to the present day, and many have developed semi-natural characteristics.

From Natural Heritage Trends: Forest and Woodland, SNH, 2004 (see www.snh.org.uk/trends/trends_notes/pdf/forest%20and%20woodland/woodland%20trend%20summary.pdf)

The areas of these two woodland types are combined into a single category of ancient woodland in Scotland to take account of uncertainties in compilation of an inventory. As in the other home countries, ancient woods over two hectares in size are recorded on ancient woodland inventories held by English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. The area of ancient woodland in England, Scotland and Wales is 504,555ha, representing less than 2% cover. Nearly half of those ancient woodlands are less than 5ha in size, only 617 are more than 100ha, and only 46 ASNWs exceed 300ha (see www.woodland-trust.org.uk/campaigns/briefingsmore/ancientwoods.htm ).

At present, Northern Ireland is without an inventory of ancient woodland, but the Woodland Trust is developing one that should be completed by the end of 2005 (see www.backonthemap.org.uk).

The Ancient Woodland Inventory for England identifies over 22,000 ancient woodland sites, comprising a total of 333,585ha. Ancient woodland is identified using the presence or absence of woods from old maps, information about the wood's name, shape, internal boundaries, location relative to other features, ground survey, and aerial photography:

Ancient woods are likely to have:

a) sinuous irregular boundaries

b) no straight internal boundaries

c) be sited on a steep slope.

A wood is likely to be ancient if its name:

a) reflects a nearby settlement

b) is derived from or incorporates old names for 'wood' e.g grove, hanger, lea

c) suggests old industry, e.g. brick-kiln, tanner, kiln.

Guidelines for Identifying ancient woodland Reid CM (1997). English Nature booklet

The information recorded includes a grid reference, its area in hectares, how much is semi-natural or replanted, whether any of the wood has been cleared (since 1920 approx), public ownership details where known, and any conservation status.

Ancient woodland is not a statutory designation although the use of the term in planning policy guidance, where measures to prevent loss from development are indicated, would point to a need. Currently 14% of ancient woodland is included within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but 14 of the 46 largest ASNWs have no statutory protection. Thus local authorities in England are required to:

"identify any areas of ancient woodland in their areas that do not have statutory protection (e.g. as a SSSI)”

From Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation, ODPM 2005 (see www.odpm.gov.uk).

There are online mapping systems for locating inventoried ancient woodland:

Named ancient woodlands - use the symbolic map on www.woodsunderthreat.info

Mapped ancient woodlands - use the maps on the Multi Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside website. Click on Interactive Map and select Habitat Inventories www.magic.gov.uk

National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPG 14): Natural Heritage, The Scottish Office 1998

The inclusion of a definition for wildland in a Scottish planning guidance note seems to have opened the way for a number of Scottish organisations to follow suit:

  "Wild Land: uninhabited and often relatively inaccessible countryside where the influence of human activity on the character and quality of the environment has been minimal"
  The guidance explained that Scotland is fortunate in having a rich diversity of landscapes. Many areas, for example in the Highlands and Islands, possess mountain and coastal landscapes which are valued nationally and internationally for their quality, extensiveness and wild land character. It goes on:
  "Some of Scotland’s remoter mountain and coastal areas possess an elemental quality from which many people derive psychological and spiritual benefits. Such areas are very sensitive to any form of development or intrusive human activity and planning authorities should take great care to safeguard their wild land character. This care should extend to the assessment of proposals for development outwith these areas which might adversely affect their wild land character."


Wild Land Policy - National Trust for Scotland 2002

Percy Unna, a president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, was instrumental in the acquisition of Glencoe by the National Trust for Scotland. Unna laid down a number of guidelines that the Trust should apply in managing its wild mountain areas: he stated that all such land should be held on behalf of the public and that the Trust should undertake that the land be maintained in its primitive condition for all time with unrestricted access to the public. His underlying philosophy was that the hills should not be in any way made easier or safer, given that people 'get away from it all' into the countryside to find inspiration and challenge, in contrast to their ordered day-to-day lives.

The Trust has developed Unna's thinking into a Wild Land Policy. Wild land in Scotland is defined as being:

  'relatively remote and inaccessible, not noticeably affected by contemporary human activity, and offering high-quality opportunities to escape from the pressures of everyday living and to find spiritual and physical refreshment'.
  The policy identifies particular aspects of a place that enhance this wildness, and some indeed that detract from it. A sense of remoteness, scenic grandeur, solitude, peace and quietness and particularly an absence of contemporary human development all add to the wild character of a place. On the other hand recent signs of human activity, particularly man in charge of nature, presence of crowds or group activity, unsympathetic recreation, and manmade noise all detract from the wild character of a place. These enhancers and detractors are given more comprehensively in the Policy as a table of Indicators of Wild Land Quality:


  • Sense of remoteness (linked to distance from roads, tracks and transport)

  • Size of area and scale of landscape

  • Scenic grandeur

  • Surrounded by sea (islands)

  • Solitude

  • Roughness of terrain

  • Peacefulness, quietness

  • Absence of contemporary human activity or development

  • Seemingly natural environment

  • Evokes emotional experience whether first hand or at a distance

  • Absence of re-assurance in a hazardous and challenging environment

  • Physically demanding experience resulting in a sense of achievement, eg long walk in

  • Scotland’s climate

  • Ruins and disused structures – where they add scale and fit the landscape


  • Deer stalking

  • Sites of ancient habitation (see also Enhancers list)


  • Recent signs of human activity, particularly ‘man in charge of nature’ including intensive agriculture and insensitive forestry

  • Recent human artefacts (including litter)

  • Presence of crowds or group activity

  • Unsympathetic recreation activities

  • Man-made noise

  • Facilities to make recreation easier or safer

  • Ecological imbalance

  • Visual intrusions eg roads, pylons, fences

  • Mechanical transport

  • Low flying jets & helicopters



Wildness in Scotland's Countryside - Scottish Natural Heritage 2003

Policy Statement No. 02/03

SNH believe wildness is a quality experienced by people when visiting places of a certain character. As with Steve Carver (see earlier) they expect wildness to be found along a spectrum from places where this quality has only limited expression to others where wildness is a dominant element of the visitor’s experience of the landscape. Thus, a degree of wildness can be experienced in many settings across Scotland’s countryside. However, they believe the term wild land should only be used where wildness is found to be a dominant element of the landscape character of an area.


The physical attributes which contribute to the experience of wildness and thus define wild land are as follows:

  • a high degree of perceived naturalness in the setting, especially in its vegetation cover and wildlife, and in the natural processes affecting the land;

  • the lack of any modern artefacts or structures;

  • little evidence of contemporary human uses of the land;

  • landform which is rugged, or otherwise physically challenging; and

  • remoteness and/or inaccessibility.

These physical attributes evoke perceptual responses, amongst which are:

  • a sense of sanctuary or solitude;

  • risk or, for some visitors, a sense of awe or anxiety, depending on the individual's emotional response to the setting;

  • perceptions that the landscape has arresting or inspiring qualities; and

  • fulfilment from the physical challenge required to penetrate into these places.



Wild Land Policy - The John Muir Trust 2004

In common with many, the John Muir Trusts acknowledges that almost nowhere in the UK is entirely natural or free of past or present human manipulation. Yet despite millennia of human influence, there are still areas that have remained substantially free of any major man-made intrusions that have a wildland quality. The Trust adopted the following simple definition for prime, exemplary areas of wild land in the UK:

"Uninhabited land containing minimal evidence of human activity."
  The nature of wildland is extensively explored in the Policy, including providing an indicative map of areas of wild land in Britain. In extending their concise definition, the Trust have developed identifiable characteristics which they believe provide criteria for wildland:

Wild land is:

  • largely unaffected by human intervention

  • remote or 'off the beaten track'

  • rugged or physically challenging and naturally hazardous

  • grand in scale

Wild land provides:

  • a refuge for wildlife

  • a sense of peace, quiet and solitude

  • a sense of wonder, drama or awe

  • inspiration and satisfaction



www.self-willed-land.org.uk  mark.fisher@self-willed-land.org.uk