Concluding Remarks



Global estimates of wilderness reserves have declined rapidly over the last 300 years, largely due to human population growth and demand for food and resources. And human population, now at seven billion people looks set to rise further still to nine billion or more by 2100. Sustainability and resilience are not just words that apply to resources, but to the whole planet including wilderness. Our concluding chapter makes cogent and clear arguments in favour of wilderness protection and rewilding as one means of maintaining a healthy global ecosystem, contrary to some of the ideas of the green modernist movement that puts people at the centre and which believes that technology and human ingenuity will come to the rescue. While some of the policy mechanisms to do this are already in place (e.g. REDD+) we suggest that these require better and stricter application informed by mapping campaigns. Despite wilderness being a largely fuzzy concept, lines on maps are needed to protect natural ecosystems and their wildlife. We conclude with a review of the chapters in the book and how they, together, address these concerns, before making some predications as to future developments.


Sustainability and wilderness Futures 

In wildness is the preservation of the world (Henry David Thoreau, 1862)

It is over 150 years since Thoreau penned these words, yet they still have strong resonance today. In the intervening century and a half we have seen the human population increase almost 6 fold from somewhere just over 1.2 billion to 7 billion in 2012, with most of us living in urban areas. Over roughly the same time period, the theories of Thomas Malthus on population checks from famine and disease have largely been avoided as human ingenuity has enabled food production and distribution – regional problems notwithstanding – to keep pace with rapid population growth. Huge cities supported by industrial-scale agriculture and fisheries together with geo-resource exploitation on a hitherto unheard of scale work together to support a massively complex global human ecosystem. This is a trend that seems set to continue with a global population of 9 billion predicted by 2050; though our ability to feed this number of people without further drastically impacting natural ecosystems is by no means as certain.

Not only will there be more people to support but demand will grow for better living standards, including a more meat-based diet, better housing, consumer products, higher mobility, etc., which will place additional strain on basic key resources. This will doubtless mainly manifest itself in demand for land for living space and agriculture. Land will also be under pressure from resource extraction (oil, gas, coal, minerals, timber, water) and energy production which is set to come increasingly from renewable energy and biofuels as we approach Peak Oil.1 Much of this demand will be driven by the burgeoning populations of developing and emerging countries in Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Africa, Central and South America together with political efforts to maintain and even increase current standards of living in the developed world.

13.1 Towards Global Sustainability with Wilderness

Without careful planning and policies to the contrary, it is easy to see how such an increase in demand will impact adversely on wilderness areas. It is therefore essential that, if we are to safeguard the future of wilderness, and following from Thoreau’s dictum help save the planet, then new and innovative approaches to land use and resource management are required. Such innovative approaches should also take a global perspective. The world is becoming increasingly interconnected and what is done on one side of the planet might impact on another part. Models and tools which take such a global perspective include earth system models, integrated assessment models and economic land-use models, many of which focus on the biosphere (Havlik et al. 2011; Asselen and Verburg 2013). Some of these models allow us to examine the impact of a policy or consumer behaviour on biodiversity and protected areas. One example is the impact of certain pathways on the world forests such as that provided by the global forest report. Here the global land-use model shows that changes in consumption patterns, particularly among the most affluent, will be need to achieve zero net deforestation and forest degradation (ZNDD). This essentially means protecting wilderness in areas of high productivity without compromising other ecosystems or food security. Interestingly, such consumption changes are not so dramatic as to be either socially or practically implausible (Taylor 2011).

In order to feed a growing global population a more sustainable use of land and resources is needed through agricultural intensification, more efficient use of limited resources through advanced IT and distribution systems (e.g. precision farming techniques, “just-in-time” distribution networks, etc.) resulting in better yield management and less wastage. Moreover, all models show that in order to maintain wilderness, quite radical changes in lifestyles and patterns of consumption are also required such as reducing the amount of meat in our diet. At the same time it is imperative that we slow population growth and restructure demography, while accepting that sustained economic growth might not always be possible across all sectors. These are all very hard economic, social and political choices, but it is essential that they are addressed if long-term global sustainability is to be achieved. Business as usual is no longer a valid option.

While we recognise that technological fixes to Malthusian problems of supply and demand have occurred in the past (e.g. the Green Revolution in the 1960s) we cannot rely wholly on the expectation that future technological advances will allow supply to keep pace with demand for food, energy, water and other strategic resources. Indeed, it can be seen in recent trends that such fixes can actually have short and medium term impacts on wilderness and other natural ecosystems.

Demand for energy is a good example. Exploration for and exploitation of increasingly difficult to get at reserves of oil, gas and coal are causing extensive damage to natural ecosystems on land and at sea; witness the impacts and ongoing debates over exploiting shale-gas, tar-sands and oil-shales. Even renewable energy has the potential to generate adverse impacts on the natural environment. Hydro-power dams rivers and drowns valleys, wind energy generates visual impacts and impacts on bird-life, wave and tidal power disrupts tidal flows and marine ecosystems, biofuel monocultures have huge land requirements, displace food production and reduce biodiversity. Even industrial solar requires vast land reserves and all renewable energy sources are not carbon neutral when we consider the embodied carbon involved in the manufacture, construction and running costs. Energy efficiency and reduction is clearly the way to go together with distributed modes of generation, but population growth will nevertheless ensure that demand remains high.

There is a developing paradigm based around the ecology of the Anthropocene that maintains that all aspects of the planetary system have been and are modified and controlled by human action. The reasoning follows that wilderness is merely a human construct, a kind of imagined nature, and has no real relevance to the modern world where much of the planet is populated, farmed, exploited and therefore dominated by novel ecosystems. This is accompanied by a kind of ‘humans first’ philosophy and faith that technology will prevail.2 While technological optimism is a good thing (and we should continue to research new more environmentally benign technologies) and recognising the fact that many ecosystems are heavily modified (some with distinct and obvious benefits for humans such as food production), we should also recognize at the same time that nature has a place itself. We need to recognise nature’s right to exist and we should keep as much wilderness as is possible in places where nature can flourish without the influence of modern technological society. We need wilderness for a multitude of ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits (i.e. the ecosystem services model) and should not forget that wilderness and wild nature has its own intrinsic values that are not tied solely to human benefits. Paraphrasing from Aldo Leopold (1949)… “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts” and this ought not just to refer to individual species, but whole landscape-scale ecosystems as well. The suggestion that we (and the planet) can survive without wilderness, intact ecosystems and abundant biodiversity very much risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Understanding the spatial and temporal patterns of supply and demand together with opportunities for re-thinking demand-side systems through efficiencies of use and waste minimisation is essential to gaining a better understanding of the big picture regarding population, resources and nature. All this ought to give wilderness and natural processes a place, providing as it does so many of the ecosystem services that we humans rely on.

Conserving wilderness on a global level is closely linked to other important global issues such as reducing the loss of biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem functioning, increasing the global protected areas network and stopping deforestation. In order to make sure nature and wilderness is protected it is essential that all organisations involved in conservation efforts work together in order to protect wilderness and the species living in it. Moreover conservation and protected area designation needs to be co-ordinated internationally. Recent work has shown that when using the land use change models described above it is only through international collaboration and co-ordination the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 (adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity) that the protected area network could be expanded to at least 17 % of the terrestrial world by 2020. The study furthermore demonstrates that international action is urgently needed to balance land-use and biodiversity conservation.

We need to be self-critical here as well, since much of this thinking about wilderness and biological biodiversity is mostly a luxury of the wealthy. We need to listen to the developing nations’ view that we use wilderness and protected areas to continue to control them (Cholchester 1996). In order to address such criticism we need to draw a line between stopping large-scale developers from exploitation of natural resources and prohibiting poor people from the economic development the western world has already benefited from. Furthermore, we need to recognize that indigenous people and their role in protected areas deserves close scrutiny whilst being aware that ‘wilderness’ is a western construct and one that is often new to indigenous people.

As already emphasised in Chap. 2, the impact on wilderness is defined as the ‘degree of influence from modern technological society’ and not of traditional and indigenous societies. Cholchester (1996) outlines a number of lessons learned. First, it is recognized that successful conservation can only be achieved if indigenous peoples’ rights to own their territory is granted, if indigenous representatives’ institutions are recognized and if mechanisms are in place which ensure the involvement of marginal sectors in ways that do not undermine traditional decision making. Colchester furthermore highlights that support of government institutions which actually respect these principles is needed in order to help to protect from external pressures. He even goes as far to suggest that a separate IUCN category which encompasses such principles is needed and highlights that only very few countries have national legislation which permits rights of indigenous people within protected areas (Cholchester 1996). Nonetheless, this does not give indigenous peoples the right to exploit wilderness areas using modern technology in a manner and extent that produces large scale irreversible impacts, rather it is important to support indigenous cultures protect and value their lands and natural history.

The rich nations therefore need to promote and financially support local communities in developing countries which protect nature. One way of addressing this issue is the REDD+ mechanism and providing Payments for Ecosystem services (PES). REDD+ provides an opportunity to achieve large-scale emissions reductions and achieve conservation objectives by economically valuing the role forest ecosystems play in providing ecosystem services. The mechanism allows intact forests to compete with historically more economically viable land uses (i.e. the conversion to pasture or cropland). However, the REDD + mechanism is still under discussion by the UNFCCC it is not yet clear if the mechanism will truly result in protecting wilderness or if commercial interests are prioritized over environmental objectives in the forming of REDD+ policy.

It has to be recognized that wilderness protection is not free and it is not enough to draw a line around wild areas, but true protection in areas with human presence only works if there are economic alternatives for local communities such as ecotourism or low impact tourism. Interestingly people like to go to the wild to see large predator species such as lions and the economic value of a national park is much higher if it contains those wild animals which only survive in a natural environment with little human impact.

13.2 Back to the Map

This brings us neatly back to the map. The spatial pattern of the world’s remaining wilderness ecosystems, the landscapes and biodiversity they preserve, the ecosystem services they provide, the threats they face, is all important knowledge. This book has opened a window on the world of mapping the wild and some of the hard and often philosophical questions that go with it; to map or not to map, that is the question. Returning to our opening comments on early maps and “Here be dragons”, how can there be real wilderness in the world if everywhere is mapped and therefore known? As Leopold (1949) so eloquently puts it…“Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

Philosophical musings aside, once a wilderness is lost to human development, it is lost for ever. Or is, at the very best, extremely difficult to recreate depending on what exactly has been lost with it; the “Jurassic Park” model of species resurrection still being a technological day-dream. It is therefore essential that we bring to bear all the available data and technological resources to map our remaining wilderness areas in a rigorous, robust and repeatable manner such that wilderness and wild nature can be defended against those with the short-term view that only sees it as land and associated resources that can be exploited for financial gain.

It is apposite to use a personal story to illustrate this point further. Inspired by the work of Rob Lesslie, we first started experimenting with GIS and spatial data for mapping wilderness quality back in the mid-1990s. At the time we were warned by Bob Bunce3 whom we had approached to get hold of some reliable land cover data for the UK, that we risked attracting people to the very thing we were seeking to protect, for (as eluded to above) to map is to know. Publicly identifying the wildest parts of the UK countryside might, Bob had suggested, merely result in greater visitor numbers seeking a wilderness-type experience. “The woods are overrun and sons-of-bitches like me are half the problem” (Fletcher 1971). We were able to rationalised such concerns – real as they may be – safe in the knowledge that we pretty much know where they are anyway and in reasoning that without detailed mapping they would be at greater risk from attrition and exploitation by human development and land use. Nevertheless, we both resisted the temptation to put a line on the map identifying the wildest areas of the country for many years thereafter because any such line would necessarily be artificial due to wilderness being a fuzzy concept dependent on definitions and individual experience and background.

More recently we have changed our mind on this, having come to realise that without that line on the map it becomes difficult to defend in front of planners, economists, politicians and policy-makers who only understand crisp decision rules based on lines on maps. No amount of warm, fuzzy, heart-felt pleas for the importance of wilderness is going to hold back the tide of development without a hard line on the map acting as a kind of battle front.

It is for this reason that various governments, agencies and NGOs around the world have started to turn to spatial information and mapping technologies to provide accurate and timely information to support their emerging policies and decision-making regarding wilderness. Numerous examples have been provided throughout this book. Global, regional and national scale maps have been produced including the global scale Human Footprint (Sanderson et al. 2002) and map of human impact on the world’s oceans (Halpern et al. 2008). Continental scale mapping is available now for Europe (Kuiters et al. 2013) and there are various examples for national and regional maps available (see Henry and Husby 1994; Aplet et al. 2000; and Chaps. 10, 11 and 12 in this book). Scotland remains perhaps the world’s most extensively mapped country with wilderness quality mapping available at all spatial scales from global to European, and from national to local (Fisher et al. 2010). Local park-wide maps are available for the Scottish National Parks (Carver et al. 2012) and a programme of mapping wilderness character within US National Parks has recently begun (Tricker et al. 2012; Carver et al. 2013).

In many cases these maps and information are being used by stakeholders to both inform decisions and defend against actions that might otherwise harm wilderness. As described in Chap. 1, the Scottish wild land maps are now part of Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) and the concept of wild land is embedded within the Third National Planning Framework (NPF3). This would not have come about if GIS-based mapping was not able to define exactly where these areas are on a map using techniques (and data) that are rigorous, robust, repeatable and defensible. This information is already being used by planning authorities and NGOs to present evidence supporting objections to proposed developments that would negatively impact on wild land areas. These include industrial wind farms in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and a gold mine in a national park. More proactively, the mapping is being used to promote wild land as a formal conservation designation and target areas for rewilding.4

We hope that the chapters in this book have demonstrated that quantitative mapping of what is essentially a qualitative concept, albeit of a biophysical entity, is both possible and practical. We have shown how mapping can provide the information necessary to build the foundations of a robust policy of protection (Chap. 2). We have shown that ecological connectivity and thinking on a landscape scale is required if protected area systems are to prove resilient to climate change and the onslaught on human development (Chap. 3). We have shown how data collection and new mapping techniques can help overcome some of the hitherto intractable problems in mapping wildness at meaningful levels of reliability, making our maps both robust and repeatable (Chaps. 4, 5 and 6). We have developed new ways of looking at the world that emphasise the importance of wilderness areas and allow us to visualise unseen patterns in our data (Chap. 7). We have debated the legal and philosophical aspects of mapping wilderness and why it is necessary if we are to have any semblance of a wilderness experience in the future (Chaps. 8 and 9). And finally we have shown that by mapping wilderness and wildness at different scales, using different models and data can tailor our results to suit local and regional variations in the concept and use these to inform developing policy on preserving the world’s last remaining wild places (Chaps. 10, 11 and 12).

13.3 Back to the Future

So, what does the future hold? Bigger, better, faster, and in more detail? Better methods are being developed that are able to cope with and make use of better (faster) computers and better (more comprehensive, reliable and more detailed) data. Some of the chapters in this book have illustrated some of these recent and ongoing advances (see for example Chaps. 5, 6 and 7).

As we have already outlined, mapping provides a powerful tool to defend boundaries and to demarcate areas. With new technologies and mobile phones being available even to indigenous people in remote areas, we can put mapping tools into the hands of all citizens across the world to multiply the power of mapping and to give communities the necessary tools to demarcate and defend their areas from development pressure. This crowdsourcing approach to data collection, validation and verification is one way in which the future of wilderness mapping will expand and develop (see for example Chap. 6).

On the other hand wilderness mapping from space will become more affordable and accessible and internet platforms which bring these data streams together, illustrate and document, and map threads and conflicts will pay an increasingly important role (e.g. see a platform which provides information about forest concessions in the DRC). With new remote sensing technologies we enter the era of near real-time mapping of wilderness. Only 10 or 15 years ago Google Earth seemed futuristic. We now take desktop and mobile versions of Google Maps and Google Street View for granted, and it is clear that such products are only going to increase in coverage and detail over the next few years. Maps and mapping are certainly some of the most heavily used tools on the Internet. UAVs or drones will increasingly be used to collect detailed imagery of areas of interest in areas that are difficult or dangerous to access. These will be used for monitoring change, wildlife behaviours, human activities and impacts, although issues about privacy and safety are now beginning to cause concern. Wildlife itself can become the vehicle for monitoring with increased miniaturisation of low-cost cameras and GPS units enabling the animals themselves to be the vehicle of data collection. The data collected in this fashion will be increasingly valuable for studies of wildlife movement, distribution and behaviour in wilderness areas throwing new light on to the hitherto secret lives of animals.

If we go back to the concept of Rob Lesslie on wilderness, action is needed on the entire spectrum of the scale on the wild end as well as on the urban end. Research is needed in the field of ‘leave no trace’ science wherein science becomes less and less intrusive in wilderness areas. At the same time we need to focus on places which have been modified and can be improved in terms of naturalness quality, wilderness and biodiversity. This is the burgeoning field of rewilding, a term which has come to encompass ecological restoration, re-establishing connectivity between protected areas, non-intervention management, species reintroduction and the reconnection of people with nature. More research is needed in the field of wildlife corridors and areas suitable for rewilding in particular focusing on the means and benefits of rewilding and the efficacy of ecological networks and corridors. Also urban wilderness science can play an important role in bring wildness into the city and to hearts and minds of millions. For example where are the quiet areas in the city, where is noise and light pollution highest and where are relatively the wildest areas in an urban setting? Considering that in the year 2050 there will be as many people living in urban areas as the overall world population in the year 2004 it is imperative that we maintain pockets of wild and relatively undisturbed places in the urban areas as well as in its close vicinity. More wilderness is clearly needed on all levels of the wilderness continuum, not less.

So, where do we go next? The previous few paragraphs have outlined some ongoing and recent developments in the field of wilderness mapping and associated spatial sciences. It is always tempting to reach for the crystal ball when concluding a book like this and make a few predictions, and it is, more often than not, sobering a few years later when you read back over them and realise how wrong you were! Nevertheless, we might like to think about some of the likely future developments and to this end we will leave you with the following list:

Data and tools: We have over the last 20–30 years moved from being data poor to being data rich. There is no reason to doubt why this trend should not continue right across the board from satellite imagery to qualitative data. The challenge is most likely to be how best to make good use of it for the benefit of wilderness. As new data sources come online, scientists and researchers will come up with uses for it and will develop the tools to develop hitherto impossible-to-obtain information. From this we will be able to create new knowledge, develop new theories and better hone our understanding of the importance of nature, ecology and wilderness.

People: Although our concern in this text is primarily with mapping wilderness, mapping people and getting people involved in the mapping process will be the key to developing a wider and more responsible value system focus not just on immediate human needs but that of the wider natural world and wilderness itself. Understanding the natural world and how our own survival is inextricably linked to the survival of wild nature and natural processes will shape future conservation efforts and, it is hoped, reverse some of the damage done in the past. People are at the centre of the conservation ethic and rewilding as it won’t happen without our involvement. People are a huge data resource and crowdsourcing and other participatory approaches to data collection, validation and verification will augment the technological advances in sensors and mapping programmes.

Rewilding: This is perhaps the biggest challenge we face in terms of wilderness; namely, recognising what we have lost, being able to map it and then using that information and knowledge to target areas for putting it back. The ecological process of rewilding is not easy and is fraught with difficulties to do with getting the right species mix, creating appropriate habitats for reintroductions, developing connectivity between target areas to allow for species migration, etc. but making space for new wilderness within already managed landscapes is often controversial as it involves many conflicting interests. Nonetheless, the disbenefits to a few are most likely far outweighed by the benefits to the many in terms of delivery of ecosystem services, so interest in rewilding as a solution to a growing number of environmental problems is likely to develop rapidly over the next few years.

Policy: This leaves us with policy and associated legislation. They say that “a week is a long time in politics” and if true (which it generally is) this creates a bit of an awkward place for wilderness and rewilding as these simply do not fit easily on political timescales. Nevertheless, there is a growing interest in rewilding across the world which mirrors the similar growth in wilderness and other protected areas over the last century. Policy and legislation is in a constant state of flux, so we need longer term visions for wilderness protection and rewilding. The mapping work described here in this book can only serve to underpin and support this.


  1. 1.

    Estimates of Peak Oil (maximum historical output per capita) vary as known reserves, new extraction technologies, variable demand and oil prices can mean output figures fluctuate but recent estimates suggest global output may peak in 2015.

  2. 2.

    See for example the Breakthrough Institute

  3. 3.

    Then at the Institute of Terrestial Ecology, Merlewood (now at Alterra, University of Wagenigen, Netherlands)

  4. 4.

    See for example the work of the John Muir Trust


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of GeographyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.Ecosystem Services and ManagementInternational Institute of Applied System AnalysisLaxenburgAustria

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