Let’s Get Wild! The European Wilderness Society
Nick Huisman works for the European Wilderness Society and is based in Austria. His main job is to develop new Wilderness projects with his colleagues for submission to national and international conservation programmes. It may sound like a boring desk job, but Nick and his team play an important role in designating and stewarding Europe’s Wilderness.
Nick and his team familiarise themselves with new requirements and keywords for every new conservation project and find the right partner organisations to work with for the projects to flourish. Nick is involved with several newly established projects and also writes weekly articles for the European Wilderness Society website.
However, it wouldn’t be the European Wilderness Society if the staff couldn’t get out in the Wilderness, and from spring to late autumn each year, Nick and the team are out and about as much as possible.
Together, the team visit new potential Wilderness in Europe, revisit already-certified Wilderness areas that are a partner in the European Wilderness Network, and perform Wilderness Audits for areas that wish to join the European Wilderness Network.
Nick shared his conservation career story with me and his advice for aspiring conservationists…
Who are the European Wilderness Society?
The European Wilderness Society is the only pan-European, Wilderness and environmental advocacy non-profit, non-government organisation.
It has a dedicated multi-cultural and experienced team of Wilderness and wildlife specialists, nature conservationists, researchers and scientists, tourism experts, marketing and business professionals, legal advisors and Wilderness advocates, whose mission is to identify, designate, steward, and promote Europe’s last Wilderness, WILDCoasts, WILDForests, WILDIslands and WILDRivers. In these places non-human intervention leads to open-ended, natural and dynamic processes.
This is conveyed through a range of projects that facilitate Wilderness knowledge exchange, including education, culture and science, from local community through to scientific and governmental level.
The main headquarters of the European Wilderness Society lies in Tamsweg, in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Lungau. Other subsidiary offices you find in Spain, Germany, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belgium and Italy. Our team, or as we say the wolfpack, is small but very dynamic and flexible. This is one of the core strengths of the European Wilderness Society.
Why work in conservation?
During my Biology studies at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, I got several opportunities to go abroad for exchanges and internships. One of them was an internship at an international re-introduction project for European bison in Romania.
This experience kick-started my interest in getting professionally involved in nature conservation. Searching for a first job, I came across the European Wilderness Society. I started off as a volunteer, but soon convinced the team of my competencies, which resulted in a full-time position.
Since then, time has flown by very fast. The great thing about working in nature conservation is that I feel that I can contribute in my own way to make sure that there will be enough nature for future generations.
At first, I applied for an open job position at the organisation. Another applicant got this position, so I offered to join the team as a volunteer for a short term. Soon enough, after 2 weeks of volunteering, I got the offer to stay with a contract as the team was glad to have me on board.
For my work, I would dive into the world of project development, which was completely new to me. I started off with smaller projects for EU-funded programmes. Quickly the projects to develop got bigger, both in budget and partnerships.
It has been, and still is, a steep learning curve. Every day we learn new things at work, which you learn most effectively by just doing it. Making mistakes is also a big part of learning of course. Fortunately, we allow ourselves to do so, and to learn from our mistakes in order to succeed on the next try.
The hard work has paid off in several bigger and smaller projects that we started over the last year. Now, I am not only developing projects, but also involved in the implementation of them! It is great to see how an idea comes to life from a piece of paper to real action on the ground.
The key to the work of the European Wilderness Society is the European Wilderness Network. It is a network that connects all certified Wilderness in Europe, to which the European Wilderness Society provides support in various ways.
The certification of Wilderness is done by Wilderness experts from the European Wilderness Society, using the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System. The certifications mean fieldwork: several days for Quick Audits and up to two full weeks for Full Audits.
These Audits are the best thing when working at the European Wilderness Society. It means dirty boots, sweaty shirts, and wild nature. It brings us to the wildest places in Europe, where we assess and document the quality and uniqueness of the habitats.
For almost every Wilderness there is a dedicated local management team that the European Wilderness Society supports. This adds another important dimension to the understanding of why people want to keep Wilderness alive in Europe. It is one of our aims to share this message with the rest of the people in Europe and beyond.
Working in nature conservation is a tough job. Many people who love nature, animals, the outdoors, or specifically Wilderness, might have a ‘romanticised’ view of nature conservation.
The truth is that nature does not produce money for those trying to protect it. The financial challenge is, and will most likely always be, the biggest threat to the continuation of jobs in this work field.
When working in nature conservation, you need to see it as a business. The competition for funds is often extremely high. When submitting a project on which you have worked for weeks, perhaps months, the success rate lies often only at 6%. Nevertheless, we have to continue with pushing if we want to ensure that the last pieces of Wilderness in Europe survive the next decades.
This year, two big multi-year projects have started, where the European Wilderness Society is one of the project partners. Both projects, on European Beech Forests and Carpathian Protected Areas, are very interesting and valuable in the continued protection of important natural places in Europe.
The work that our team pulled off, together with a strong partnership across many other countries, is something we are very proud of. We are looking forward to working on these projects and developing more like these in the near future.
Another smaller project, which I developed mostly myself, also got accepted. With this project, the European Wilderness Society will be organising a youth conference on sustainability and a ‘green future’ later this year.
Wilderness will be always under pressure, especially in densely populated places such as Europe. It will be a challenge to find those pioneers in Protected Area Management and convince them about the principles of Wilderness.
On the other hand, this challenge has kept our team going for the last 5 years, and the European Wilderness Network now has over 40 partners. Europe’s aim is to designate 2% of its land cover as Wilderness, and the European Wilderness Society will continue to work towards achieving this goal with our Wilderness Advocates around the world.
Advice for future conservationists;
It is very important to realise that working for nature conservation is not easy. It requires a lot of dedication, perseverance and good faith. But hard work pays off, and the reward should outweigh the challenges you faced trying to get there.
Find an organisation near you, or in a country that you would like to work. Make yourself known, network and participate. Perhaps volunteering may be a good way to show others what you can do. But also look for opportunities to get funded as a volunteer, perhaps with Erasmus programmes.
And when you do find a job, make sure that you always stay open to learning new things. New skills and competencies will help you on your journey to become an all-round nature conservationist. And most importantly, do not be afraid to make mistakes, that is the best way to learn. Go out there, and let’s get Wild!