The designation, coverage and implementation of protected areas and Natura 2000 sites vary widely across European countries. However, looking at the continental map, we discern some regional patterns in wilderness protection. Many mountainous areas in the Pyrenees, the Apennines, the Massif Central and the Carpathians are covered by Natura 2000 sites and, to a lesser extent, by nationally designated protected areas (Fig. 2.2) (European Environment Agency 2012a, b). Large protected areas included both in the Natura 2000 network and in the national networks protect the Scandinavian mountains. As already pointed out in the literature (Gaston et al. 2008), many of the designated areas overlap because countries have co-designated under Natura 2000 and their own national systems. However, important differences between the two protected areas systems can also be noticed (Fig. 2.2). For example, the Iberian Peninsula and South-Eastern Europe seem to have a much larger area under protection by the Natura 2000 network than from nationally designated protected areas. Conservation seems to have benefitted in these areas from a push from the European conservation policies (European Council 1979, 1992). Meanwhile, Germany and France have smaller and fewer terrestrial protected areas under the Natura 2000 network than under the national network.
It has been suggested in the literature that the designation of protected areas has been done opportunistically and thus that they are more likely to cover low productivity, high altitude, wilderness areas (Pressey et al. 1993; Margules and Pressey 2000). Although largely lacking continental coordination, Natura 2000 network has some features common with systematic conservation planning and aims to protect species and habitats threatened at continental level (Gaston et al. 2008). Surprisingly however, the terrestrial Natura 2000 sites have a lower continental average proportion of harvested PP than nationally designated protected areas: 26.7 % for Natura 2000 sites against 34.3 % for the nationally designated protected areas. The continental average values for the impact of artificial night light in Natura 2000 sites is 38 while in nationally designated protected areas network is 31, showing the same pattern as in the case of harvested PP. However, we have to keep in mind that
Fig. 2.2 Protected territory in Europe under the Natura 2000 network and nationally designated protected areas
there are big regional differences between the patterns of wilderness in protected areas in Europe. For instance, analysis concentrating on Germany as a case study demonstrated that the Natura 2000 areas in Western Germany largely fail to protect the roadless and the low-traffic areas, whereas in former East Germany a better congruence was achieved (Selva et al. 2011).
Indicative of higher resource availability, we verified that higher species richness of megafauna species coincides with high wilderness. We selected the mammals with an adult bodyweight of an average of 10 kg or more (Jones et al. 2009) from the data of the Atlas of European Mammals (Mitchell-Jones et al. 1999). These include species of large herbivores and apex predators such as the wolf ( Canis lupus) and the lynx ( Lynx lynx). We also selected the bird species with an adult bodyweight of an average of 5 kg or more (Myers et al. 2013; Tacutu et al. 2013) using data from the atlas of the European Bird Census Council (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997). These species include several birds of prey as well as other species such as the great white pelican ( Pelecanus onocrotalus) or the great bustard ( Ardeotis nigriceps). In the end, we obtained a megafauna list of 30 mammal species and 13 bird species distributed in a grid of 50 × 50 km2 covering the European territory. At a visual examination, the highest species richness areas in terms of megafauna coincide with high wilderness areas in Europe such as the Carpathians, the Apennines and the Pyrenees (Fig. 2.3). We calculated rank correlations between the megafauna species richness and average values per grid cell of the four wilderness metrics. The results suggest that wilderness and megfauna populations spatially coincide in Europe (ρ = 0.18, p < 0.0001 for access from roads and settlements, ρ = − 0.28, p < 0.0001 for light impact, ρ = 0.34, p < 0.0001 for dPNV score, ρ = − 0.26, p < 0.0001 for harvested PP). There are several mechanisms that could underlie this pattern such as the direct persecution of carnivores and birds of prey countered by conservation programs in areas of lowest social conflict (Valkama et al. 2005; Enserink and Vogel 2006). This pattern could also be related to a phylogenetic bias determined by the strong predominance of a few bird and mammal orders in our selection which could be limited to certain habitats only based on their common evolutionary history. We also did not consider the possible spatial autocorrelation in our datasets. However, from the perspective of abandonment, the spatial concurrence between megafauna species richness and high wilderness is important because it means that abandoned farmland closer to high wilderness areas will have a better chance of being repopulated by these species. This will lead to a quicker recovery of trophic networks and natural ecological processes.