New wilderness – an aesthetic myth

The meaning of new wilderness plays an important role in its perception and acceptance as an element of the peri-urban landscape.

The understanding of new wilderness is related to the cultural concept of wilderness which must be seen as different from original wilderness. This new wilderness is also not the wilderness of traditional nature conser­vation, which describes a landscape without human interventions (see also the definition by Korner (2005).

The cultural concept of wilderness is based on a visual perception. It is an aesthetic perspective that can be seen as a compensation for the modern scientific perspective on nature (Grossklaus 1993). The cultural concept of wilderness does not create wilderness but images of wildness related to aesthetic and symbolic ideas of (wild) nature. The artificial wilderness of a holiday park also shows the relationship of image and meaning of wild­ness. The wildness of these parks is not the true, original wilderness but an image that has become reality through its relationship to positive under­standings of wildness.

For this reason, the cultural concept of wildness is not defined by the degree of human impact but by an area’s wild appearance. Wild vegeta­tion does not have to be original nature but must show a wild character (Seel 1991). Even a secondary wilderness (of spontaneous vegetation) can be seen as expressing wildness, as long as it seems to grow uncontrolled (no matter if it is controlled by vegetation management).

The idea of wildness is important for the acceptance of wild vegetation in the peri-urban landscape. Its meaning today is the result of a process of changes. The understanding of wildness has changed from a negative sym­bol of a “place of horror” to a positive image of the self-determination of man and the autonomous complexity of nature. This change began even be­fore Rousseau’s concept of the natural freedom of man to which wildness is a corresponding image. Since that time, wildness has become an aes­thetic myth of the modern society that incorporates different positive meanings.

The development of a positive meaning of wildness is the basis of an aesthetic perception of wild vegetation.