Is Europe doing enough to ensure long-term health of forests?
Climate change, pollution and encroaching human development are posing an increased threat to the long-term stability and health of European forests, according to a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report released today. Forest ecosystems play a vital role for the environment and in combatting climate change. The report recommends that better sustainable management is needed to ensure this precious green resource is there for future generations.
The EEA report European forest ecosystems: state and trends, gives an updated health check on how our forests are coping with the many challenges they face. It assesses whether forest ecosystems can still manage to play their part providing key ‘services’ for the environment. Forests help regulate our climate and sustain watersheds, providing clean water. They also act as ‘carbon sinks’, clean the air we breathe and help preserve and protect biodiversity as many species depend on forests for their home. There is a growing awareness of the important role forests play in mitigating climate change, in particular after the climate talks in Paris (COP21).
The report identifies habitat loss and degradation, the risk posed by invasive alien species, pollution and climate change as the top four challenges European forests face today. These threats, combined with economic activities such as logging, urban sprawl, or the increasing use of forests by humans for leisure, make forests more vulnerable to degradation.
To tackle these problems and to improve the protection of forests, the report calls for enhanced research and data collection on a European level, tapping into national forest inventories and monitoring to better track changes in forest cover and conditions. It also calls for EU policies to take forest activities more into account.
Enhanced coordination among stakeholders, forest owners, timber industry, policy makers, and the general public is needed to improve the sustainable management of forests, not only when it comes to timber production but also on the use of forests for other ecosystem services.
- Forests remain the dominant natural habitat across most of Europe. In 2015, forests and other wooded land covered more than 40% of the total land surface in the 33 member countries and six cooperating countries of the EEA. This is equal to 186 million hectares (ha).
- European forests have increased in area by about 10% since 1990. The increase in forest cover is likely due to the natural expansion of forests on, for example, abandoned farmland in rural and remote areas.
- Almost 70% of forested areas in Europe is within six countries: Sweden (28 million ha), Finland (22 million ha), Spain (18 million ha), France (17 million ha), Norway and Turkey (both 12 million ha).
- Climate change is likely to have a significant impact both on the zones where tree species can live and the range of tree species that can thrive in Europe. Increased periods of droughts and warmer winters are expected to further weaken forests against invasive species and make trees more susceptible to disease, pests and pathogens.
- For the 2007-2012 period, the 27 EU Member States reported that only 26% of forest species and 15% of forest habitats of European interest, as listed in the EU’s Habitats Directive, were in ‘favourable nature conservation status.’ Recent reports by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicate that 27% of mammals, 10% of reptiles and 8% of amphibians linked to forests are threatened with extinction within the EU.
Source: The European Environment Agency (EEA)