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Green Corridors Needed to Reconnect Europe's Fragmented Forests

Forest fires, storms, unsustainable management and mass tourism are major causes of forest fragmentation

The 'State of Europe's forests 2011' report aims at catalyzing action at ministerial meeting in June where negotiations commence on first legally binding instrument for sustainable management of forests in Europe

Geneva 31 May 2011 - European forests may be expanding by around 7,000 hectares a year but many are still under threat from 'fragmentation' as a result of felling, fires and conversion to agricultural land, according to experts with the United Nations.

These isolated and fragmented forest systems are not only more vulnerable to climate change, they are less able to support wildlife, stabilize soils and supply sufficient water to the cities, companies and communities that rely on such ecosystem services.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with scientists at the European Commission who are drawing up maps pin-pointing where increased tree planting can assist in restoring Europe's green corridors in order to reconnect fragmented forests.

It is hoped to have the maps ready by, or shortly after, a key ministerial meeting taking place in Oslo, Norway, in mid-June, which comes half way through the UN's International Year of Forests.

Some of the challenges facing Europe's forests are highlighted in the Carpathian Mountains. Here, the number of hotels has increased by almost 60 per cent in the last ten years and popular destinations are being affected by mass tourism.

Since the 1990s, the process of re-privatization and the transfer of forest areas to private owners has resulted in the disintegration of forest management and the fragmentation of forest coverage in the Carpathian states, according to UNEP.

Forest fires, especially in the Mediterranean basin and in the Russian Federation, are another challenge. The European Forest Institute estimates that 500,000 hectares are burnt each year in the Mediterranean region as a result of more than 50,000 fires.

Forest abandonment, coupled with climate change, is increasing the risk of forest fires in the basin. The Institute also estimates that without better forest management necessary for combating desertification, 80 million people living in the Mediterranean region may have access to less than 500m3 of water each year by 2025.

The meeting in Oslo of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, Ministers, aims to move forward on the fragmentation issue and more effective forest policies.

It is expected that the conference?coordinated by FOREST EUROPE?will lead o the adoption of new targets and goals including on fragmentation and restoration as part of European Forests 2020.

A key item to be addressed at the conference is the elaboration of a strengthened policy framework for sustainable forest management throughout Europe. In this context, the ministers are expected to open negotiations on a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe.

The ministers of the seven Carpathian States have just taken the lead on legal instruments. Last Friday, 27 May, High Level Representatives of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic and Ukraine decided to further cooperate and strengthen their efforts to protect, maintain and sustainably manage forests in the Carpathians.

The legal framework has been established through the approval of the Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management to the Carpathian Convention.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) already provides a legally-binding regulatory scheme ensuring that international trade in listed timber species and non-timber forest products is legal, sustainable and traceable.

Up-to-date picture of the status and trends of Europe's forests:

The ministerial meeting in Oslo will be informed by a new report entitled "State of Europe's Forests" compiled by FOREST EUROPE, UN Economic Commission for Europe and the UN's Food and Agricultural organisation.

The key findings of this detailed 'zoom in' or snapshot of Europe's forests on our forests are released today from Geneva, on the eve of World Environment Day 2011:

Forests cover almost half of Europe's land surface and forest area continues to increase

There are 1.02 billion hectares of forest in Europe, which make up 25 percent of the world's total. Over the last 20 years, the forest area has expanded in all European regions and has gained 0.8 million hectares each year. Over the same period, the total growing stock of forests in Europe has increased by 8.6 billion cubic metres, an equivalent to the total combined growing stock of France, Germany and Poland. Growing stock has increased faster than area, which means that average standing volume of wood per hectare in Europe has increased.

Eleven million hectares or 1 percent of Europe's forests are affected by forest damage, most frequently caused by insects and diseases

The level of damage from insects and diseases is significant but under reported. One percent of the European forest area is affected by one or more damaging agents (6 percent for Europe without the Russian Federation). Damage due to storms, wind and snow was mainly observed in Central-West, Central-East, North and South-West Europe, while damage due to forest fires has mainly been reported for the Russian Federation, South-West and South-East Europe.

The majority of European forest landscapes have been influenced by humans

About 70 percent of Europe's forests are classified as semi-natural, as a result of many centuries of human influence. Long historical use of wood, high population density, fragmented forest landscapes and forest ownership structure, with many small private forest holdings, have been driving factors. Undisturbed forest amounts to 26 percent and is located primarily in remote and inaccessible areas of eastern and northern Europe, and in the Russian Federation. Plantations cover 4 percent of the forest area and are located mainly in Central-West Europe. The assessment of forest landscape pattern indicates that expanding forest area, by natural succession or restoration, does not necessarily enhance forest connectivity.

Fellings are well below forest growth

In almost all countries, the net annual increment is higher than the annual fellings. In the European region, approximately 40 percent of the increment is utilized. In the Russian Federation the felling rate has decreased from 41 percent in 1990 and stabilized around 20 percent since 2000. In Europe without the Russian Federation, the felling rate increased from 58 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 2010.

Europe remains one of the largest producers of roundwood in the world

In 2010, more than 578 million cubic metres of roundwood were produced. The overall value of marketed roundwood is still increasing and reached EUR 21.1 billion[1] in 2010. Europe's forests continue to be one of the main roundwood producers in the world. The demand for wood fuel is increasing at a high rate in many European countries.

Non-wood goods can be an important source of local income

The importance of non-wood goods differs between countries, thus a comprehensive view on all types of these goods across Europe is difficult to obtain. However, the reported data clearly shows that non-wood goods can be an important source of local income. The total reported value of marketed non-wood goods amounts to EUR 2.7 billion and has almost tripled since the 2007 assessment ? although some of the increase may be due to improved reporting. In 2010, Christmas trees, fruits and berries, and cork were the most important non-wood income sources. The value of marketed non-wood goods represented 15 percent of the value of marketed roundwood in countries that reported both values.

Outside the Russian Federation, 50 percent of forests are in private ownership

All forests in the Russian Federation are publicly owned ? they represent 80 percent of the forest area in the FOREST EUROPE region. Outside the Russian Federation, ownership is distributed equally between private and public, with considerable variation between countries. The proportion of private forests and numbers of private forest holdings have increased over the last 20 years, mainly because of privatization and restitution processes in a number of countries.

Potential for further mechanization vary substantially between regions

Around 4 million people work in the European forest sector, including wood processing and pulp and paper industries. The general trend is a decrease in occupation, but there are substantial differences between regions, which reflect the mechanization level and the potential for increased productivity. As the forestry workforce is ageing, a challenge is the recruitment of new workers to the sector. Forest work still reports a very high accident rate, and relatively few improvements were identified over the past decade.

Note to Editors

The following speakers briefed journalists at the Palais des Nations on Tuesday 31 May 2011:

Ivonne Higuero, UNEP

Roman Michalak, UNECE/ FAO Forestry and Timber Section

Kristin Dawes, FOREST EUROPE

Marc Palahi, European Forest Institute

Marceil Yeater, CITES

Andreas Streit, CMS

For further information, please contact:

Isabelle Valentiny, UNEP Information Officer, Tel. + 41 22 917 8404, Mobile + 41 79 251 8236, E-mail: isabelle.valentiny@unep.org




Further Resources

UNEP and Forests

World Environment Day 2011 - 'Forests: Nature at Your Service'

UN International Year of Forests 2011

Video: Branching Out for a Green Economy


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