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Forests: Europe

Forest extent: Europe

The forested area of Europe increased by more than 9 million ha - or nearly 1 per cent - during 1990-2000

Note: dark green represents closed forest, more than 40 per cent covered with trees more than 5 metres high; midgreen represents open (10-40 per cent coverage) and fragmented forest; light green represents other woodland, shrubland and bushland

Source: FAO 2001a

Europe's 1 051 million ha of forests comprise 27 per cent of the world's total forested area and cover 45 per cent of the European landscape. Forest cover ranges from 0.3 per cent in Iceland to 72 per cent in Finland (FAO 2001a). A wide variety of boreal, temperate and sub-tropical forest types are represented, as well as tundra and montane formations. Since the 1970s, afforestation has gradually increased the area under forests: between 1990 and 2000 almost 9.3 million ha were added (FAO 2001a). However, old growth forests and forests of indigenous tree species are decreasing. Forest practices, relying on monocrop plantations and evenaged stands of exotic species, have not been conducive to maintaining biological diversity.

Some countries, particularly those with extensive forest cover (Finland, France, Germany and Sweden), consider their forests in an integrated context with landscapes and biodiversity. In theory, this means a broader, more responsible approach to forest practices. Others, particularly those with little forest cover (for example, Ireland and Spain), are more interested in rapid forest growth for commercial or watershed protection purposes. Sustainable forest management remains a challenge for many European countries.