What is the future of plantation forests in Europe?

The European Forest Institute (EFI) has organized a seminar on the future of plantation forests in Europe on 17 December in Brussels. The seminar aimed to explore the challenges and opportunities for plantation forests and possibly give answers to the following questions:

  • What are the benefits and impacts of planted forests?
  • Can planting trees tackle the climate crisis?
  • What issues currently face European plantation forests?

The event followed the launch of EFI’s From Science to Policy study, Plantation forests in Europe: challenges and opportunities.

Former ENV Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Chair of ThinkForest, stressed in his opening speech the importance of forests in the Green Deal. Mr Potočnik said that policies that should be kept in mind as part of solution to the current challenges, including climate change are those that cover supply side, demand side and nature-based products.

Short presentations were given by:

Professor Bart Muys from the KU Leuven moderated a panel with the following speakers:

  • Pedro Albizu, Smurfit Kappa Paper, Spain
  • Jo O’Hara, Scottish Forestry
  • Luis Neves Silva, New Generation Plantation/WWF
  • Margarida Tomé, University of Lisbon

During the panel discussion, it was pointed out that forest plantations play an important role in the climate change mitigation, bio-based circular economy and biodiversity. Societal perception about forest plantations was brought up and the panelists said that forest plantations of new generation are changing together with the perception of society towards plantations. They added that there are good and bad examples of forest plantation systems and that this needs to be accepted and learnt from these experiences. It was highlighted that positive approach needs to be kept in order to continue improving forest plantation systems.

From the audience comments and questions were raised about conservation of genetic resources as a part of sustainable forests management. Active forest management should be rather seen as a solution and not an obstacle for biodiversity conservation, at gene, species and ecosystem level.

In his closing speech, Mr Potočnik summarized all the issues and topics that emerged at the event and stressed that change is inevitable, that dematerialization of our society is needed, and this will include changing the way of using natural resources.

Both the study, by analyzed cases, and the discussions during the event, due to the composition of speakers invited to the panel, mixed issues of (fast growing) plantations with planted forests, which sometimes in Europe may be classified as semi-natural forests (pls see the Table A1 on p. 45). EUSTAFOR’s members are advised to have a closer look at the study in the context of their national circumstances.

Let’s build a future-fit Europe together! – EUSTAFOR’s Messages to European Policymakers

EUSTAFOR addresses the new EU Commission and the European Parliament’s Members with messages presenting the views of the European state forest management organisations regarding the future role of forests in light of the European Green Deal published on 11 December 2019 by the European Commission.

The message package highlights four key issues which deserve the European policy and decision makers’ attention when developing new policies and legislation to support the future European Green Deal:

  • Sustainable and multi-purpose forestry is a pan-European story
  • Climate-fit Europe means not only mitigation, but also adaptation
  • A home for biodiversity
  • Use wood! Boost the bioeconomy! Defossilize Europe!

EUSTAFOR is deeply convinced that the main tool to integrate European forests and the forest-based sector into the Green Deal should be a robust EU Forest Strategy post-2020, as it provides a framework for a consistent and well-coordinated action at EU level.

Furthermore, EUSTAFOR underlines the relevance of state forests’ experiences for the broad spectrum of issues encompassed by the European Greed Deal, such as climate neutrality, biodiversity and a growing circular bioeconomy. The future of European forests – with their long life cycle – depends on the political and managerial decisions that are made today. With its knowledge and expertise, EUSTAFOR believes that the association can actively contribute to a comprehensive understanding of how Europe’s forests can help to accomplish the multiple ambitions of the European Green Deal.

Together with the letter, a new EUSTAFOR information leaflet was attached to the message package in order to provide more information about the multiple functions of EU forests, the significant role of sustainable forest management and EUSTAFOR’s strategic objectives for 2019 – 2021.

The Report on the State of the European environment 2020 has landed

One of the major tasks of the European Environment Agency (EEA) is to publish every 5 years a report on the state of, trends in, and prospects for the environment. The European environment – state and outlook (SOER) 2020 is the 6th report published and like all previous reports, it has been prepared in close collaboration with the EEA’s European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet) – a partnership between the EEA and its 33 member countries and six cooperating countries.

One of the overarching conclusions of the SOER 2020 states that although EU environment and climate policies have delivered substantial benefits over recent decades, Europe faces persistent problems in areas such as biodiversity loss, resource use, climate change impacts and environmental risks to health and well-being. The messages from the SOER 2020 assessment of recent trends and outlooks is that policy measures targeted at natural capital have delivered benefits in some areas, but many problems persist, and some are getting worse.

Natura 2000
For example, there has been a steady increase in the cumulative area of the Natura 2000 network in EU Member States in the last 10 years – the global Aichi biodiversity target of 17 % of terrestrial areas conserved has been reached in Europe. In the EU, the Natura 2000 network already covers 18 % of the land area. Around 50 % of the sites are forests. On the other hand, assessments of species and habitats protected under Natura 2000 is showing that at the EU level only 23 % of species and 16 % of habitats indicate favourable conservation status.

Trends in conservation status of assessed habitats at EU level (Source SOER 2020)

Forest ecosystems – state and challenges
The forested area in Europe has been largely stable over the last two decades, and it has expanded. The Report states that close to 90 % of European forests are available for wood supply, and they are mostly managed in accordance with the principles of SFM. Less than 5 % of European forest areas are considered undisturbed, or natural1, while less than 1 % can be considered primary or virgin forests2. Still, despite the stable area and sustainable use of timber resources, forest ecosystems are subject to pressures and changes in their condition, which raises concern over their long-term stability and health. Additionally, the report shows that fragmentation of forests increased by 8 % between 2009 and 2015. In Eastern and Southern Europe (Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Poland), the increase in fragmentation of forests and woodlands was more than 15 %, and illegal logging is increasingly reported (e.g. in the Carpathian region).

According to the Report, forest ecosystems also have to cope with multiple pressures generated from human-related activities3. These include also certain forest management practices such as intensively managed even‑aged forests and biomass production plantations that through clear‑cutting and deadwood removal may severely impact whole habitats. Nevertheless, only 10 % of Europe’s forests have been classified as intensively managed4. The report warns that combined impacts of climate change considerably affect forest structure and the functioning of forest ecosystems and their services.

The implementation of EU biodiversity policy still remains a major challenge. SFM provides criteria and indicators to measure success in balancing the production function with ecological concerns (for example the amounts of deadwood and biological and genetic diversity). The report brings out that increasing evidence shows that the ecological aspects of SFM would need to embrace management approaches that promote more uneven-aged forests or even single-tree selective systems, as far as this is economically feasible and suitable for the particular forest type. Systems that ensure structural diversity and small-scale variability in ecosystems and habitats have less impact on biodiversity (Chaudhary et al., 2016; Puettmann et al., 2015).

The report concludes that for providing good incentives for SFM that will build synergies between biodiversity and bioeconomy related goals, good governance, science-based facts and policies with a holistic approach are crucial. Some progress has been made, still some Member States should improve their protection of forests through incentives for foresters following the EU forest strategy and SFM principles5.

EUSTAFOR’s members are encouraged to analyse the Report, in particular as regards information reported by their respective countries. Their feedback to EUSTAFOR’s office is welcomed and will be used to prepare subsequent positions presented in Brussels by our association.

1Forest Europe, 2015b, State of Europe’s forests 2015 report 
2Sabatini, F. M., et al., 2018, ‘Where are Europe’s last primary forests?’, Diversity and Distributions 24(10), pp. 1426-1439
3EEA, 2016b, Environmental indicator report 2016 — in support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA Report No 30/2016, European Environment Agency
4EEA, 2016b, Environmental indicator report 2016 — in support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA Report No 30/2016, European Environment Agency
5EC, 2019, Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030, Reflection paper, European Commission

Forest dieback in Europe and measures to combat it

Over the last season, we have been informed by several EUSTAFOR members that they have experienced severe cases of forest dieback. The massive forest dieback affecting forests in several European countries has received broad attention and recognition. The European Parliament held a debate on the state of EU forests at its Plenary Session held in Strasbourg on 16 September 2019.

Spruce dieback in the Bialowieża Forest, Poland, August 2019

We sent you a short questionnaire that should help us to better understand the current situation and any measures taken by you in the context of this problem. We are aiming for better overview on the problem and wish to facilitate the exchange of experiences among EUSTAFOR members. A comprehensive summary of the key information we received from our members is attached.

Thank you for your contribution!

Review of EU aid instruments for forest-related investments in state forests

The information recently received from EUSTAFOR members about forest damages and their consequences showed that many SFMOs are currently undertaking various measures aimed either at eradication of the harmful agents, or to recover from the damage that has already occurred. The scale of measures undertaken often exceeds the financial capacities of SFMOs. Therefore, external aid instruments, either from national or EU resources, are required. In order to get a better overview on how much the EU financial support has been used so far and what will be the future need for such support, EUSTAFOR Office prepared a short survey to all members.

EUSTAFOR Office has prepared an Infonote of EU funds that are available for SFMOs, both EU and non-EU. This fact sheet provides a description of the instruments available at the EU level and aims to assist EUSTAFOR member organizations in seeking appropriate support tools. All members are highly encouraged to examine this document and check for the available funding opportunities for their SFMO, depending on the specific needs.

We would also like to invite you to give your feedback on what kind of measures have already been implemented in your organization in the current financial framework (2014-2020). The survey also gives the opportunity to inform us about the main obstacles for SFMOs for receiving EU financial support. This information will be compiled and analyzed in a comprehensive report and reported back to all members via EUSTAFOR’s intranet. Please send your contributions through the following link or fill in the attached pdf (EU Financial funds survey) and send it back to office@eustafor.eu (Cc amila.meskin@eustafor.eu) by 12 January 2020.

European Countries Make Another Try for a Regional Forest Convention

The first informal meeting to discuss the possible negotiation on a Legally Binding Agreement (LBA) on Forests in Europe took place on 31 October and 1 November 2019 at UN Headquarters in Geneva.

Forest Europe signatory countries and the EU agreed at the Expert Level Meeting on 6 December 2018 a draft Ministerial Decision for consideration by the ministers through a written procedure in 2019, in which they recommended to transfer the further negotiations on the LBA to the UN system. Furthermore, UNECE and FAO were invited to jointly organize a new negotiation process. The Decision was sent to all signatory parties for adoption by a “silent procedure”. Even though the procedure was broken by the Russian Federation, the ultimate decision of UNECE and FAO governing bodies was to call an informal meeting to discuss the possible arrangements for the negotiation process.

The first informal meeting aimed at accomplishing draft elements of a Decision for adoption by the UNECE Executive Committee establishing the negotiating group for the preparation of a draft legally binding agreement on forests in Europe and draft Terms of Reference of the UNECE Negotiating Group for a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe (FLBA-NG). Even though the work has been pushed forward, not all elements have been completed. Consequently, the second informal meeting was decided, which will take place on 27-29 January 2020 in at UNECE offices in Geneva.

All UNECE member countries and the EU can actively participate in the negotiations, whereas stakeholders are allowed to be observers to this process. The Executive Director represented EUSTAFOR at this meeting.

The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050

The European Commission has recently presented the European Green Deal – a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all.

The European Green Deal provides a roadmap with actions to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution. It outlines investments needed and financing tools available, and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition.

To set into legislation the political ambition of being the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050, the Commission will present within 100 days the first “European Climate Law“. To reach the climate and environmental ambition, the Commission will also present, among others, the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and a new Forest Strategy post-2020.

EUSTAFOR and our members are looking forward to actively contribute to a comprehensive understanding of how European forests can help to accomplish the multiple ambitions of the European Green Deal.

For more information about the European Green Deal, please click here.

European Commission speeds up on forests and biodiversity

The 1st meeting of the Coordination Group on Biodiversity and Nature (CGBN) Subgroup on Nature and Forests took place on 25 November 2019 in Brussels upon invitation of DG ENV of the European Commission. The Sub-group was established by DG ENV to develop common understanding of the challenges for the protection of European forests and forest species and to suggest concrete measures for the management, including conservation and restoration of forest ecosystems. As announced by the Commission, deliverables of this group will feed in the development and implementation of the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy, as a part of the European Green Deal. Executive Director represented EUSTAFOR at the meeting. Experts from RMK/Estonia and Lasy Państwowe/Poland were also present.

The detailed Back-to-Office Report from the meeting, including proposed contribution to be sent from EUSTAFOR to DG ENV, was provided to all EUSTAFOR members for consultation. Worth noticing is that the Sub-group was established under DG ENV-led Coordination Group on Biodiversity and Nature (CGBN), with no clear links to the existing under the EU Forest Strategy, Standing Forestry Committee (SFC) and the Civil Dialogue Group on Forestry and Cork (CDGFC). The EU Green Deal [include link], published 11 December 2019 by the European Commission, confirmed expected and intensively discussed during the Sub-group meeting a progressing relocation of the forestry issue from the current competence of DG AGRI towards DG ENV. The latter will have definite impact on the future of the EU Forest Strategy.

EUSTAFOR’s members are strongly advised to consult these developments with respective ministries.

Horizon 2020’s HOMED project encouraging active input from stakeholders

According to different reports made in the last decade, a growing list of introduced non-native pests and pathogens (PnPs) have been causing dramatic losses to European trees and forests. Most of these devastating PnPs, e.g. chestnut blight, ash dieback, Asian long-horned beetle and western conifer seed bug, were harmless or even unknown in their region of origin.

The Holistic Management of Forest Pests and Diseases (HOMED) is a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It aims to develop a full panel of scientific knowledge and practical solutions for the management of emerging native and non-native PnPs threatening European forests.

EUSTAFOR has been invited, as a member of the stakeholders’ advisory board, to participate at the first annual HOMED meeting and to present the expectations of state forest owners and managers regarding the protection of European forests against invasive species of insect pests and pathogenic fungi. The Meeting was held in Banca Etica of Padua (Italy) from 27 to 29 November.

The two-days meeting aimed to present the highlights of the year and what has been done so far as well as to discuss the future development of the project.

The project is composed of eight different working packages:

  • WP1: Forest stakeholder engagement
  • WP2: Comprehensive risk analysis
  • WP3: Prevention detection tools
  • WP4: Surveillance delimitation tools
  • WP5: Eradication containment tools
  • WP6: Control tools
  • WP7: Dissemination
  • WP8: Project management

Each of the working packages’ leaders presented their current developments and among others, it should be noted that HOMED is offering a chance for active input from different stakeholders, through:

  • The survey, which aims to get a better overview on pest and pathogen awareness, current management techniques and expectations for improved management tools.
  • Possible involvement in stakeholder’s panels (upon a request to the project leaders), that should give an opportunity to give input in different discussions in partner countries.

EUSTAFOR encourages its members to give their input and if it is of particular interest, to contact the project leaders for joining the stakeholders’ panels. As we pointed out several times, forests are recently being under impact of different damaging biotic agents and any research activities that will bring more knowledge are welcomed by EUSTAFOR. Specifically, it is in the highest interest of SFMOs to be informed about the latest developments of practical applications and innovations. EUSTAFOR Office will, in their best capacity, keep following HOMED activities and keep its members posted.

European forest-based sector launched its Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2030

The European forest-based sector has launched its Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SIRA) 2030 at the annual conference of the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform (FTP) on 27th December 2019 in Helsinki. The agenda provides a holistic roadmap for the European research and innovation to tackle the current major societal challenges facing Europe. The one-day conference is organised under the auspices of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. EUSTAFOR, as one of FTP’s founding members, attended this conference together with other organisations of the European forest-based sector, policymakers and researchers.

With a mission to achieve the 10 FTP Vision Targets by 2040, which was introduced last year, SIRA 2030 identifies for each vision target the challenges that require significant efforts in research and innovation. Accordingly, close to 50 challenges have been identified. For each challenge, SIRA 2030 identifies important examples of research and innovation activities needed to tackle the challenge. The 10 focus points of the agenda include:

1. Sustainable forest management, biodiversity and resilience to climate change
2. Increased, sustainable wood production and mobilization
3. More added value from non-wood ecosystem services
4. Towards a zero-waste circular society
5. Efficient use of natural resources
6. Diversification of production technologies and logistics
7. Purposeful, safe jobs and links between rural and urban region
8. Renewable building materials for healthier living
9. New fibre-based products and 80 per cent lower CO2 emissions
10. Renewable energy for society

Making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent is within reach but requires more innovative initiatives and research-based actions. SIRA 2030 will play an important role in reaching EU climate and energy policy objectives and the discussion on more ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030.”, said Johan Elvnert, Managing Director of FTP.

Besides, the Board of FTP also organised their regular meeting in Helsinki to discuss the EU-funding landscape in 2020 – opportunities and challenges for FTP, the promotion plan for SIRA 2030 and the change of FTP’s legal statute from Belgian association (ASBL) to international association (AISBL).