Forests, biodiversity and sustainable forest management – an inseparable trio thriving together

When you take a walk in the forest, what do you see? Trees, birds, animals or flowers. But forests, including forest biodiversity, are built on much more than that. It is not always easy to see and understand how individual tree species absorb water from the soil or can react to light in such different ways. It is also not easy to draw a connection between what we see in forests with what we use in our daily lives, such as books or wooden chairs and tables. Nor is it easy to see and understand what thousands of foresters and forest managers do, every day, to ensure our forests will flourish for centuries to come while serving people, climate and nature.

No time is better to talk about forests, biodiversity and sustainable forest management than today, 21 March, when the International Day of Forests 2020 is being celebrated around the world with a focus, this year, on Forest and Biodiversity.

More than 1/3 of Europe is covered by forests, providing a wealth of economic, environmental and social benefits for all Europeans. Up to 1/3 of Europe’s forests are owned by states, which means that they belong to the citizens of Europe. State Forest Management Organisations (SFMOs) look after Europe’s forests and practice multifunctional and sustainable forest management of the highest standards for the benefit of all.

European state forests provide a home for biodiversity

European state forests provide a home for thousands of bird, mammal, insect, and plant species. About 50% of the EU’s Natura 2000 sites (37,5 million hectares)(1) are forests, of which 8 million hectares are situated in state forests. An additional 16 million hectares of state forests provide benefits resulting from their protected or protective status. Management practices applied in state forestry clearly show that the ecological functions of forest ecosystems and biodiversity can be maintained in managed forests along with all other functions. In fact, forest management is not only compatible with the conservation of biodiversity but, in most cases, actively contributes to its maintenance and enhancement.

Why does sustainable and multifunctional forest management matter?

Sustainable forest management (SFM) is defined as a “dynamic and evolving concept, which aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests, for the benefit of present and future generations”(2). Managing forests sustainably means to manage and use forests in such a way that future generations will benefit from forests as much as, and possibly even more than, we do now. Their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity and vitality are maintained while leaving all interconnected ecosystems intact.

For decades, SFMOs have been addressing many biodiversity issues in their multifunctional forest management. Taking into account biodiversity objectives, forestry can generally be carried out with minimal harmful impact on the living conditions of species and habitats.

All activities in SFM, from planning and doing inventories to planting, thinning and harvesting trees, are done carefully and in ways which ensure continuity while paying special attention to forest health, resilience and biodiversity. For example, one very frequent management practice is thinning – the selective removal of trees. Often forest managers decide to remove some trees in order to stimulate the growth of neighbouring trees. This usually applies to rare species in need of help against their competitors that deprive them of nutrients, water or light, or simply outcompete them because they are stronger, invasive or transport diseases or pests.

Forest management practices are adapted to diverse policy goals and social expectations while maintaining and enhancing the multifunctionality of forests. Accordingly, sustainable and multifunctional forest management, as applied in European state forests, aims to balance the complex and sometimes conflicting sets of demands on forests. The focus of a forest’s function, where necessary, does not mean that other essential functions are neglected.

The multiple demands and expectations of today’s society regarding forests, including the contribution of forests and biodiversity on tackling climate change, often result in new and ongoing challenges for sustainable and multifunctional forest management. This means that SFMOs must continually seek to provide solutions to multiple, and at times diverging, interests and constraints, because forests that are managed sustainably and multifunctionally today will maintain their potential to fulfil relevant ecological, economic and social functions well into the future.

Now, when you take a walk in the forest, what do you see?


(1) European Commission. (2015). Natura 2000 and Forests. Part I-II, p. 39
(2) FAO. Sustainable forest management.

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