Breaking out of business as usual in Serbian forestry

On 23 November 2023, the second stakeholder workshop focusing on the SUPERB demo Coppice Forests in Serbia took place at the Monastery Vujan, in Prislonica. Engaging conversations around the ongoing restoration activities in the demo area were held with five participants, mostly coming from private forestry companies. This was also an excellent opportunity for the demo team to collect in-depth feedback from the participants.

The workshop started with a presentation on the work that has been done since the beginning of the project, followed by an overview of the ongoing and planned restoration activities. Particularly, all participants were very pleased to see the number of different noble tree species’ seedlings that were used in the restoration activities, such as Prunus avium L., Pyrus pyraster L., Acer platanoides L., Acer pseudoplatanus L., Corylus colurna L. They emphasised that SUPERB’s approach greatly differs from business-as-usual in Serbian forestry and appreciated how biodiversity preservation is well considered in the restoration activities.

After a short coffee break, the demo team opened the next session by presenting activities conducted in the past two years and upcoming plans. Two highlights of these past activities are the restoration of an area of 50ha and the planting of 16.920 seedlings during 2022-23! As for this year, the plan is to start the restoration on an area of 80ha using seedlings and natural regeneration where possible. While this session was mainly prepared for forest landowners and managers, participants expressed their interest in how the SUPERB project’s practical approach is backed by science. One of the participants was very interested in the remote sensing activities such as the use of LiDAR remote sensing (implemented by SUPERB colleagues from Bangor University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and was curious about who would come to perform this work and when. The session ended with playing the acoustic recording of the Žiča site, through which participants were able to enjoy different birds’ chirping.

Birds’ chirping recording of the Žiča site

After a wrap up session, the demo team led the participants through a walk in the forest. They visited areas where restoration had already taken place and saw first-hand what had been presented to them during the workshop. Some of the participants had already attended the first stakeholder workshop (also organised by the demo team) and were impressed to see how many of the previously planned activities are now taking shape!

Next steps: bringing more people on board!

Even though the participants expressed their full support to the restoration plans for the demo, there were no private and institutional landowners joining the workshop, and it is very important to have them onboard. Additionally, for the stakeholder engagement strategy, the demo team plans to actively participate in discussions about forest restoration, and to establish links with local communities, including primary schools and recreational forest users. It is of crucial importance to acknowledge the necessity of starting an extended dialogue with a wide range of local stakeholders to increase awareness about the importance of forest restoration and by this, secure their participation and support in the activities of the SUPERB project.

Restoring mountain forests in Romania

In the beginning of November 2023, the team of SUPERB’s Romanian demo started the restoration of high-altitude forest patches with spruce and arola pines. Interconnected with alpine bushes, this landscape type is protected at the European level as priority habitat.
In addition, the team planted a high-altitude secondary pasture, in an area that was affected by overgrazing in the past. The selected species – arola pine (Pinus cembra), mountain pine and juniper – grow naturally at an altitude of 1800m.
The work was extremely difficult because the area we planted is quite remote. Therefore, the transport of the seedlings was a hard job, done with rented donkeys.
Finally, 1500 juniper seedlings, 500 dwarf mountain pine and 400 arola pine were planted, manually of course, with the help of a local company.

Restoration in high altitudes

In the end of 2023, the SUPERB team also completed the restoration of seven spruce monocultures stands. They started with intervening with a first thinning in order to bring some light in the forest to enable the survival of planted or natural regenerated native species. The ultimate goal is to initiate the coming back of natural forest types of that area in former (spruce) monocultures.

Promoting more mixed forests in former spruce monoculture

Engagement means listening first: SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo

Effective stakeholder engagement is key to long-term forest restoration success. Being aware of that, SUPERB’s  Po Valley Demo team, after considering the internal skillset (mainly academic and technical), chose to seek support on this task from experts in this field. 

After a selection process in the private sector for a consulting association, the Po Valley Demo team joined forces with NGO Demetra Onlus, a social promotion and international solidarity organisation working on social engagement in different fields, including counseling on stakeholder inclusion in environmental projects, environmental education in schools, and children playground design for outdoor parks. 

As part of a recent stakeholder engagement workshop that took place in September 2023, at Parco Nord HQ in Milan, Demetra presented a 2-year long stakeholder engagement strategy as a three-fold approach with different focuses: 

  • First, raising school children’s perception and interaction with the area in concert with the growth of the plantation: environmental talks in local primary schools with visits to the plantation areas, with the idea that the plantation itself will grow together with that particular generation of citizens. First sessions with the students in Legnano (the first SUPERB planting site in the Po Valley area) were successfully carried out. And many teachers at the school asked to repeat the sessions in other classrooms! 
  • Second, a screening of NGOs, civil society actors, public institutions, dog lovers’ associations, bike riding groups, among other common actors that could actively use the area and include them in the strategy development and implementation by making their needs and preferences known to the Po Valley Demo team. 
  • Third, a scouting of the local businesses possibly interested in co-financing the plantation maintenance after the SUPERB project ends in 2025. At that point, synergies between private partners and public municipality could be a win-win situation for both, allowing for a reduction of the public maintenance costs for the municipality and a green marketing possibility for the private sector. 

Demetra, the SUPERB Po Valley team and the local stakeholders are now looking forward to seeing the trees, the environmental knowledge and the engagement grow. Some of this excitement is reflected in the outcomes of activities involving local stakeholders in previous meetings, including families, elderly groups, and sport-related associations, answering the question: How do we involve citizens in the new forest? 

NERC Impact Award for SUPERB’s Sophus zu Ermgassen

The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) celebrated the finalists of the 2023 NERC Impact Awards with an event at the Natural History Museum, London on Wednesday 29th November, with SUPERB researcher Dr Sophus Zu Ermgassen being the winner of the Early Career Impact category.

The NERC Impact Awards highlight the UK science that is ‘at the heart of the responsible management of our planet’ and recognises individuals or teams whose work has had a big impact on the economy or society in either the UK or Internationally. Sophus research has been instrumental in raising the public awareness of England’s new biodiversity net gain policy, the jury said. Sophus emphasized the importance of his work for SUPERB and how this collaboration contributed to his successful work.

As well as the recognition this award brings, Sophus was awarded £12,000 to help further the impacts of his research.

What actions would be needed to restore European forest ecosystems?

In early 2024, the European Parliament will have a final vote on the ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL), a hotly debated regulation that aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in Europe. An international team of scientists, led by Daniel Herring (University Duisburg-Essen), with contributions from European Forest Institute and Wageningen University and Research in the framework of the SUPERB project has investigated the prospects of the new regulation: how effective is this law going to be and what needs to happen? The article Securing success for the Nature Restoration Law was published on 15 December in the scientific journal Science. Even though the law has been weakened in the negotiation process, the restoration measures are already starting. 

The ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL) requires member states of the EU to implement restoration measures on at least 20 per cent of land and marine areas by 2030, and in all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. The NRL already took various hurdles: most recently, it was approved by the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, after delegations of the Parliament and the Council of Europe agreed the final text.

But will the regulation really achieve its aims? The authors, including scientists that lead large European projects on nature restoration and biodiversity, analysed experiences with other European environmental directives and policies, and evaluated the prospects of the NRL to be successful. 

“The NRL has successfully overcome numerous challenges that typically impede the implementation of European policies and regulations. Regardless of the parliamentary decisions expected in January, urgent restoration efforts are already underway in many locations.” says Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Professor at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and co-coordinator of SUPERB. “The regulation saves time as it does not need to be transposed into national law, and an implementation framework and goals are clearly laid out.” At the same time, national implementation will be crucial for the NRL’s success. “The scientific community is actively generating extensive knowledge on landscape-level nature restoration, approaching it through different lenses, including governance, community engagement, species selection for the future, and ensuring sustainable financing for restoration”, emphasizes Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, SUPERB coordinator and Principal Scientist at European Forest Institute. “This will help European countries in preparing their national restoration plans.”

“Key for the implementation will be the cooperation of nature restoration with landowners and land users, in particular with managers and practitioners who directly work in the field”, says Silke Jacobs (WUR) who is part of SUPERB as well. “These managers and practitioners are crucial for long term maintenance of the forest. Only then forests will perform better for biodiversity, CO2 sequestration and wood provision in the long term”. Restoration takes time.

SUPERB is an excellent example of the European restoration initiatives aiming at large scale forest restoration, with several European countries implementing restoration measures. Given the variety of stressors which weakened the state of European forests over the past decades; ranging from wildfires, windstorms, bark beetle calamities to fragmentation and intensive plantations; the selection of appropriate restoration actions is crucial to succeed. However, essential part of the project is also the upscaling of the restoration actions. “Engagement and willingness of national and regional institutions, as well as involvement of private funding sector will allow to support and contribute to not only the nature restoration but it would also fulfil the goals of National Forest Strategies”, says Sara Filipek from WUR, working also on SUPERB project.   

Overall, the authors of the article provide a positive outlook for the NRL, but warn that ambitious national implementation and cooperation will eventually determine the success of nature restoration in Europe.

The NRL is part of the Green Deal and is, amongst others, intended to fulfil the international biodiversity agreement of Kunming-Montreal, according to which at least 30 percent of degraded ecosystems must be restored.

Further information: 

Daniel Hering et al, Securing success for the Nature Restoration Laws. Science 382, 1248-1250 (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adk1658

Webinar “Unveiling the Future of Christmas Trees in the Era of Climate Change”

Navigating Forest Disturbances, Restoration, and Adaptation

In our upcoming Forest Restoration Webinar with IUFRO‘s Task Force ‘Transforming Forest Landscapes for Future Climates and Human Well-Being’ on 13th December 4pm CET, our speaker Christina Dollinger (Technical University Munich) will introduce us to her research related to the Restoration of mountain forests in the Berchtesgaden National Park. Christina will elaborate on short- and long-term success in the face of climate change and share insights from her research combining field data and simulation modelling.

Register here to attend!

Hedgerows for more resilient pine forest

Discussion with stakeholders on how to improve the resilience of intensive pine monocultures with the introduction of hedgerows in the French Landes of Gascony Forest.

On 7 September 2023, a large panel of 24 forest stakeholders gathered in Belin-Béliet (France) for the 2nd BOCAGE FORESTIER Living Lab consultation workshop since the SUPERB project began. The Living Lab was launched a few years ago with the support of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region and the forestry sector, aiming at improving the heterogeneity and resilience of maritime pine monoculture landscape towards biotic and abiotic threats. After some preliminary studies including the choice of the most suitable demonstration area and the design of methodologies, our coordination team was pleased to present some concrete implementation of our restoration activities. The workshop began with an indoor meeting with presentations to remind the participants of the SUPERB project and the Living Lab’s objectives, followed by a short field tour to illustrate our activities directly in the forest.

On the one hand, we are carrying out biodiversity sampling in mature hedgerows to understand the effect of landscape connectivity and broadleaved species patch density on the richness of fauna and flora. We have also designed educational panels for each taxon studied to initiate discussions about both the data collection protocol and the first results obtained. On the other hand, we are establishing new hedgerows planting trials in renewed maritime pine stands to refine the technical aspects and be able to provide forest owners with a fully operational solution. The complementary nature of our workshop programme was greatly appreciated by the participants, who now have a concrete understanding of what we mean by ‘forest restoration’ and know exactly what they can expect from future outcomes. The topic was considered so important by some participants that they are asking for wider communications and rapid adoption of these results.

The next steps for the BOCAGE FORESTIER Living Lab are to start planting hedgerows within the demo area with the aim of achieving 10km of linear planted by the end of the project. Restoration sites will depend on the private landowner’s interest in implementing this solution but they may also be determined by the results of the biodiversity sampling, which we will try to synthesize by spring.

Spotlight on the SUPERB Spanish demo at the IUFRO conference in Évora

The SUPERB Spanish demo took center stage at the IUFRO Forest Environment DIV 8 Conference 2023 in Évora, Portugal, showcasing its tailor-made approach for addressing three challenges at once: land abandonment, heightened forest fire risks and fragmentation of Cantabrian brown bear habitats.

From October 24th to 27th, SUPERB’s Judit Torres (CESEFOR) attended the conference, representing the Spanish demo in the session “Forest Landscape Restoration: resilient socioecological landscapes in the making”. The session explored solutions for designing, implementing, and monitoring forest restoration in collaboration with stakeholders from academia, NGOs, government, and the private sector.

Rural abandonment in the SUPERB Spanish demo, located in the region of Castille and Leon, has led to insufficient forest management and landscape degradation, resulting in scrubbing of the landscape, homogenisation of the territory and increased forest fire risks. This situation also poses a significant threat to the recovery of the Cantabrian brown bear, a highly endangered species in Europe, due to loss of habitat. At the IUFRO conference session, Torres shared insights into the project’s progress and lessons learned while addressing these interconnected issues, focusing on topics such as stakeholder engagement, improvements in interactions between residents and the environment, and possibilities for upscaling forest restoration.

She shared the round table with three other speakers: René Zamora Cristales (World Resources Institute), Alejandro Huertas Herrera and Mónica Toro Manriquez (Centro de Investigación En Ecosistemas De La Patagonia). The session was moderated by John Devaney (Maynooth University), Anna Barbati (University of Tuscia), and João Azevedo (Instituto Politécnico de Bragança).

You can learn more about the SUPERB demo in Spain and their restoration measures here.

SUPERB presented to new forest research network in Germany

SUPERB Demo area – North Rhine Westphalia – SUPERB (forest-restoration.eu) lead Catharina Schmidt introduced the project work on October 30th and 31st in Arnsberg, Germany, to a group of ca. 40 scientists and practitioners from various organisations based in NRW. Aim of the “Forest Research NRW“ event was to discuss the latest scientific results and practical challenges related to how we can better prepare and adapt our forests in times of climate change. The agenda of the symposium included topics such as the opportunities of digitalization in the forest for climate change adaptation, the performance of forest soils, questions of forest governance as well as reflections on how to combine climate protection and timber construction. The event was organized on the initiative of the NRW Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Protection with the objective to establish a new forest research network in NRW, formally announced by NRW Minister for Agriculture and Consumer Protection Silke Gorißen on October 30th.

The workshop also included an excursion to SUPERB’s demo sites in Arnsberg, where participants learned about ongoing forest restoration measures: reforesting beetle-infected spruce forests into more diverse, mixed-forest ecosystems by using a combination of natural regeneration and replanting.

New FORWARDS grants to advance forest monitoring and disturbance characterization

The FORWARDS project, funded under Horizon Europe, announces the launch of two new calls for grants aimed at advancing forest monitoring and disturbance characterization after the first one was launched in July 2023.

The calls for grants present a unique opportunity for researchers and organisations to contribute to the development of the ForestWard Observatory, a pan-European monitoring tool that addresses the impact of climate change on forests. These third-party grants are coordinated by European Forest Institute, partner in the FORWARDS project.

Call for Grants 1: Pilots of Long-term Climate Impact Forest Monitoring Sites

FORWARDS is seeking proposals for pilot monitoring plots/sites that will assess the long-term impact of climate change on forest ecosystems. These sites must be linked to existing forest monitoring networks and provide spatial representativeness. The primary goal is to gather data on forest functioning and disturbance impacts to better understand climate change effects over various time scales.

Data and results from the supported projects will contribute to the ForestWard Observatory. Up to five projects will be awarded a maximum of €145,000 each, with activities set to begin in April 2024 and lasting up to 18 months.

Call for Grants 2: Characterisation of European forest disturbances

This call aims to support the construction of an exhaustive open-access reference dataset on forest disturbance. It will be used for rigorous disturbance estimation, developing algorithms for near real-time forest disturbance mapping, and analysing the effects of disturbances across European forest types.

Up to three projects will be awarded a maximum of €150,000 each, with activities set to begin in April 2024 and lasting up to 12 months.

These calls are highly important in advancing our knowledge of climate change impact on forests and improving monitoring capabilities. They offer a valuable opportunity for collaboration and knowledge-sharing among European researchers and organisations.

For detailed application guidelines and further information, please visit EFI website and FORWARDS project website.


Featured image: Sara Uzquiano (post-doc researcher at European Forest Institute)