Exploring Romanian forests – an unexpected journey

by Silke Jacobs, Sara Filipek, Gert-Jan Nabuurs & Bas Lerink

‘Timber Mafia’, ‘Notorious corruption’ and ‘Destruction of last virgin forests’. News articles about Romanian forests and their management are dominated by headlines like these or with a likewise tendency. But we were wondering: Is that really the only thing we should know about Romanian forests? Or are there also examples of good and sustainable forest management – as well as protection of primary forests?

As the Wageningen University & Research team of the SUPERB Project, which aims at upscaling forest restoration, we were eager to explore Romanian forests and to get in touch with its foresters. Although we heard the stories of the impressive untouched forests, our expectations were mixed. After our SUPERB conference in Sibiu ended, we headed north-east to Suceava for an introduction to the last remnants of Europe’s primeval forest. We were looking forward to the wilderness, but also curious about regular forest management in the productive spruce and beech stands of the Suceava district.

Oncoming traffic on our way to Suceava
Oncoming traffic on our way to Suceava

The journey from Sibiu to Suceava was an adventure on itself: zigzagging between horse drawn hay carts and putting our rental car and our driving skills to the test on unpaved forest roads. Unscathed and in awe of the Transylvanian landscape we arrived at our hotel in a suburb of Suceava. After some leg stretching, we went off to bed quickly, as we all knew we had a great hike scheduled for tomorrow.

The next morning appeared to be a beautiful hiking day and we were excited to meet the famous forest professors couple Laura and Olivier Bouriaud. With our company of six, we went off to pick up a local forester from ROMSILVA as seventh companion. He is an active forest manager in the Suceava forest district and knows his way through the vast Carpathian forests. It was until later that day, when we realised how essential it was to be guided around by someone with the knowledge and skills for wandering around.

Information sign on the left and regeneration gap on the right

Around 40% of Romanian forests are FSC-certified, which means that wood is harvested in a sustainable manner in these areas, respecting wildlife and other ecosystem services. We visited a recently thinned certified forest stand, with imposing spruce trees on fertile calcareous soils. Gaps that were created earlier by selective thinning or smaller clear-cuts were quickly claimed by regeneration from primarily spruce. Ferns dominated the understorey, but also gave way to species like Paris quadrifolia, which is in decline in Europe due to loss of habitat and might soon be on red lists. What we saw in this forest stand very much contrasted with the harsh media stories. At the border of the forest stand, an information sign was placed, to inform visitors on e.g. the measures, the volume of removed wood and the exact planning. We walked through the stand discussing the measures and the related communication to stakeholders.

We hiked along the mountainside, clutching the stems and branches from large beech trees for support. Finally, we reached a ridge that pointed out above the canopy. Here we had a great and rather humbling view on the surrounding forest area and the outskirts of the Slatioara town. After this highlight and catching our breath, we were ready for the descent. The first few meters were so steep that we agreed to slide down from a seated position, until we were able to stand up again and walk carefully over the old trail. We descended to the creek running through the reserve, where we washed our hands and drank some ice-cold water. Later that day, Laura and Olivier took us to their home for a fantastic BBQ, after which we returned to our hotel for a well-deserved rest.

Exhausted but extremely happy after intense hiking in the Codrul Secular Slătioara

The day after this fantastic field visit, we were invited to give a lecture about our work and projects on the Ştefan cel Mare University of Suceava. Silke presented the SUPERB project to an enthusiastic group of students from the forestry department. Gert-Jan backed that up with a lecture on his IPCC work, while Sara and Bas spoke about their projects related to climate smart forestry. After an interesting discussion with the audience, it was time for us to leave the university and prepare for our return journey to the Netherlands with our own impressions of the Romanian forests or at least part of it.

9 take-home messages from the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab 

Forest governance is a complex topic, and we are living in complex times. A quick analysis of the EU and global policy environment in 2022 results in an intricate puzzle of overlapping but also contradicting sectoral policies in the fields of agriculture, energy, climate and environment that are relevant to forests. National and municipal forest strategies and plans add another layer of intricacy to the equation. And that’s not to mention the many ecosystem service demands by society that often compete at the local level! 

To unravel the complexity of the topic and work out different perceptions of governance challenges in forest restoration, SUPERB researchers and practitioners gathered at the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab, hosted by project partner Prospex Institute in Opatija, Croatia, between 27-29 June. There, participants exchanged innovative local and regional approaches to forest governance, discussed how these could apply to the SUPERB large-scale demos, and created first synergies with partners outside the project consortium. 

For those who missed the event, we from EFI have compiled a list of 9 take-home messages from the Governance Lab: 

  1. Innovation goes beyond technology  

Despite the frequent association between innovation and technology, innovation doesn’t always come with the use of new tree monitoring gadgets, more powerful drones and other high-tech inventions. Simply put, innovation is the process of making changes to something established by introducing something new.

An innovative governance culture can be instilled by the adoption of a new strategy, novel modes of collaboration and coordination, the creation of a new institution or the reconfiguration of existing processes, said Carsten Mann, from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development and the InnoForESt project. For example, developing partnerships and co-creating forest management solutions with the general public and the private sector can lead to the adoption of new practices that seemed unthinkable in the context of top-down decision-making. 

EFI’s Senior Researcher Marko Lovrić presented the EU forest policy environment as a complex puzzle of sectoral policies which entail synergies as well as trade-offs (Source: Harald Mauser)
  1. Scarce resources can spark innovation 

Lack of funding often limits forest management options and can even mean the end of a restoration project. But it might as well make people creative! In one of the protected areas of Croatia’s Istria region, the lack of resources for monitoring biodiversity led to the establishment of a citizen science programme which garnered the active participation of local communities, said Silvia Buttignoni, Managing Director at Natura Histrica

  1. When it comes to management goals, sometimes, less is more 

Amidst the growing demand for forest ecosystem services (such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, clean air and wood production), forest managers might end up suffering from goal overload. Having too many goals in parallel creates administrative burden and makes it hard to choose between different needs and interests. Dieter Mortelmans from Belgium’s Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), shared a simple but ingenious solution applied by the Contracts 2.0 project: creating scorecards to analyse and compare the effective provision of environmental public goods. The scorecards enabled land managers to identify synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services and prioritise those that were most important, making well-informed decisions on which goals to pursue based on multiple criteria. 

  1. From decision support to discussion support 

Although generating knowledge and creating new tools to inform decisions can be helpful, reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary. In certain cases, it can be more efficient to build on pre-existing knowledge and focus instead on creating trust and a strong basis for cooperation between stakeholders involved in restoration, such as public administration agencies, forest owners, local communities, forest enterprises, nature protection groups and others. “Listening to people in real life instead of reading reports allows us, if not to reach consensus, to live with the decisions we have chosen to make”, said Mortelmans, from the Contracts 2.0 project. 

  1. Multiple forest benefits are good – but fair distribution is equally important 

Creating protected spaces for stakeholder dialogue is not only useful to gain acceptance and legitimacy for forest restoration. More importantly, it helps to ensure a fair distribution of restoration benefits. Liisa Tyrväinen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) highlighted that picking forest restoration sites that are easily accessible to the public improves societal support for restoration and creates synergies in terms of recreational and cultural ecosystem services. On a similar note, Marcel Hunziker, from SUPERB partner Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) stressed the need for a wide societal debate on who should have a say in the future development of forests and contribute to their restoration visions. “Forests do not belong only to forest owners and to nature conservation areas, but in touristic areas, they also belong to the general public”, he stated.

  1. Don’t overlook the importance of human resources 

Forest restoration is a long-term endeavour, meaning that natural conditions, funding scenarios and policy environments might change along the way. Finding the right people with intrinsic motivation, good interpersonal connections and committed leadership is of utmost importance to the continuity of restoration efforts throughout the years. “Restoration requires upfront investments, and actors are hesitant when the outcome is uncertain. Therefore, it is key to have powerful stakeholders on board who take over the leadership”, said Carsten Mann from the InnoForESt project. 

  1. Monitor failures as much as successes 

Keep an eye open for what works but also for what doesn’t! Too much pressure to succeed can hamper innovation, while concentrating solely on what is going well takes the focus away from areas in need of improvement. Remember that success is also relative: it depends heavily on the selected success criteria and on how success is being measured. 

  1. Consider different scales but don’t take the local perspective out of focus 

There is no point in trying to implement a top-down restoration vision that is incompatible with local conditions. Factors such as environmental stressors, species threatened, forest ownership structure, market dynamics, involved stakeholders and institutions are all particular to each forest landscape. “There are many vertical issues of governance, but decisions are ultimately taken on the municipality level”, said Hunziker, from WSL. To better align different scales of governance, Marko Lovrić, from EFI, suggested contrasting local restoration activities with wider policy objectives and available instruments to see where potential synergies are.  

  1. Be inquisitive 

Finally, asking the right questions is key, said Lovrić. Who makes decisions? Who stops decisions? What are the true interests of those involved? How does institutional context shape decisions? What is one’s own positionality in the forest restoration ‘space’? Being inquisitive can help forest managers identify unforeseen challenges and be open to new solutions and ideas. 

By Priscila Jordão (EFI)

Precision restoration: fostering forest recovery in the 21st century

“Forest restoration is currently a primary objective in environmental management policies at a global scale, to the extent that impressive initiatives and commitments have been launched to plant billions of trees. However, resources are limited and the success of any restoration effort should be maximized. Thus, restoration programs should seek to guarantee that what is planted today will become an adult tree in the future, a simple fact that, however, usually receives little attention,” state Jorge Castro, Fernando Morales-Rueda, Francisco B. Navarro, Magnus Löf, Giorgio Vacchiano, and Domingo Alcaraz-Segura in their paper Precision restoration: a necessary approach to foster forest recovery in the 21st century, published in the journal Restoration Ecology in May 2021. They are advocating for the need to focus restoration efforts on an individual plant level to increase establishment success while reducing negative side effects by using an approach that they term “precision forest restoration” (PFR). What PFR means and what the implications for restoration approaches are you can read in the article.

Giorgio Vacchiano, one of the authors, is leading SUPERB’s Demo area – Po Valley – SUPERB (forest-restoration.eu).

Castro, J., Morales‐Rueda, F., Navarro, F. B., Löf, M., Vacchiano, G., & Alcaraz‐Segura, D. (2021). Precision restoration: A necessary approach to foster forest recovery in the 21st century. Restoration Ecology29(7), e13421. https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.13421


Featured image: Bark beetle damage in Germany (photo: Gesche Schifferdecker)

A new online tool to make restoration decisions easier

Ecosystem restoration is a complex process, from identifying in-need landscapes to determining best practices for planting trees and promoting natural regeneration. To help restoration actors, funders and other partners plan, carry out and monitor successful projects, FAO and World Resources Institute (WRI) have created AURORA, a web application named for Assessment, Understanding and Reporting of Restoration Activities. The application is now live and ready to support users as they make decisions and select desired impacts and indicators, set goals and monitor the progress of their restoration projects.

Read More

New publication: Policy responses to the Ukraine crisis threaten European biodiversity

SUPERB researchers Niels Strange from University of Copenhagen and Joseph William Bull from Kent University have recently contributed to the “Correspondence” section in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, elaborating on the policy movement away from Russia as a response to the Ukraine crisis and how the recent EU changes to land use policy could jeopardize hard-won gains in efforts to combat biodiversity decline in Europe. The authors emphasize the expected market pull that will increase pressure on forest and open land, and urge the EU Commission and member states to retain an ambitious and long-term perspective on restoring biodiversity. This requires that biodiversity and land-use policies are robust in times of crisis and shifting political priorities — because the current crisis is not the first, and will not be the last. Read more about the recommendations (paid subscription) here.

Wrap-up: What science can tell us about forest biodiversity in Europe & Launching of SUPERB

The ThinkForest science-policy event organised within the #EUGreenWeek on 30 May in Sibiu, Romania, focused on forest biodiversity and forest restoration while marking the official launch of SUPERB.

SUPERB, Europe’s largest transational forest restoration project, was presented by Elisabeth Pötzelsberger, project coordinator at European Forest Institute (EFI). The project involves more than 100 forest science and practice organizations in 20 different countries and includes 12 large-scale forest restoration demonstration sites across Europe.

After an inspiring keynote by His Royal Highness Prince Charles (read the press release here) and an engaging introduction to SUPERB, Bart Muys from KU Leuven presented EFI’s study on Forest Biodiversity in Europe. The study assesses main threats and trends while discussing management options and policy instruments to govern biodiversity conservation in Europe. Barts insightful speech was followed by a high-level panel discussion covering a broad range of topics from the needed involvement of local communities in biodiversity conservation approaches to the EU Forest Strategy, and from legacies of forest management to the potential of payments for forest ecosystem services.

View the programmespeakers and partners.

SUPERB is funded by Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement no. 101036849.

An #EUGREENWEEK event

From the birds’ eye perspective to actions on the ground

SUPERB to promote forest restoration and adaptation across Europe

By Gesche Schifferdecker

Imagine you were a bird flying over Europe. You would see cities and villages, rivers, agricultural landscape, and forests covering almost one-third of Europe. You would distinguish many different types of trees: dark green or more reddish, straight and tall, wide and crooked or small and slender, with many different shapes of leaves or needles. While flying over Europe, you would also encounter damaged forest areas, burned down by the fire, or destroyed by bark beetles; and tree leaves affected by air pollution and herbivorous pests, or turning yellow and brown from a drought.

These disturbances overall are becoming more frequent and severe, be it due to various short-sighted human interventions or ongoing climate change. Luckily, it is not all bad news. From the air, you would also see people working in these damaged forests, planting or seeding new trees, or protecting the naturally regenerating forest against grazing. You would discover people preserving surviving old trees or even the deadwood, because these people have understood how valuable they are for a functioning ecosystem. If done right and with some luck, a diverse and healthy forest will again develop, which will be roamed once more by the many forest creatures.

While there is widespread awareness of the urgency to conserve and restore biodiversity and halt climate change, in fact many more actions are needed on the ground to ensure the long-term thriving of forests in Europe. A series of political commitments at the European level are already in place, including the 2019 European Green Deal, the 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU Forest Strategy 2030. Yet, in many places, transformative change is still needed on the ground.

From challenges to opportunities

Carpathia demo area in Rumania (photo: Martin Mikoláš)
Carpathian demo area in Romania (photo: Martin Mikoláš)

This is why we are launching “Systemic solutions for upscaling of urgent ecosystem restoration for forest-related biodiversity and ecosystem services” (SUPERB). This four-year project is conducted by a consortium of 36 science and practice partners from all over Europe and led by the European Forest Institute. SUPERB is further supported by at least 90 regional to international associate project partners, all having strong ties to the management and protection of European forest landscapes (e.g. agricultural and nature protection ministries and government agencies from over 20 European countries, landowner associations, certifiers, funders, NGOs etc.). SUPERB aims to restore forest landscapes by creating an enabling environment for implementation of forest restoration and adaptation at different scales.

SUPERB will build on the vast but scattered practical knowledge and lessons learned of successful and non-successful forest restoration and adaptation activities and synthesise it for action. We will connect with restoration experts, including from LIFE projects and practitioners with decades of experiences with alternative management approaches. This practical knowledge will be underpinned by a compilation of highly relevant scientific knowledge including economic, governance, forest management, and climate change adaptation aspects of restoration. At the core of SUPERB, concrete restoration actions will be carried out in 12 large-scale demonstration areas, located in 13 different countries. These demo areas not only represent the diversity of stressors on European forests and the wide range of necessary restoration actions, but also consider entire socio-ecological systems including people’s manyfold needs for ecosystem goods and services.

Po Valley demo area in Italy (photo Georgio Vacchiano)
Po Valley demo area in Italy (photo: Georgio Vacchiano)

By taking a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, we will translate all practical and scientific knowledge on successful restoration into restoration-support guidelines, recommendations, and tools that will be easily accessible on the stakeholder-targeted online Forest Ecosystem Restoration Gateway.

Further information:

The consortium of SUPERB consists of the following organizations:
Wageningen Research, Prospex Institute, Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Austrian Research Centre for Forests, Bangor University, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, University of Copenhagen, National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, Spanish National Institute for Agriculture and Food Research and Technology, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Land Life Company, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Forest Sciences Center of Catalonia, University of Kent, Croatian Forest Research Institute, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, University of Florence, King’s College London, University of Milan, Bosgroep zuid, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Forest Research, University of Novi Sad, Institute of Lowland Forestry and Environment, Cesefor, University of Belgrade, University of Lancaster, Institut Européen de la Forêt Cultivée, Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, University of Molise, County Administrative Board of Västerbotten (V-J) for Vindelälven-Juhttátahkka UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Landesbetrieb Wald und Holz NRW, Alliance Forêts Bois, Parco Nord Milano, Junta de Castilla y León, Danish Nature Agency

SUPERB is funded by Horizon 2020 through Grant Agreement 101036849, and receives 20 Million Euro for the implementation period between 2021-2025.


Featured image: Gornje Podunavlje demo area in Serbia (photo: Zoran Galic)