In the Vysocina region, mature Norway spruce stands were heavily infested by bark beetles. It resulted in massive salvage logging and an abrupt decrease of the area of older coniferous stands by 20%. In one of the most affected forest districts, Ledeč nad Sázavou (Forest of the Czech Republic; Lesy České republiky s.p.), salvage felling in the period 2018–2022 amounted to 2 219 333 m3. Affected trees were continuously removed, and sites were prepared for restoration. The main restoration measures are natural and artificial regeneration (planting and seeding) of site-specific tree species of local provenances (following national legislation – decree 456/2021) and subsequent weed control. In the Czech demo areas, planting took place in the spring and autumn of 2022. Protection through the fencing of broadleaved and Abies alba was necessary to prevent game browsing. The main tree species used for reforestation are Quercus petraea, Fagus sylvatica, Acer pseudoplatanus, Picea abies, Alnus glutinosa, Pinus sylvestris and Prunus avium. The design of reforestation is based on site-specific conditions, the mosaic of site types and targeted tree species composition. In the coming years, we plan on improvement of afforestation in case of failures, mechanical weed control, and consequent use of repellents outside the fenced areas.
This 3rd of October is World Habitat Day! To celebrate the occasion, SUPERB coordinator Elisabeth Pötzelsberger, Head of Resilience Programme at the European Forest Institute (EFI), explained the importance of “prestoration” – the combination of restoration and climate adaptation – for resilient and functional forest habitats. She discussed how it differs from classical restoration approaches, highlighted its relevance to the new EU Nature Restoration Law and listed concrete examples of how prestoration is being applied within the SUPERB demonstration areas in Germany and in the Czech Republic.
What is prestoration? How does it differ from more classical approaches to forest restoration?
Why do we actually restore restore forests? There are large restoration needs, for example, when forests are impacted by hot temperatures, forest fires, and also by prolonged droughts that will also cause outbreaks of pests and pathogens, which can kill forests on large landscape levels. But also to make our forests more diverse again in Europe and to bring back important habitats that, for example, are associated with deadwood and old-growth elements, which have become rare across Europe.
When people talk about restoration, they might think of different objectives that may be located along the so-called restoration continuum. The classical restoration continuum ranges from fighting the drivers of degradation over remediation of ecosystem functions up to full ecological restoration, where species diversity, ecosystem structure and function are restored. However, climate change adds a new dimension to this restoration continuum. Therefore, the consideration of adaptation in restoration, what we can call prestoration, is becoming so important.
Forest researchers and practitioners are therefore supporting this concept, which means the combination of restoration ambitions with the need for adaptation. Adaptation of tree species composition and forest structure in order to increase the resilience of forests under climate change and also ensure forest functioning in the future.
Can you give a few examples that illustrate how prestoration works?
There are already good examples where we are practising prestoration, like in our two SUPERB demonstration areas in central Europe – in Germany (North Rhine-Westfalia) and in the Czech Republic. These regions are naturally dominated by beech forests but some decades or centuries ago have been converted into Norway Spruce plantations.
Now with prolonged droughts, these Norway Spruce forests have been severely damaged by subsequent bark beetle infestations. In SUPERB, we are not only restoring them back into native beech forest ecosystems but already looking into more drought-tolerant habitat types like oak/hornbeam forests and mixing them with even more broadleaved tree species to increase forest resilience and functionality also for future climate conditions.
What challenges does prestoration entail?
Prestoration is neither simple nor straightforward. With climate change, we are really entering uncharted territory. We will be and already are experiencing conditions that we have never experienced before. Also our native forest species are not adjusted to these new conditions. Looking for more adapted species in the Mediterranean may be an option. However, there is also large uncertainty associated with it because we don’t know, for example, whether these species will be truly suited to the climatic conditions that will occur in 100 years’ time, because there is still a broad range of possible climate change scenarios.
And then there is another challenge: forests do not consist only of trees. There are many other plant and animal species that live in these forests and are also dependent on these tree species. So, will they be fit to survive in these climatic conditions and will they be happy to thrive in these forests which may consist of different tree species than today?
What are the prerequisites for successful prestoration?
Due to this large uncertainty, in SUPERB we are convinced that we need flexible approaches and to revisit decisions as we go along. And of course, with SUPERB we are also providing continuous scientific support which will allow us to find out which are the right species compositions and how we can assist the migration of other plant and animal species across the landscape so they can find in the future forest habitats and climate conditions that they are adjusted to.
How is prestoration relevant to the new EU Restoration Law?
So this prestoration concept, this idea of integrating adaptation into restoration, will be of crucial importance if we want to achieve the overall goal of the new EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and the EU’s Forest Strategy, which is to restore European biodiversity and continuous provision of ecosystem services in the future.
These Biodiversity and Forest Strategies of the EU now will be supported by the Nature Restoration legislation which is currently being debated at the EU level. It remains to be seen how much space will be given actually to adaptation in this new restoration proposal.
But already experiencing this high-speed climate change, I think it is pretty clear: we have to look ahead and not backwards if we want to be prepared for what is coming.
Stakeholder Engagement Workshop in SUPERB’s Czech demo
Since 2018, massive bark beetle attacks caused widespread damage to the Norway spruce forests in SUPERB’s Czech demo, leading to heavily degraded areas and clearings. The infestations also had devastating social impacts as they negatively affected the forestry sector and deprived local communities of important spaces for recreation. To gather broad support for the forest regeneration efforts in the area, our Czech partners brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from forest enterprises, value chain, policy, NGOs, environmentalists, forest owners, hunters, and the public in a 1-day workshop. Aim of the workshop was to discuss different restoration approaches and how to tailor them to public and private interests. Another important topic was the need to increase the resilience of the future forest to pest outbreaks with the objective to enhance ecosystem services, such as wood production, carbon storage, biodiversity conservation, soil protection, recreation, water provision, and educational activities. A crucial part of the workshop was an excursion to the demo area which allowed for mutual learning and deepening the discourse.