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

Old-growth forests continue to disappear in Europe despite protection commitments

A new commentary published in “Science” warns of the alarming loss of old-growth forests in Europe, which continue to disappear despite protection commitments made in the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The commentary is authored by an international team of scientists, including three researchers active in SUPERB: Martin Mikoláš, Miroslav Svoboda (Czech University of Life Sciences Prague) and Bart Muys (KU Leuven).

According to the researchers, a key barrier to better protection is the incomplete identification of many old-growth forests. They argue that comprehensive mapping of old-growth forests – and an immediate moratorium on logging where these are most likely to occur – are urgently required.

Old-growth forests are under high and rising pressure in many parts of the world, including Europe. In most EU countries, very few old-growth forests remain and they are typically small and isolated. While the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 mandates their legal protection, old-growth forests loss continues unabated.

“These forests are critical for biodiversity conservation; many endangered species depend on them, including wolves, lynx and bears, and a myriad of beetles and fungi”, explains Martin Mikoláš from the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, the lead author of the article. “They also store vast amounts of carbon, so they offer a natural solution against climate change. Despite their importance, we are currently failing to protect this natural heritage. Urgent action is required to better protect old-growth forests before it is too late.”

Regarding the implications of old-growth forest protection measures for managed forests, Prof. Bart Muys from KU Leuven added: “The objective of the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 to strictly conserve all old-growth and primary forests in EU should not lead to conflicts with forests that are managed in the long term through well-defined, biodiversity-oriented, close to nature forest management with only minor interventions, such as selection forests (Plenterwälder, forêts jardinées) in the Pre-Alps, or oak forests with long rotation cycles in European lowlands, as old-growth forests are characterized by not being actively managed for a long period of time. However, non-intervention management of these forest stands, which preserves at least a portion of these forests, should be encouraged to realize their full ecological potential in exchange for compensation for providing ecosystem functions to society in lieu of timber harvesting.”

Read the full commentary.

Photo credit: Karol Kalisky, Arolla film

Replacing monocultures with natural forests in the Făgăraș Mountains

SUBERB’s first restoration activities in Romania

More than 7,000 saplings were planted in Romania’s Upper Dâmbovița Valley this autumn as part of SUPERB. In this area, SUPERB’s partner Foundation Conservation Carpathia is gradually restoring the natural mixed forest which existed until the 1950s through ecological restoration actions replacing the spruce monoculture.

Artificial spruce monocultures have a reduced diversity of plant and animal species, are more fragile in the face of storms, snow and insect calamities and negatively influence soil structure and acidity.

Until the 1950s, a natural mixed forest grew here, which also had fir, beech and sycamore,” said Mihai Zotta, Conservation Director of Foundation Conservation Carpathia. “After being logged, the forest was replaced by an artificial spruce monoculture for purely economic reasons. Through ecological restoration actions, we are facilitating or imitating natural processes as far as possible and taking into account the future effects of climate change. We are creating pockets of light and planting deciduous species in these areas to restore the natural, strong and biodiverse mixed forest. The gradual return of the natural forest in place of spruce monoculture is a long-term process, in successive stages that can last up to twenty years.”

The ecological restoration activities will lead to the gradual recovery of the mixed forest, specific to this region, without affecting the natural balance of the area. The process involves the spacing of deciduous tree species (beech, sycamore, rowan, elm) by removing spruce trees from around them or by creating openings in the dense spruce forest, in order to brighten the interior of these forests and create space for natural regeneration and planting of saplings.

The saplings were provided by Foundation Conservation Carpathia’s own nurseries and were produced in an organic way without the use of chemical treatments. The seed sources have also been carefully chosen and are mainly local.

The sycamore, rowan, elm and beech seeds were collected three years ago from the surrounding forests, and the fir seeds were purchased six years ago from a nearby certified seed source grown in similar mountainous conditions.

Our SUPERB demonstration area in Romania is located in the eastern Făgăraș Mountains, on the forest properties owned by Foundation Conservation Carpathia, and the project is implemented in collaboration with the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, established by His Majesty, King Charles III.

This text was originally published by the Foundation Conservation Carpathia on carpathia.org.