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 – is 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.”
Photo credit: Karol Kalisky, Arolla film