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.
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.
#Restoration Story by Ajdin Starcevic, Wageningen University and Research
If I had to encapsulate my recent journey to the Serbian forest in just two words, they would undoubtedly be “pleasantly surprised”.
Our arrival in Belgrade took place on a hot late September day, amidst the warmth that characterizes the Balkans’ phenomenon known as “Miholjsko ljeto”. A period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn. It’s rather amusing, in retrospect, how serendipitous it felt as we embarked on our journey to the final destination, Novi Sad—the hometown of a renowned singer-songwriter who has a tune coincidentally named ”Miholjsko leto 95’”, which I would listen to during my teens. But let’s momentarily set aside my high school nostalgia and return to the narrative.
Our expedition to Serbia served a dual purpose, each with its distinct goal. The initial part of our journey was dedicated to the EFI Annual Conference, a commemoration of the European Forest Institute’s three-decade-long journey. En route to Serbia, we pored over the pages of “An Idea Becomes a Reality”, a book that had been published on EFI’s 10th anniversary. Our supervisor Gert-Jan Nabuurs, professor of European forest resources at Wageningen University and Research, amused us with the intricate tale of how it all commenced and evolved. By the time we touched down, my colleague Bas Lerink and I had a profound respect and a sense of honour for being able to be a part of the beautiful EFI family.
The two days of the conference flew by, filled with engaging conversations with both familiar and new faces. Each of us from the Wageningen team played a role in it; Bas participated as a panelist in one of the discussions, Gert-Jan took on the role of a managing senior, exploring new opportunities for us to make a positive impact on the European environmental scene, and I had the privilege of being a presenter in the Young Scientist Session.
The second part of our journey offered a stark contrast to the formalities of the EFI Annual Conference – no more suits, fancy city halls, or gala dinners. Instead, we swapped that for boots and forest green pants as we met our hosts, Zoran, Martina, and Velisav from the Institute of Lowland Forestry and Environment, on an early Friday morning, with the sun rising over the Petrovaradin fortress in Novi Sad. Accompanied by Magda Bou Dagher-Kharrat, the SUPERB project coordinator, and Bart Muys, professor of forest ecology and forest management at KU Leuven, we set off to explore the local SUPERB demo site.
After a scenic hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Novi Sad, passing through the vast golden- coloured cornfields of the Vojvodina region, we finally reached the local office of the Special Nature Reserve “Gornje Podunavlje”. Here, we were warmly welcomed by the dedicated team implementing the SUPERB project on the ground in Serbia: Slađana, Radmila, Andrea, Peđa, Ognjen and Srđan. From there, we ventured into an enchanting oak forest that seemed taken right out of a fairy tale to visit the first chronosequence site. It teemed with biodiversity, evidenced by the wild game tracks in the mud and different types of oak galls, some of which were new to all of us. Our hosts explained that this is the legacy they aim to leave behind; the work they are doing today will ultimately result in forests like this thriving a century from now.
Adjacent to this forest, we encountered a vast clearing of approximately 30 hectares, which was once a poplar plantation. Zoran confidently declared, “This is where we will implement the SUPERB restoration measures”. I must admit that at least the Dutch members of our team were initially sceptical. We doubted the possibility of oak trees successfully establishing themselves in such a large clearing. However, as we would soon discover, we were mistaken.
Afterwards, we took a brief boat ride along one of the Danube’s channels to look at the “European Amazon” from a different perspective.
Upon returning to the shore, we hopped back into our Dusters and made our way to a site that had been previously restored 12 years ago—a crucial chronosequence for the SUPERB project. After opening a sturdy fence, we were greeted by the sight of oak trees reaching a towering height of around 8 meters, growing alongside hornbeam, ash, and black locust, all thriving naturally. This site had been sown with acorns 12 years ago and was flourishing, proving that it was indeed possible.
However, it was evident that our hosts had put in tremendous effort, involving extensive manual labour, to erect strong fences to keep out the ca. 2000 red deer and hundreds of wild boars inhabiting the area. This region is, after all, one of Serbia’s largest hunting areas. Additionally, various interventions were necessary to eliminate weeds and other competitive vegetation, allowing the oaks to grow and prosper.
The second chronosequence, an 12 year old oak stand (Photo: Ajdin Starcevic)
Following this, we visited another oak stand that had been established just five years ago. While it looked promising, the soil quality posed a challenge, making it hard for us to believe that these saplings would reach the impressive 8-meter height we had seen earlier in only seven years. However, Zoran assured us it would work out, and by now, we had learned to trust his expertise.
Our learning experience related to the forest restoration measures we’ve seen illustrates the importance of local knowledge and expertise in projects like SUPERB. Another crucial factor to consider is the strong partnership forged between the managers and scientists. This collaboration has been nurtured and strengthened over the years, primarily grounded on a foundation of trust. We might have dismissed such an endeavour, but local forest managers and scientists understand what is possible and what they can achieve.
View of the area where restoration measures are being implemented for SUPERB (Photo: Ajdin Starcevic)
On the second day, we were accompanied also by Christophe Orazio from the European Institute of Planted Forest, leader of SUPERB’s demo in France who specializes in plantation forestry. Together, we visited sites similar to those we had seen the day before. We also observed an area where SUPERB measures had been implemented but, unfortunately, achieved little success due to an unusually hot and dry summer that left the planted oak seedlings struggling. Here, additional work will be done, with new oak acorns to be sown in place of the earlier seedlings. Trees grown from acorns exhibit greater vigour, but during the initial campaign, there was a shortage of acorns, and time constraints forced the use of seedlings instead.
In addition to the oak forests in various stages of development, we also had the opportunity to explore poplar plantations, which are the backbone of the Public Enterprise Vojvodinašume. At one point, we observed two stands, one of oak and one of poplar, planted in the same year. The difference in size was striking (see picture below). As I took this photo, I noticed that the soybean field I stood on was perfectly divided between the two stands. The field next to the poplar plantation had already been harvested, appearing brown and dry, while the field opposite the oaks remained fresh and green. This observation perfectly encapsulated the work of these foresters. They are transitioning from a potentially dry and impoverished scenario, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change associated with poplars, toward a more climate-resilient oak forest. This oak forest is not only promising and green but also biodiverse and beautiful, reflecting their dedication to a sustainable and prosperous future.
This is one of the key reasons why I would describe this trip as a pleasant surprise. The eagerness of the local foresters to shift from their conventional business practices towards a more climate-smart approach to forest management, all while considering the long-term effects of climate change and willingly sacrificing short-term profits for the betterment of future forests in the Vojvodina region, felt truly refreshing and makes me optimistic for the future of the European Amazon in challenging times.
The FORWARDS project has launched a funding call to set up Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF) and forest restoration pilots across Europe. These pilots will serve as a basis for developing an evidence-based understanding of effective CSF and restoration management practices in supporting climate change mitigation, adaptation, and biodiversity. Supported projects and activities should establish new field trials in forests for CSF and restoration management practices or test new practices in existing field trials. The call, which is open from 31st July until 31st October 2023, will fund up to five projects.
Each awarded project will be granted up to EUR 140,000 and is expected to commence around the beginning of 2024, with a duration of maximum 18 months. Later this year and for the duration of its lifespan FORWARDS will launch many more calls to fund projects across different themes. European Forest Institute manages the grants as FORWARDS partner.
FORWARDS is a project funded by the European Union that will prototype the ForestWard Observatory, a pan-European monitoring and evaluation tool that will help in demonstrating the impact of climate change on forests, and guiding decision-making for practical forest management. For more information on the FORWARDS project, please visit: https://forwards-project.eu/
FORWARDS is an EU-funded project that will prototype The ForestWard Observatory, a pan-European monitoring and evaluation tool that will help in demonstrating the impact of climate change on forests, guiding decision-making for practical forest management.
Five projects for building new climate-smart forest and forest restoration trials will be supported in the first round of calls by FORWARDS, with a total grant value of EUR 700,000 with a single grant value of maximum EUR 150,000. By the end of July, the application window for this grant call will be opened by EFI – the European Forest Institute.
Projects resulting from successful submissions are anticipated to commence around the beginning of 2024. Each project has a maximum duration of 18 months. The project will issue numerous additional calls for funding for projects with various themes throughout the remainder of the year and until it is completed. If you work in Climate-Smart Forestry, watch out for the launch at the end of July. The call will be published on EFI’s grants webpage https://efi.int/grants-training/grants.
With a total budget of €14m and more than 19 partners involved, FORWARDS – with the ForestWard Observatory – will provide timely and detailed information on European forests’ vulnerability to climate change. The project will also deliver science-based knowledge to guide management using the principles of climate-smart forestry, ecosystem restoration and biodiversity preservation, developed in close consultation with relevant stakeholder groups. To set up The ForestWard Observatory, FORWARDS will launch at least five grant calls with a total value of EUR 6 million to fund 50 projects.
The data and the results from these projects will feed into The ForestWard Observatory.The ForestWard Observatory will be a long-lasting practical tool to support decision making:
at European and national scale to provide a strategic perspective of disturbances, future risks, and critical vulnerabilities and threats to European forests;
at regional and local scale to deliver more operational information for local CSF & Restoration management practice.
By operating at both these scales, the project will help improve the accuracy and timeliness of threat detection for European forests while enabling local management teams to respond promptly using a scientific basis. In this respect, The ForestWard Observatory will draw on available networks and data streams to apply pioneering approaches.
A few weeks ago, I visited my son who is studying in Scotland. He took me for a walk in the Cairngorns, the UK’s largest National Park, which is a fantastic area. Only afterwards, I realised what we have lost in our densely populated Netherlands: the decreased diversity in landscapes, gradients and biodiversity became painfully apparent. For instance, in Scotland, I have seen lichens with the size of a fist, at the end of the branches of oaks. I have never seen that in my home country. Most likely this is due to air pollution as lichens are very sensitive to this. I suppose I do not have to remind you of the atmospheric nitrogen concentrations in the Netherlands, nor of the acidic rain in the past.
But why am I telling you this? I have been working in several ecosystems as a restoration ecologist but have not seen such a large public dispute on the need of rehabilitation as in the field of forests. It seems that we have 17 million forest managers in Holland, all having a strong opinion on forest management. It must be our country spirit, having strong opinions, as we also have 17 million soccer coaches. Most of these millions of forest managers are convinced that our forests are natural by origin (which they are not). As a consequence, they consider ‘doing nothing’ to be the best way to improve the quality and health of our forests. They completely ignore human impact on forest, which we apply not only by planting, management, and recreation, but also by invisible processes such as impacts of climate change and hydrological changes. Acidic and nitrogen deposition have significantly accelerated the weathering of sandy soils: in the last decades, the same amount of calcium and magnesium have leached from the top of the soil as in the 17.000 years before. And is still continuing. In Brabant, we often measure pH-values below 3. To better understand this: pH-value 3 is compared to vinegar. Imagine being a tree in such conditions: your roots develop poorly, and your capacity to take up nutrients and water is seriously hampered. Your vitality sucks, and you will feel a little unstable. On top of this, you would have to deal with lowered ground water tables, imbalanced nutrient availability (due to nitrogen deposition) and climatic changes. You are stressed by multiple factors. And in addition, you struggle with the loss of connectivity to other forests and pollution by light and sound, all factors that diminish the size of suitable habitat for forest plants and animals.
Personally, I do not believe that ‘doing nothing’ will be the cure for large scale forest recovery. Even if we were to stop forest management, we humans still affect the forests through the processes I have explained above. This is precisely why I believe in using all knowledge, tools and means we have to help our forest to survive. This entails reinstalling higher ground water tables, cutting, planting, leaving dead wood. Introducing missing species, adding rock dust to complement leaching. We have to do it! And I am happy to see it is being done in the Netherlands and beyond, with a great variation in management being applied. Because I also believe that when the future is uncertain, we need to diversify risks, and try different approaches to find out what works and learn from practice.
So why are many people in resistance to forest management, even in forests that should serve multiple purposes? One of my Belgian colleagues recently said that urban societies are alienated from forest practice: Her words were: “They think the forest is their pet”, which I can truly relate to. I can understand that you don’t want to cut your pet, but why don’t you want to pamper it either? Why not revitalizing the forest, supporting it to be healthier?
Here we forest practitioners should dare to look at our own acting. We send different messages, and we are thereby confusing our audience. We tell them about small-scale forest management in the Netherlands, reducing clearcut areas to less than 2 times the tree height. Meanwhile we proudly present pictures of helicopters spreading rock dust, in order to reduce acidification impact. Small-scale management? Such images convey the implicit message of large-scale actions, in a way that many associate with noise, air pollution and nitrogen emissions. Is this how we understand forest restoration? Let us be aware of the messages we send in our enthusiasm on forest management and put them in perspective. Let us work against the Zeitgeist pushing us to convey simple stories, and instead tell of the complex reality of gradients, nuances, and diversity, that needs a variety of solutions.
So, to conclude, we have work to do. Both in restoration and in communication.
On April 14th 2023 Maaike presented this column in Dutch language to the KNBV, the Netherlands organisation of Forest Managers. The column is also published at their website.
At the IUFRO World Congress taking place in Stockholm in 2024, SUPERB is hosting a panel discussion and poster session on “Prestoration – combining restoration and adaptation – of European forests for people and planet”.
In our session, we will focus on bringing together major challenges: 1) the need for forest restoration for the conservation of forest biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services, and 2) the urgency of forest adaptation to climate change. 3) Furthermore, the practice side is facing diverging expectations both from policy side and society on the role of forests to protect biodiversity, adapt societies to global change and mitigate the impacts of climate change including through forest-based products. At the same time, 4) the finance sector is more than ever ready to invest into nature and green solutions, however there is large uncertainty about the quality and long-term benefits of investment opportunities, how to credit these, and how to effectively bring the large demand for investment opportunities and the widespread but dispersed need for locally-adapted prestoration (restoration combined with adaptation) actions together. If you work on one or more of these four topics/perspectives related to forest restoration, please submit your abstract viahttps://iufro2024.com/call-for-congress-abstracts/and make sure to contribute to an inspiring session!
Featured image: Prestoration planned in SUPERB’s demo in Arnsberg, Germany.
Join the Summer School on Modelling Assisted Migration
This Summer School will take place on 30 July – 4 August 2023 at the Forestry Training Centre Traunkirchen (BFW), Austria. The school is open to MSc, & Ph.D. students, and Post-Docs in forest research and related disciplines, and EVOLTREE will provide financial support to a limited number of candidates. Deadline for applications is 15 April!
For further in information please check out the flyer.
New FORWARDS project will work with SUPERB to deliver science-based knowledge to guide management using the principles of climate-smart forestry, ecosystem restoration, and biodiversity conservation.
With a total budget of €14m funded by the European Commission’s HorizonEurope (plus additional funding by Switzerland and the UK) and more than 19 partners involved, the FORWARDS project (ForestWard Observatory to Secure Resilience of European Forests) will provide timely and detailed information on European forests’ vulnerability to climate change. With its activities, FORWARDS aims at supporting European forests and society to transform, adapt, and mitigate climate-induced changes.
Did you know that due to the rapid development of climate change some species are unable to adapt fast enough to the new climatic conditions and might reduce their distribution or even face possible extinction?
In such cases, species distribution models (SDM) come handy since they can be used to identify areas with a potential biodiversity loss and assist species migration to more suitable areas. SDM uses advanced computer algorithms, georeferenced biodiversity observations and geographic layers of environmental information to build predictive models that can be used to make inferences about the potential distribution range of species in space and time.
In the SUPERB project, we use species distribution modelling to develop a European tree species and seed provenance recommendation system called Seed4Forests. Currently, the SUPERB partners in our demonstration areas count on our species and provenance recommendation list when considering restauration activities such as planting, and we hope that in the future this will be a common practice also for other forest restoration projects.
To obtain such a model, well-developed hard skills are required for data wrangling, data manipulation, algorithm selection and fitting, as well as data visualisation. Especially because these tasks are usually executed via a programming language. In late June this year, our team at Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW) in Austria decided that it would be beneficial for some of us to improve and polish some of these skills by attending a species distribution modelling course.
In early July last year, one of my colleagues and I booked early bird tickets to the 8th edition of the Species Distributions Modelling course held in Evora, Portugal, by two renowned and well-established scientists in this field: Miguel Araújo and Babak Naimi. The course was scheduled to start on the 7th of November and last 8 days, during which we would go through all steps involved in building and testing models of species distribution.
The summer passed as fast as you can say ‘Schnitzel’ and here we were catching a flight to Lisbon at 3:30 AM Sunday morning. We had the whole Sunday to wander around amazing and hilly Lisbon were we – despite being sleepy – enjoyed a long walk.
As two tree geeks would normally behave we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit the botanical garden and test our tree identification skills. We both performed well with small exceptions when it came to some Mediterranean tree species and non-native tree species of Europe. Early in the morning we took the bus to Evora, a beautiful, lively university city. We would later learn that Evora’s streets are not ordinary. You can easily hear the sound of Fado music drifting while encountering students dressed as if they are coming from a Quidditch game between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins (the main inspiration of Harry Potter’s uniforms came from Portugal).
But back to our arrival: when we arrived in Evora, the first class was ready to start. We joined the small group of around 12 young scientists who were physically present and 2 more attendees online, eager to find out how and when species distribution models can be useful.
After a quick round of introductions, I was surprised to find out that although we were drawn by the same interest for this course, our backgrounds were very different. Based on their presentation, I could easily divide the group in 3 main clusters: those interested in birds, plants lovers, and marine life enthusiasts.
The course started with a short introduction of the terminology used in species distribution modelling. Prof. Miguel Araujo was mostly responsible for the theoretical aspects of the topic, describing in detail the timeline from the ‘early days’ of SDMs to the cutting-edge research that is now conducted in the world as well as in his labs in Evora and Madrid. He filled our memory citing and describing methodologies applied in different research papers that tackle aspects of species distribution modelling in time and space. Throughout the course he gave us a good understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of ecological niche models while emphasizing the strengths and limitations of those models in the context of different uses.
Prof. Babak Naimi, on the other hand, was responsible for developing our hard skills. He introduced us to the sdm package, a package developed by himself and Miguel with the main purpose of building species distribution models. Throughout the week he described the main functionalities of the package, while during his intense coding sessions we discussed extensively the use of the package in tacking our research questions. It was indeed the perfect mixture of theory and practice.
The 8th and last day of the course was reserved for presenting our work through short presentations. We had been split in small groups of 3 to 5 people and given the task to design and build a species distribution model. Using some data already available at European scale, my group and I developed 3 SDMs for 3 oak species (Quercus frainetto, Quercus cerris and Quercus pubescens) which is of big interest for the SUPERB demo areas. We predicted the current and the future distribution of these species under different climate scenarios. In order to improve the ”projection power” of our model we also predicted the SDM of a new invasive insect species (Corythuca arcuata) as this species has a huge potential to threaten the stability and limit the distribution of the oak species in Europe.
Soon it was time to fly back to the country of Mozart and the city of Johann Strauss. The course was a treat and we are ready and excited to apply our newly acquired skills in the SUPERB project helping you choose the most suitable species for the forests of our future.
All images incl. featured image are by Albert Ciceu. Albert is a Post-Doc researcher at Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW)