Investigating European forests’ vulnerability to climate change

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.

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Upcoming webinar: European forest restoration: urgently needed but where and how?

Forest restoration is not all roses – it comes with a range of challenges, too. Therefore, implementing and upscaling restoration measures is essential for their successful restoration. In our upcoming webinar “European forest restoration: urgently needed but where and how?” organized by SUPERB and IUFRO‘s Task Force ‘Transforming Forest Landscapes for Future Climates and Human Well-Being’ we will discuss how the habitat status of Europe’s forests is currently assessed, and what role data provided by National Forest Inventories can play to inform about forest restoration in Europe. We will also take a deep plunge into our SUPERB demo areas and discover the real-life challenges they are facing to implement restoration on the ground.

Join us on 8th February 4-6pm CET and register here.

FSC revising Ecosystem Services Procedure: call for experts

News from SUPERB’s Advisory Board member FSC

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) invites you to participate in the first public consultation of the revised draft procedure from 16 January – 17 March 2023 via the FSC Consultation Platform.

In 2022, with its FSC-PRO-30-006 Ecosystem Services Procedure, FSC has set out the requirements for FSC-certified forest managers to credibly demonstrate the impact of their activities on the maintenance, conservation, restoration or enhancement of ecosystem services. The aim was to providing them with improved access to ecosystem services markets through the use of FSC ecosystem services claims.

FSC particularly welcomes feedback from FSC Members, FSC-certified forest managers, certification bodies, project developers, sponsors of FSC-certified forests, FSC Network Partners/Regional Offices; but all input from any interested stakeholder is welcome.

Would you like to know more? Attend upcoming webinars! Webinar registration:

  • 9:00-10:00 CET, 24 January 2023, in English with simultaneous translation into Spanish and French. Register here
  • 17:00-18:00 CET,  21 February 2023, in English with simultaneous translation into Spanish and French. Register here

Learn more about this revision process on the FSC website, under Current Processes (here).  Anyone interested to stay informed is invited to sign up to the Consultative Forum mailing list (here) for updates on the revision of FSC-PRO-30-006. 

FSC is looking forward to your input!


Featured image: FSC-certified urban forest in Aachen, Germany (photo: Gesche Schifferdecker)

Updates from our demo Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

During a trip to Scotland in September, our colleagues from Wageningen Research made a field visit to the restoration sites in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (QEFP) guided by demo leader Bruce Nicoll. Within the Scottish demo, one of the measures is to transform monocultures of Sitka spruce to continuous cover forestry (CCF), besides diversifying forest’s age structure and species composition. The second restoration activity will be along the river, restoring the riparian woodlands and implementing Natural Flood Management techniques (e.g., leaky dams, timber bunds) aimed at reducing flood peaks. The third restoration activity is high elevation planting. The field visit was a great way of getting to know the Scottish situation. The next day the group was welcomed at the office of Forest Research, where they also met Tom Locatelli. During the day they discussed the SUPERB activities ahead and among them was the workplan which is now finalized.  

Sitka spruce

At the beginning of November, the Scottish demo held its stakeholder workshop. Planned restoration activities were discussed in the field during an extended visit to representative sites within QEFP. The workshop was a very enjoyable experience for the Forest Research (FR) and Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) SUPERB teams, as well as for the participants, who asked very many questions and engaged in discussions about SUPERB, QEFP, and upscaling forest restoration in Scotland and the UK. Given the dense content and structure of the workshop, and the multiple requirements from various WPs, the changes to allow extended forest visits introduced some logistic challenges that required careful planning and timing of the numerous workshop activities. Thanks to the positive and engaging spirit of QEFP’s stakeholders, all the project requirements for the workshop were achieved very satisfactorily. The FR and FLS team are looking forward to welcoming their participants back to QEFP for a full-day visit to forest restoration sites in QEFP during the summer of 2023, and to expanding their stakeholder network and activities during 2023. 

Comments on Draft Nature Restoration Law

An awareness of the need to urgently restore healthy, resilient ecosystems underpins a partnership of major EU funded projects: SUPERB, WaterLANDS, REST-COAST, and MERLIN. Addressing the restoration of forests, wetlands, coastlines and freshwaters respectively, the projects have been funded to support the European Green Deal’s aspirations to foster climate resilience and nature recovery across the continent, alongside the aim of becoming net carbon-neutral by 2050. By promoting the widespread and innovative scaling-up of ecosystem restoration across Europe, the partnership offers a significant opportunity to amplify scientists’ voices in the development of the European Nature Restoration Law. In November 2022, all four sister projects jointly analysed the draft text of the proposed law, and summarized their recommendations in a policy brief.

This important contribution was developed during a science-policy workshop hold in Brussels on 25th November 2022, organised by the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission and DG R&I, and attended by the project coordinators and by representatives of EEA, JRC, DG-ENV, DG-AGRI, DG-MARE, DG-REGIO and DG-CLIMA.

The policy brief was submitted to the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs of the EU Parliament’s Environmental committee in advance of debates on the draft legislation in 2023.

Rise from the ashes

#RestorationStory by Bas Lerink, supported by Judit Torres and Iñigo Oleagordia Montaña

The sun peaks over the roof of Cathedral Santa Maria as I make my way downtown the city of León. The huge stained-glass windows light up in red and yellow, as a promise for a hot day. I am meeting our Spanish SUPERB colleagues in their CESEFOR office, to catch up with recent activities in our SUPERB demonstration site. It is great to meet again with the demo representatives Judit Torres (CESEFOR) and Iñigo Oleagordia Montaña (Junta CyL) and to get to know Rafael, the forest manager of the El Bierzo sites. A lot has happened since we last met, so we take the time to discuss the events of the past weeks.

The Castilla y León demo gives a fascinating insight in the relationship between men and bear. The aim of the demo is to improve the habitat of the brown bear, while simultaneously engaging the rural population. If not challenging enough, there is always the lurking danger of forest fires in the region. Two weeks ago, Judit organised the demo’s stakeholder workshop, uniting friend, and foe of the bear. They discussed the forest restoration measures planned by the local partners, with room for adjustments. The presence of the brown bear can incidentally trouble activities of the local population, especially for beekeepers. But they already found a solution by subsidising e.g. electric fencing around the beehives, to fend off curious bears with a sweet tooth. In the coming weeks, the workplan will be finalised, with detailed descriptions of the restoration measures on specific sites, and I am already curious to read them.

Stand with excessive regeneration
Mature stand with barn owl nest

Meanwhile, we finish our discussions in the CESEFOR office and hit the road to El Bierzo region, where the sites are located. We pick up Santiago, forest ranger of the Igüeña site, which we will visit first. In the selected stands, our local partners will carry out silvicultural measures to improve the habitat of the brown bear. This involves thinning out dense Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) stands to create easier passage, while in Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica) stands trees are selected to increase acorn production. In recently burned stands, they plan enrichment planting to provide new shelter. Judit drives us in CESEFOR’s 4×4 Landcruiser to the different stands of the Igüeña site.

The stands have been chosen based on a gradient of degradation, e.g. from severely degraded, up until the ideal reference situation. We visit a recently burned stand, where the blackened trees clearly indicate where the fire blazed. Where possible, they plan some enrichment plantings to help this stand to recover. Iñigo explains how current management shifted from creating large ‘cortafuegos’ (long clear-felled strips), to decreasing the available fuel in the stands. This was decided because the cortafuegos deform the landscape, have to be maintained a lot and are often not effective for crown fires.

The cortafuegos are visible as long brown strips (photo: Bas Lerink)

The middle section of the chronosequence consists of Pyreneanoakstands with overdue management. Santiago takes us to a dense stand with very slender trees and a blanket of oak root regeneration, prone to fire. Right next to it is a reference stand, where low thinning and enrichment planting of e.g. rowan and whitebeam (Sorbus aucuparia and S. aria) were successful. Santiago shows us a picture that he took here 20 years ago of a big capercaillie, which were once abundant in these forests. The end of the chronosequence is a fantastic mature stand of Pyreneanoakwith many microhabitats. The trees have large crowns, capable of producing lots of acorns for the brown bear and the forest structure is resilient to forest fires. Iñigo is clear on his goal: ‘In the future, most of the forest area of El Bierzo will look like this’.

Happy with what we have seen, we head for an old molino where Santiago used to mill back in the days, but which is now transformed to a restaurant. We enjoy a tasty lunch with local ingredients and then drive up in the mountain range to see the Corullón site. In the midst of a 200-hectare soto (orchard) of sweet chestnut trees, there is a burned patch of a few hectares. Here, our local SUPERB team will plant new grafted chestnut trees to increase the production of sweet chestnut. With this measure, Judit, Iñigo and their colleagues aim at engaging the rural population, as sweet chestnuts are valued a lot by the local people.

While the sun sets behind the Corullón mountain ridges, we call it a day. In the past 12 hours, we have seen the challenges that the Castilla y León demo has to face. However, above all, we have also discovered great opportunities to restore the forest lands, for men and bear. This demo is one to watch!


Featured image: SUPERB demo area with sweet chestnut orchard on the right side, with holm oak on the left (southward facing) side of the slope (photo: Bas Lerink). Bas is a PhD student with Wageningen Research.

“Forest restoration needs to look ahead, not backwards, in face of climate change”: An interview with SUPERB coordinator Elisabeth Pötzelsberger on World Habitat Day

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.

Watch the video interview on YouTube or read it below!

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.

Visions for forest restoration in the Bohemian forest

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.



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.

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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.