Trade-offs and synergies between European and national forest restoration policies and laws 

#RestorationStory by Simon Fleckenstein and Antonio Basilicata on a stimulating exchange at the science-policy-practice interface 

Climate resilience and biodiversity are mutually reinforcing preconditions for forests to deliver what we as societies need: e.g. wood and other forest products, and opportunities for recreation. But how can we reach this, considering incoherencies and unexplored synergies between European and national forest policies and laws, mirroring different societal interests, values, and knowledge? As such, they act as important drivers of forest management practices that directly shape the resilience of forests and the provision of forest ecosystem services. In light of an increasing need for restoring degraded forest ecosystems in the European Union, we need to bridge critical gaps between different stocks of knowledge, values and interests. For this, we require a better understanding of how this can be done and of what forest restoration actually means to different stakeholder groups. To tackle this question and further aspects, the EU Horizon 2020 SUPERB project organized an enlightening and interactive expert workshop in the heart of political Brussels on 15th February 2024.     

The event was jointly organized by project partners Prospex Institute and the University of Freiburg. It facilitated fruitful discussions on key policy, legal and technical challenges and solutions for European forest restoration within the European multi-level governance system. This included expert exchanges on i) the practical implications of EU and national forest restoration policies, ii) the reconciliation of emerging restoration policies such as the proposed Nature Restoration Law (NRL) with existing European and national forest policies and laws, and iii) opportunities to foster cross-sectoral and multi-level synergies and reduce potential trade-offs. With around 35 representatives from different Directorate-Generals (DGs) of the European Commission, Member State authorities, stakeholder groups, and scientists gathering in a beautiful venue, everything was set for a productive and enriching exchange. 

Two bird´s-eye- views from science and practice 

After a welcoming address and introduction to the SUPERB project by our coordinator Prof. Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, the workshop started with an insightful presentation from SUPERB partner Prof. Bart Muys from KU Leuven. He provided different and partly competing definitions and understandings of forest “restoration” and emphasized the role of (forest) biodiversity as the foundation for ecosystem functions. Bart argued for a stronger emphasis on biodiversity as a key asset and highlighted the importance of integrating climate considerations into emerging forest-related legislation. Finally, he concluded that forest restoration is a policy and management choice, thus building a bridge to the next keynote speeches.  

Following this, Dr. Peter Löffler (DG CLIMA) provided insights into daily political affairs. He underscored the high-risk exposure of forests to climate change and called for increased investment in risk management strategies, including through forest restoration. In this context, he pointed to various existing and emerging EU policies that necessitate streamlining with national and regional/local policies. The aim is to provide added value to local restoration practitioners by incorporating their practices and experiences into policymaking. Peter emphasized that this approach is crucial for promoting climate-adapted restoration of forests in the European Union. 

Insights from SUPERB on policy and legal aspects of forest restoration in Europe  

Our team from the University of Freiburg provided important insights from our ongoing work in SUPERB. First, Dr. Metodi Sotirov set the scene in his keynote presentation by offering definitions of vertical and horizontal policy coherence from the political science perspective. He then presented an overview of SUPERB results about different, partly conflicting EU and national sectoral and vertical policy priorities ranging from (i.) forest biodiversity conservation and restoration to (ii.) carbon forest management/forest sinks to (iii.) multi-purpose forestry to (iv.) timber yield forestry and to (v.) bioenergy and carbon forestry. Metodi concluded by presenting some illustrative examples for cross-sectoral and vertical policy trade-offs and synergies between new and existing EU forest-related policies and laws. 

Next, we (Simon Fleckenstein and Antonio Basilicata) presented more detailed insights into SUPERB results on EU and national policies and laws governing forest restoration. Based on our findings from an expert interview and analyses of policy documents, we provided an overview of soft and hard law instruments from forest, biodiversity, climate, and agricultural policy areas that directly or indirectly govern forest restoration indicators and practices (e.g., protected forest areas, close-to-nature forests, riparian forest zones, invasive species, and wildlife management). We concluded our presentation with an overview of institutional, administrative, and organizational supporting and hindering drivers of forest restoration.   

To bridge the gap between policy and practice, our SUPERB partner Sara Filipek from Wageningen University & Research introduced the diversity of the twelve demo regions covered by SUPERB and highlighted the multiplicity of restoration challenges prevalent in different regions. She further drew attention to the issues coming along with poorly coordinated restoration policies for local municipalities and restoration practitioners and outlined opportunities to mitigate them in the future.     

Fostering discussions across political levels and Member States 

The diverse program of the event was further complemented by a high-level expert panel skillfully moderated by SUPERB partner Jo O´Hara (former UK Forestry Commissioner) who is responsible for coordinating the work package on “Upscaling”. The panel brought together representatives from the Pan-European ministerial forest policy process, the EU Commission, national forest authorities, and European state forest managers. Facilitating fruitful discussions, the addressed questions ranged from high-level forest restoration policies and their priorities over the potential of transnational cooperation to concrete implementation challenges faced by forest owners and industry on the ground.  

For instance, while it was emphasized that the implementation of forest restoration, as suggested under the proposed Nature Restoration Law, will primarily lie in hands of national administrations, there were calls for a stronger balance between restoration priorities and a better communication between policymakers, forest owners and practitioners. National insights on forest restoration implementation were, inter alia, provided from Spain and Italy, where highly decentralized political systems and exacerbating impacts of climate change call for a certain degree of flexibility in the implementation of forest restoration. Lastly, panelists were asked to write down one key word/statement they deem most relevant to foster forest restoration in the European Union. They included building trust, sharing knowledge and experiences. In addition, they suggested improving communication and interaction across political levels and sectors.  

Harnessing national expertise and experience 

But what would an expert workshop be without providing space to share the valuable experiences, knowledge and opinions of policy and practice experts working in the field? The core part of the event consisted of two interactive breakout sessions. In five small and diverse sub-groups, participants were encouraged to 1) discuss opportunities to streamline potentially diverging interests on forest restoration across policy sectors (such as in the context of promoting uneven-aged and mixed species stands) and foster collaboration towards a common forest restoration goal, as well as 2) jointly identify the potentially optimal multilevel governance model and necessary policy toolbox to promote forest restoration in the European Union. The results illustrated the richness of ideas and common ground in navigating the multifaceted system of European forest restoration politics among the workshop participants. 

Conclusions and way forward  

The one-day Expert Discussion on Forest Restoration Policy and Practice turned out to be a big success, not least due to the active engagement of the diverse range of stakeholders who joined the event. This demonstrated that, during the policy-making process and in related research activities, close cooperation with national experts and restoration practitioners is crucial to ensuring practicability and added value.  

Moreover, while there may be some disagreement on how to achieve forest restoration in the European Union, the shared goal of securing climate-adapted and biodiverse forests transcends policy sectors and political levels. It remains essential that relevant stakeholders talk with each other and exchange knowledge as well as context-specific experiences/best practices on forest restoration in a mutually beneficial way. The good news is that with the vast practical and scientific experience and knowledge in this field, also very much gathered in SUPERB, we have the necessary tools at hand to foster and scale up forest restoration in Europe. 

‘10 Must-Knows’ as guide for preserving biodiversity  

New policy report with chapter on integrating biodiversity conservation with forest management 

From yet undiscovered biodiversity to resilient forests and the impact of food consumption on nature: 64 experts have now pooled their knowledge and recommendations and published them in the form of “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Research” for 2024. The new report from the Leibniz Biodiversity Research Network shows policymakers and society concrete ways in which biodiversity in Germany can be effectively conserved and used sustainably at local, national and European level, and how this can also protect the climate. One of the 10 Must-Knows specifically refers to the management of forests and is co-authored by scientists from the European Forest Insitute (EFI) in Bonn. With this new publication, the researchers contribute current scientific facts to the debate on the German National Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which is to be adopted before the next United Nations Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) in autumn 2024.

Following the great response to the first “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Research” published in 2022, scientists from a total of 52 German and international research institutions have now contributed their expertise from the environmental, life, spatial, social, humanities and economic sciences to the new version. 

“We are already exceeding planetary boundaries, both in terms of global warming and biodiversity loss. Joint responses are needed to counter these crises. We know that preserving biodiversity can significantly contribute to mitigating climate change, for example through biodiverse forests and rewetted peatlands that can act as carbon sinks. Only by focusing on measures to protect biodiversity can we succeed in tackling both crises at the same time,” says Kirsten Thonicke, lead author and Deputy Head of Research Department “Earth System Analysis” at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), who coordinates the research network. 

In chapter 5, ‘Harmonising the diverse use of forest ecosystems and biodiversity conservation’, seven scientists from five different research institutions, focus on the integration of biodiversity concerns and socio-economic demands to forests.

“We should adapt our management practices and spatial planning in a way that reconciles the diverse use of forest ecosystems with biodiversity conservation. This will enable us to counter the increasing negative impacts of climate change in forests while resolving trade-offs between competing forest-related policy objectives,” says lead author Mats Nieberg, researcher at PIK and EFI. 

Synergetic practices strengthen biodiversity and make forests more resilient to climate change and disturbance regimes, thus contributing to global climate adaption and mitigation strategies. Ecological and economic approaches should be integrated rather than seen as opposing forces. For this, the researchers refer to the notion of ‘sustainable multifunctional forest management’ and recommend policymakers the following:  

  • Coordinate forest, climate, biodiversity, bioeconomy and other policies to foster policy integration and coherence on different spatial scales to align forest ecosystem service provisioning, disturbance risk management and biodiversity conservation.  
  • Participatory decision-making in public forests and incentives for private forest owners boost the integration of biodiversity-enhancing measures into forestry practice.  
  • Domestic demand for wood products, wood supply as well as wood imports and exports need to be balanced to avoid biodiversity losses by increased harvests either domestically or internationally.  

Equally, they develop recommendations for societal actors, related to awareness-raising and sensitization strategies.  

Managed forest with deadwood and structural diversity in Aachen, NRW (Photo: Gesche Schifferdecker)

To implement the 23 global biodiversity framework targets agreed by United Nations member states at the UN Biodiversity Conference in December 2022 (COP 15), the German Biodiversity Strategy 2030 is currently being developed. The strategy aims to preserve and protect biodiversity in Germany. In order to provide up-to-date facts from the scientific community, the first version of the “10 Must Knows” from 2022 was thus expanded to include numerous new aspects and brought up to date with the help of current literature. 

The “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science 2024” are: 

1. Achieving climate and biodiversity protection together 

2. Enabling a healthy life on a healthy planet 

3. Considering undiscovered biodiversity 

4. Linking linguistic, cultural and biological diversity 

5. Harmonising the diverse use of forest ecosystems and biodiversity conservation 

6. Transforming agricultural and food systems 

7. Protecting land and resources 

8. Releasing transformative change through international collaboration and Education for Sustainable Development  

9. Ensuring free access and open use of biodiversity-related data  

10. Reducing biodiversity impacts from food consumption 

Click here to access the report and download the 10MustKnows24 

This text is partly based on the press release of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

What actions would be needed to restore European forest ecosystems?

In early 2024, the European Parliament will have a final vote on the ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL), a hotly debated regulation that aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in Europe. An international team of scientists, led by Daniel Herring (University Duisburg-Essen), with contributions from European Forest Institute and Wageningen University and Research in the framework of the SUPERB project has investigated the prospects of the new regulation: how effective is this law going to be and what needs to happen? The article Securing success for the Nature Restoration Law was published on 15 December in the scientific journal Science. Even though the law has been weakened in the negotiation process, the restoration measures are already starting. 

The ‘Nature Restoration Law’ (NRL) requires member states of the EU to implement restoration measures on at least 20 per cent of land and marine areas by 2030, and in all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. The NRL already took various hurdles: most recently, it was approved by the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, after delegations of the Parliament and the Council of Europe agreed the final text.

But will the regulation really achieve its aims? The authors, including scientists that lead large European projects on nature restoration and biodiversity, analysed experiences with other European environmental directives and policies, and evaluated the prospects of the NRL to be successful. 

“The NRL has successfully overcome numerous challenges that typically impede the implementation of European policies and regulations. Regardless of the parliamentary decisions expected in January, urgent restoration efforts are already underway in many locations.” says Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Professor at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and co-coordinator of SUPERB. “The regulation saves time as it does not need to be transposed into national law, and an implementation framework and goals are clearly laid out.” At the same time, national implementation will be crucial for the NRL’s success. “The scientific community is actively generating extensive knowledge on landscape-level nature restoration, approaching it through different lenses, including governance, community engagement, species selection for the future, and ensuring sustainable financing for restoration”, emphasizes Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, SUPERB coordinator and Principal Scientist at European Forest Institute. “This will help European countries in preparing their national restoration plans.”

“Key for the implementation will be the cooperation of nature restoration with landowners and land users, in particular with managers and practitioners who directly work in the field”, says Silke Jacobs (WUR) who is part of SUPERB as well. “These managers and practitioners are crucial for long term maintenance of the forest. Only then forests will perform better for biodiversity, CO2 sequestration and wood provision in the long term”. Restoration takes time.

SUPERB is an excellent example of the European restoration initiatives aiming at large scale forest restoration, with several European countries implementing restoration measures. Given the variety of stressors which weakened the state of European forests over the past decades; ranging from wildfires, windstorms, bark beetle calamities to fragmentation and intensive plantations; the selection of appropriate restoration actions is crucial to succeed. However, essential part of the project is also the upscaling of the restoration actions. “Engagement and willingness of national and regional institutions, as well as involvement of private funding sector will allow to support and contribute to not only the nature restoration but it would also fulfil the goals of National Forest Strategies”, says Sara Filipek from WUR, working also on SUPERB project.   

Overall, the authors of the article provide a positive outlook for the NRL, but warn that ambitious national implementation and cooperation will eventually determine the success of nature restoration in Europe.

The NRL is part of the Green Deal and is, amongst others, intended to fulfil the international biodiversity agreement of Kunming-Montreal, according to which at least 30 percent of degraded ecosystems must be restored.

Further information: 

Daniel Hering et al, Securing success for the Nature Restoration Laws. Science 382, 1248-1250 (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adk1658

 “Making people part of ecosystem restoration in Europe”  

#RestorationStory by Lyla O’ Brien, European Forest Institute

It’s early morning on an abnormally cold October day, yet I hurry past the steaming coffee prepared outside the meeting room. It’s the second day of the workshop Making people part of ecosystem restoration in Europe hosted by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and I’m running a little late. I don’t want to miss the chance to pour over and vote for my favourite take-home message from yesterday’s session on public perception of ecosystem restoration and stakeholder engagement. My eyes, like many others, go to one quote in particular among the sea of sticky notes on the online board: “Create space for meaningful engagement as open as possible, as early as possible, as personal as possible”. The workshop, which took place from the 17th-19th of October in Bonn, Germany, was packed full of memorable quotes like this one from European experts from science, policy, and practice that came together to discuss how the inclusion and acceptance of stakeholders can be strengthened in ecosystem restoration. Not only were participants from diverse sectors, but they were experienced in ecosystem restoration of diverse types all over Europe, whether it be beech forests in Italy, grasslands in Germany, steppe plains in Georgia, or wetlands in Finland.  

Ecosystem restoration can face many challenges when it comes to stakeholder engagement. For example, when participants were asked to help create an online word map by submitting a few words on what they thought was the greatest challenge for successful grassroots initiatives, it was just a few seconds before “lack of funding”, “lack of commitment”, “no meaningful engagement of local communities” appeared on the screen in large letters. I came to the workshop to present our work in SUPERB’s WP5 T5.2 on identifying conflicts that affect forest restoration in SUPERB’s 12 demonstration cases, so I was already somewhat aware of such stakeholder difficulties. However, I was surprised to learn about some of the more creative ways participants had explored to engage stakeholders more meaningfully. 

When you close your eyes and think of ecosystem restoration, an image of planting a tree might come to mind, or the return of a certain species that has been missing from the landscape for a long time. But what about a sculpture made of over 80,000 aromatic plants spread across two hectares in the shape of a local cave painting in Spain? Or a video filmed together with local communities that aims to capture the sounds or “symphony” of a natural landscape? To ecologists or conservationists like myself, these may not be conventional approaches to restoration, but over the course of the workshop I was surprised to learn about the success that art can bring to our efforts. Art can act as a way to reconnect people to a landscape by helping them to express their emotional connection to it. It can make restoration more fun and hope-filled, take a multifaceted range of forms including work with textiles, media, dance, and sculpture, and engage a wide range of people including young people. I found myself thinking about what the “symphony” of the landscape surrounding my hometown would sound like: the sound of a lazy river meandering through meadows, the melody of so many songbirds all at once, the sound of a dairy cow grazing. It was not hard to see how these types of engagement that touch home can encourage people to participate in restoration.   

Over the next two days, I heard more inspirational stories of stakeholder engagement, grassroots initiatives, tools and guidelines for ecosystem restoration, as well as conflicts and trade-offs. As to be expected, discussions on conflicts were sometimes difficult to have, but were always centred on finding ways for conflict resolution. Participants stressed the importance to stop trends of working in silos and engage also with stakeholders that may not support their restoration efforts. As one participant summarised, “Disagreements can be opportunities to learn about ourselves, others, and our community. They can help us grow as individuals and build stronger relationships”.  Overall, the workshop was a valuable opportunity to talk about SUPERB’s work, but also an opportunity to think outside our usual boxes on how to ensure ecosystem restoration in Europe is not just for the natural environment but for the people, too.  

Join our “prestoration” session at IUFRO 2024

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 via https://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.

Summer School: Adapting forests and ecosystem services to climate change

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.

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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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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.

Recreation and biodiversity protection – Stakeholder Workshop in Jutland, Denmark

by Sofie Møller Rasmussen

The first workshop for SUPERB in Denmark at our demo site in Northern Jutland. Eleven stakeholders took part in the workshop, which spanned over a whole Saturday in the beginning of September. The participants included forest rangers, local communities, visitors, nature watchers, riders and employees from the local national park. The biggest concern for most of the participants was the preceding monitoring work for the project. They were worried that the endangered and vulnerable species in the area would not be taken in to consideration before the restoration actions. The other big topic discussed was the recreational use of the area and how to guarantee access to it. Stakeholders’ concerns were specifically related to the restoration of natural hydrology, which could lead to flooding of trails used for riding and hiking. We realized that most stakeholders are interested in the use and facilities of the area, and less in biodiversity conservation and forest management. Finally, we aimed at establishing a good relationship with the participants (and with this the local community) so nobody felt left out or not heard. This together with trying to implement the wishes from the stakeholders will be challenging for the project, but it is also very inspiring.  

As part of the workshop, I was contacted by a journalist from DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation). DR is the oldest and largest media enterprise in Denmark. I was interviewed for a radio interview and based on this, an article was prepared and published on their national news site (dr.dk). The interview (in Danish) mainly focused on nature and biodiversity in the restoration area.

Creating resilient forests for the future

1st Stakeholder Workshop in German SUPERB demo 

by Catharina Schmidt

Did you know that many forests in Germany’s demo area North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have been severely affected by drought and bark beetle outbreaks since 2018? By now, approximately 140.000 ha of Norway spruce forests have been damaged due to spruce bark beetle attacks, and 10.000 ha of pure beech stands are severely affected by drought. To ensure that our forests provide the ecosystem services we need, those areas need to be restored. Therefore, the state of NRW already developed a silviculture and reforestation concept in cooperation with several stakeholders. The concepts are now being tested – amongst others – in SUPERB’s demo sites. These include a total of at least 35 ha in 7 demo sites with at least 5 ha of restoration area per site which will be established across NRW. One “best-practice forest stand” will have the average size of 1 ha.

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