Restoring after forest dieback: First Public Engagement Workshop in our German demo area

The pressure to act and restore the forest ecosystem is immense in our German demo area in North-Rhine Westphalia: Having suffered massive pest outbreaks 6 years ago, the region still struggles with widespread forest dieback. As many forest owners have been challenged in the past years, restoration efforts in the area remain at early stages.

After spending the morning with diverse stakeholders from forestry, tree nurseries, nature conservation, hunting and more, discussing restoration goals and different expectations to forests, we continued with a 2.5-hour public engagement workshop walking through one of our SUPERB demonstration sites close to Arnsberg.

Photo credits: Rahel Könen

To set the stage for the public engagement workshop in the forest, Gesche Schifferdecker shared some insights from an analysis of Facebook posts around the NRW forest area implemented by Rina Tsubaki. These ranged from red deer loving nature photographers to hunting associations emphasizing the role of game management for forest natural regeneration and afforestation to representatives of the City of Arnsberg introducing the forest management plans for a climate resilient mixed forest. The participants were very interested in the online debates and surprised about some of the opinionated comments below the posts. This led to a reflection upon the role of social media in public engagement, and how for example forestry practitioners could proactively contribute to a more balanced debate.

Photo credits: Rahel Könen

The discussions continued in our SUPERB demo area, with a guided tour by SUPERB demo manager Catharina Schmidt. As our SUPERB interventions focus on both environmental and social factors of forest restoration, we discussed in the field diverse topics from climate resilience, selection of tree species, impressions of trellis and tubes covering the newly planted trees, walkability, the role of deer pressure for forest restoration, to the importance of deadwood for biodiversity. Amongst other questions, we asked: “How does this site look to you?, “how do you perceive the role of hunting in the forest?”, and “how does the sight of lying and standing deadwood make you feel?” 

With over 15 participants, these questions led us to insightful and open-hearted discussions about the struggles and needs of this forest area, its ecosystem and its people. 

Turning Over a New Leaf: Replanting Quercus Robur with Lessons Learned

Within the SUPERB project, a noteworthy advancement was achieved last week in the Serbian part of the Cross-border demo area, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing replanting efforts in Biosphere Reserve Gornje Podunavlje. This latest phase of our activities within the SUPERB project not only highlights the adaptability and resilience of the conservation efforts in Gornje Podunavlje but also emphasizes the importance of learning from past challenges. By acknowledging the impact of severe drought conditions on the initial attempt to establish Quercus robur stand, the current approach is adapted to ensure greater success. Public Enterprise Vojvodinašume is currently undertaking a remarkable endeavour, with over 50 workers diligently planting 94,000 Quercus robur seedlings at the restoration site. As part of their efforts for success, new fencing is being installed to protect against negative impacts from wildlife, while each seedling is being treated with hydrogel to prevent the loss of soil moisture, showcasing the ongoing commitment to successful restoration. Through ongoing practices, we continue to evolve, striving to achieve our overarching goal of enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in this ecologically significant region.

‘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).

First-year anniversary at SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo  

In the municipality of Legnano, the first restoration plot of SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo is celebrating its first-year anniversary. The team has divided the land here into 12 different stands to experiment with different densities of tree and plant cover (1500, 2000, and 2500 p/ha).  

Po Valley is one of Italy’s most important economic regions, in which agricultural and urban developments have gradually led to forest reduction and fragmentation. As biodiversity is increasingly under pressure, SUPERB aims to restore approximately 10 hectares of land in the administrative area of Lombardia. The aim here is to introduce biodiverse-rich, small patches of forest, as well as enhance ecological connectivity by planting trees, bushes, and hedges.  

Aside from this very first plot of land, the team has started to expand their restoration efforts across new municipalities: 

“It was close to impossible to find a continuous 7 ha patch so close to Milan, therefore, this year we will plant trees in 4 separated plots in 3 different municipalities”, says Michel Saini, project coordinator of the Po Valley Demo.

The restoration efforts were thus divided over the municipalities of Inveruno, Villa Cortese and Vittuone, with a total cover of 9 hectares of land. With plant species from Northern Italy, Central Italy and Southern Italy, the team is specifically dedicated to the study of genetic provenance, planting 3 different strands in each of the 4 areas. This means that they will actively explore how the different plant species, native to the above-mentioned regions, adapt to their new environmental conditions. 

In collaboration with the University of Trento, the team will also test the benefits of hydrogel for the survival of small saplings.  

“We will implement a layer of hydro-retentive gel at the bottom of the planting hole, with two main variables” explains Michel Saini, “one is control, irrigated by rain only, and the other is regularly irrigated saplings”.  

At the same time, the project focuses on several other studies, including: 

  • A focus on monitoring of zoonotic disease by monitoring and estimating the mosquitos and ticks’ population with traps. It’s a study in collaboration with Fondazione Edmund Mach

  • Studies on the effects of reforestation of former farmland on soil ecosystem services within Parco Nord Milano. The evaluation of reforestation effects is thus carried out through 3 indicators related to soil characteristics: Carbon stock, water regulation and soil biodiversity.

  • The monitoring of pollinators in the meadows close to the chrono sequences sites with the aim of studying the change in urban biodiversity after afforestation. This is a collaboration with the University of Milan – Bicocca 

  • The analysis of the contribution of vegetation in mitigating the urban “Heat Island Effect” with physical sensors. 

Stay tuned for more information! 

From vision to action – 2nd stakeholder workshop for forest restoration in Croatia and Serbia

On January 26, 2024, a group of 22 stakeholders from Croatia and Serbia gathered in the city of Osijek, Croatia, to participate in the second stakeholder workshop. The event, jointly organized by the Croatian Forest Research Institute and the Institute of Lowland Forestry and Environment, brought together a diverse array of forestry experts and stakeholders from both countries. The workshop featured prominent representatives from government bodies and agencies, research and academic institutions, public enterprises, professional associations, as well as other stakeholders, including regional and local associations, societies, and entities in the fields of nature conservation and hunting.

The second stakeholder workshop aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of the conducted and planned project activities, with a spotlight on activities carried out in the demonstration area. The workshop was structured around three informative sessions: (1) Information about the SUPERB project, including project objectives and activities, (2) Activities in the demonstration area, and (3) Planned steps and further stakeholder involvement.

Stakeholders expressed a keen interest in exploring the details of conducted activities and the engaging exchange of ideas underscored the stakeholders’ approval and appreciation for the restoration activities that have been undertaken. 

Following the indoor activities, all interested participants had the opportunity to visit the Croatian part of the demonstration area near the city of Osijek. The participants were taken to one of the chronosequence plots where the replacement of non native poplar plantation with pedunculate oak was successfully carried out on 50 hectares. This session not only provided valuable insights for workshop participants who are not directly involved in forestry but it also allowed participants to better understand the essential practices and activities crucial for the successful implementation of forest restoration. Furthermore, the inclusion of colleagues from the Republic of Serbia in this field visit further enhanced the interaction between workshop participants, contributing to a shared understanding of forestry practices at the regional level.

Field trip in the Croatian part of the demo area near Osijek

It’s also noteworthy that the workshop received notable media coverage, attracting attention from the „Croatian Radiotelevision“ and local radio stations, further amplifying the dissemination of information about the event and the SUPERB project.

Overall, it is safe to say that the second stakeholder workshop was undoubtedly a success thanks to the active participation, insightful discussions, and positive feedback from attendees. This affirmation reassures us that we are on the right path with our approach, aiming at fostering confidence in the effectiveness of our initiatives.

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

Hedgerows for more resilient pine forest

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 presented to new forest research network in Germany

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.

Helping our forests to realize their full potential

SUPERB researchers suggest improvements to Nature Restoration Law

The SUPERB project aims at large scale forest restoration in Europe, combining scientific and practical knowledge to drive actionable outcomes. In our recent policy brief, some of our high-level scientists developed recommendations for changes to the proposed EU Nature Restoration law based on the concepts underpinning our approach to forest restoration. These recommendations prioritize forward-looking restoration strategies by emphasizing ecosystem self-organization and climate change adaptation rather than aiming to restore our forests to past historical states.

Read our policy brief to explore how we can help our forest in Europe to realize their full and positive potential for the future.

Forests: why “doing nothing” can’t be the cure

#RestorationStory by Maaike de Graaf

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. 

Oak moss (photo: Rudolphous – Wikimedia Commons)

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.  

Diversifying Pine forest in the Dutch demo: Maaike and her team cut some trees, planted others (e.g. Tilia cordata, Quercus robur; with bamboo as wild life protection bamboo)
Diversifying Pine forest in the Dutch demo: Maaike and her team cut some trees, planted others (e.g. Tilia cordata, Quercus robur; with bamboo as wild life protection bamboo)

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?

Demo in Groote Heide

  

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.  

All photos except oak moss by Maaike de Graaf