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.
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.
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.
A new open-access, multidisciplinary book launched by Springer gathers contributions from 148 authors on current issues, paradigms and previously neglected challenges related to boreal forest management in the face of climate change. Focusing on the boreal biome as a whole, instead of specific northern countries, it incorporates a rich knowledge of accumulated past work and novel ideas driving boreal science.
The book is part of the Springer “Advances in Global Change Research” series and was edited by Miguel Montoro Girona, Hubert Morin, Sylvie Gauthier and Yves Bergeron. It can be downloaded for free at the Springer website.
#RestorationStory by Silke Jakobs and Ajdin Starcevic
It was an early arrival at the airport for departure on Saturday morning, packed with several layers of clothing and warm shoes. This time the trip was up North, with final destination Umeå to visit SUPERB’s Swedish demo area. We were first flying to Stockholm and from there taking the train onwards to Umeå. While looking out of the window from the airplane close to Stockholm, we noticed that everything was still very green, no snow in sight. Or at least not yet.
At the train station we met with Magda, deputy project coordinator of SUPERB, who was also joining us. As we didn’t see any snow yet, we made a bet after how much time on the train we would see full snow cover. Of course, a full snow cover needed to be defined; “Enough snow to not wreck your skis.” Apparently, this was still open for own interpretations. In the end we were all too optimistic. It took longer than expected to reach our expected “winter wonderland”. But we had some beautiful views during the train ride, and the sunset was spectacular.
During dinner that night in Umeå we had our second Swedish experience, eating reindeer. We would learn more about the role of reindeer for Swedish forests and forest-depending communities later. But now, after such a long travel day and a tasty dinner, it was time for a good night of sleep, so we would be well rested for the next day, exploring the demo area.
It seems that every time we visit a SUPERB demo, the sun is out. This time was no exception. We were picked up by Åsa Granberg and Johan Svensson (the Swedish demo leads) and Ruben Valbuena, our colleague from SLU. Åsa and Johan were also our personal guides for the day and took us to our first stop where forest restoration activities have been performed in 2019.
The restoration area was located just outside of Umeå, a popular bird-watching destination for locals. The goal of the Ume river delta restoration activities was to improve the habitat quality for the white backed woodpecker. This was primarily accomplished by removing Norway spruce and Scots pine from the site to promote the establishment and growth of broadleaved trees, primarily birch.
As we have heard from our colleagues, the white backed woodpecker tends to avoid forests with as little as 5% Norway spruce in the species composition. It appears that some forest managers in Central Europe could learn a thing or two from a bird. But anyway, some spruce trees were mechanically felled and left in the forest to increase the amount of deadwood and favor some wood decaying fungi species, while others were girdled to become snags and provide future habitat for other wildlife. Our host, Åsa, even shared a rumor of a great grey owl making the restored forest its home.
We concluded that the restoration efforts here were a success which left us optimistic and hopeful for the restoration activities to be done on the SUPERB demo site.
The second stop was at a possible SUPERB restoration site where the municipality has already been trying for four years to restore the forest. In 2023 it might finally happen. Marlene Olsson, one of the ecologists at Umeå municipality told us about the restoration activities which aim to improve the habitat for the white backed woodpecker. This white backed woodpecker is a national focus point in Sweden. But why is that? Can you imagine that around 200 different species benefit from creating good habitats for the woodpecker. Another national focus point in Sweden is to have more broadleaf trees and a better connection between those broadleaved areas. In the case of our SUPERB demo this implies that the conifer species alongside the riverbed will be removed. Besides a positive impact on the biodiversity our demo partners expect that this will also improve soil stability and prevent soil erosion as root systems of the broadleaves reach much deeper into the ground.
Before continuing our trip to the next location, we needed to refuel our bodies. Åsa and Johan took us to this cozy place called the Brännlands Wärdshus. The food was delicious, it left us all speechless for a while with only the sound of a crackling fire in the corner. We could have stayed a bit longer, but there was more to be seen and daylight is scarce in Northern Europe’s winters.
The Skatan ecopark, another of the SUPERB project’s restoration sites in Sweden was the final stop on our Sunday trip. We even had a chance to look at our previous night’s dinner in the eyes on the way there.
Reindeer herding has a long tradition in Sweden within the Sámi culture, and it represents their main livelihood. The activity is legally reserved only for the Sámi who own about 250,000 reindeer in Sweden. Climate change and intensive forest management have posed an increasing threat in recent years. Because of the nowadays shifting winter temperatures, the snow melts and freezes repeatedly even in the middle of the winter and forms an ice crust above the soil, making it difficult for reindeer to reach the lichens on the forest floor, which are a main source of food during the winter months. Moreover, the cover of ground lichens has decreased a lot (70% over a time period of 50 years) due to soil scarification and too dense forests Furthermore, because of the dense forest hanging lichens, an as important winter grazing resource, are not easily accessible. The Sámi work with forest managers to address this issue by thinning certain areas and opening up the forest canopy. This promotes lichen growth and increases the amount of fodder available to reindeer.
Finally, we were unable to visit any of the exact locations where the SUPERB restoration activities will be carried out in Skatan ecopark because the forest roads leading there had not been cleaned. Instead, we stood on the frozen lake, with one of the sites on the other side, which allowed us to see the big picture both literally and figuratively.
One of the restoration activities, according to our hosts, will be to simulate fire disturbance, a natural occurrence that has been suppressed in recent decades. This should improve the forest’s naturalness while also supporting ecosystem services other than commercial timber and biomass production, such as recreational values and biodiversity.
Driving back to Umeå, we could look back at another great SUPERB demo visit thanks to Åsa, Johan and Marlene. And we hope next time we visit we’ll meet one of those famous woodpeckers.
All images in this Restoration Story were provided by the authors Silke Jacobs and Ajdin Starcevic. Silke and Ajdin are PhD students with Wageningen Research.
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.
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.
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.