Credit: Forests Without Frontiers
Despite bucking the global deforestation trend, Europe must urgently address the remaining hotspots in its primary forests. Getting this right means prioritising natural, holistic forest restoration efforts that are grounded in science. But it is worth it: restoring biodiversity and habitat connectivity is vital for the 400+ unique species of mammals, from lynx, wolves to over half the European brown bear population that call these forests home.
Imagine grey wolves, lynx, and brown bears roaming the countryside. The forest is lush and dense, and communities are living in harmony with nature. This isn't the Amazon. This was Europe.
However by the end of the 17th century, more than half of European forests were swallowed by ever-expanding pastures, cut down for their wood, or lost to forest fires. Today, in France and the UK natural forests occupy only 13% of total domestic tree cover, and according to FAO data from 2015 both countries have 0 ha of undisturbed forests left. Ancient forests, located mostly in Eastern Europe, are still dwindling mostly due to illegal unregulated logging. In the last 25 years, over 80 million cubic meters of wood have been illegally cut in Romania, which is equivalent to razing around 11,100 football pitches worth of forest.
But there is reason for hope. Europe is bucking the global trend and has actually been reversing deforestation in some parts of the continent.
Old growth, undisturbed, or primary forests in Europe are home to unique wildlife, such as the continent's last population of brown bears and the Eurasian lynx. Not only do these forests have exceptional levels of biodiversity, they also store huge amounts of carbon that takes decades to build up, and they support unique and traditional ways of life. Like a fine wine, forests take a while to mature, yet once they do they are able to deliver a remarkable and complex range of benefits!
Image: Country‐wise completeness of primary forest data and proportion of primary forest under strict protection (IUCN category I), included in protected areas having other IUCN categories or unprotected (figure 2). 1
Forest restoration can be a sustainable, cost-effective, and scalable solution to tackle an array of climate and development issues such as food security, air and water quality, climate resilience, and biodiversity loss. But restoration must be rooted in ecosystem and biodiversity science. Done poorly, tree planting can actually do more harm than good.
Numerous initiatives have focused on the number of trees planted, as opposed to the number of trees that will survive long term. Without this focus, misguided planting efforts may not deliver the desired long-term ecosystem benefits. At the same time, we must address the underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation and create long-term protection of the newly planted forest. This is best done through the national legal system and by involving the local community.
Image: Peter Potapov, Lars Laestadius, and Susan Minnemeyer. 2011. Global map of potential forest cover. World Resources Institute: Washington, DC. Online at www.wri.org/forest-restoration-atlas.
South Pole has created an innovative initiative for organisations and businesses wanting to support natural and holistic forest restoration efforts: the Grow Europe & Global programme, which is based on a carefully-considered tree 'adoption' scheme.
However, this programme is much more than a tree-planting initiative. Following the principles of Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR), the programme will restore ecological function and enhance well being across deforested and degraded landscapes while creating local job opportunities and supporting sustainable livelihoods, and allowing local wildlife to return.
The principles ensure that the programme's activities are based on science, are tailored to local conditions, and involve local stakeholders such as landowners and communities. The programme also makes sure that the activities focus on landscapes instead of small individual sites, that they avoid conversion of natural ecosystems, allow for multiple benefits like wildlife habitat, and ensure tree maintenance for a period of at least ten years. To make sure that the regeneration of ecosystems in the restored areas are sustainable over the long-term, the principles and the programme focus on addressing the underlying drivers of forest deforestation and degradation.
Under the Grow Europe platform, our first partner is Forests Without Frontiers, an organisation with a unique approach to tree planting and assisted natural regeneration in the Carpathian Mountains.
Combining rigorously planned bi-annual tree planting with in-depth knowledge of the local area's strong cultural heritage and traditions, Forest without Frontiers turns an environmental project into a true community initiative. All trees are planted, grown and maintained by local people. The close connection between ecological and cultural heritage is celebrated by recording traditional songs, poems and stories with local community elders and musicians, preserving these for future generations.
Credit: Forests Without Frontiers
While some of the native fir trees being planted might look like a typical Christmas tree, these will have a much longer lifespan. Together with Forest without Frontiers, the trees are cared for and monitored for 10 years under the Grow Europe platform– which project supporters can track with regular updates!
With your support, the fate of Romania's most threatened forests can be turned around. The project helps heal hillsides left bare from logging to restore biodiversity and habitat connectivity, which is vital for the 400+ unique species of mammals, like lynx, wolves, and over half the European brown bear population that call this forest home. The area is also home to one of the largest Bison reintroduction programmes in Europe which Forests Without Frontiers is supporting. This will diversify employment opportunities and revitalise the region's biodiversity as bison create open forest areas and feeding grounds for smaller herbivores. They also disperse the seeds of over 150 species of plants. It is no wonder the area is nicknamed the Wild Heart of Europe.
Image: The Carpathian mountains are one of the only places in Europe to spot brown bears | Credit: Forest Without Frontiers
The Grow Europe programme, through its partnership with the experienced, on-the-ground organisation Forests Without Frontiers, offers a unique opportunity to invest in the restoration of large areas of forests, all while contributing to climate resilience and protecting wildlife and cultural heritage in Europe.
Still need convincing? Read 5 ways forests and global climate action are linked or get in touch with our experts today.
1 Sabatini, F. M., Burrascano, S., Keeton, W. S., Levers, C., Lindner, M., Pötzschner, F., ... & Kuemmerle, T. (2018). Where are Europe's last primary forests?. Diversity and Distributions, 24(10), 1426-1439.
Senior Business Development Manager Benelux
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Forests help stabilise the climate: they regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and can help drive sustainable growth.