Last year, the German action group for forest protection ‘BundesBürgerInitiative WaldSchutz’ declared the 25th June as the ‘Day of Beech Forests’. They chose this specific date, because on 25th June 2011, five German old-growth beech forests became UNESCO World Heritage.
The formal designation of the UNESCO Natural World Heritage ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’ is one the most important successes of forest conservation in recent years.
New threats for old-growth beech forests
The issue of preserving old-growth forests is now more pressing than ever before. Thanks to the climate crisis, several heat waves have hit many areas worldwide. Right now, Siberia records the highest temperatures ever with up to 38°C. Many forests can withstand single heatwaves, but there abundance within the last three years stresses forests around the world.
Germany has been hit especially hard. Artificial monocultures of pines and spruce are already at the edge of collapse. Some forests record up to 97% damaged trees. And even natural mixed and old-growth beech forests show massive damage. Foresters quickly recognized the danger of thee developments and the government promised impromptu help. But as so often, not much has happened so far.
Please also read: Fedir Hamor’s new book describes his fight for primeval beech forests
Quick action necessary
Hence, a group of German NGOs used the second day of beech forests to demand more action to protect natural forests in Germany. While the biggest problem, the climate crisis, can only be tackled internationally and on a long-term basis, there are several things that the goverment can improve immediately. Nitrogen and air pollution are a huge issue in Germany, which is densely covered in industrial agriculture. Fertilizer is running off fields and alters forest ecosystems. Forests in Germany are also cut into small fragments by roads and heavily logged. This changes microclimate and hydrology and reduces the forests´ resilience.
To address these issues, the group of German NGOs published an open letter to the ministers of environment and forestry, in which they define eight demands to protect beech forests:
- In addition to the EU biodiversity strategy 2030, a EU forest strategy must be defined. It must include mapping and strictly protecting all primary forests.
- The German government must focus on its Wilderness goal to turn 5% of German forest into natural forest. A country-wide concept including size, coherence, habitats and biodiversity of potential areas is necessary to reach the goal soon.
- Old-growth beech forests are almost gone, but crucial for nature conservation. Hence, old-growth forests must be especially protected and their area must be increased in the long term.
- The management of UNESCO World Heritage and Natura 2000 sites must be improved. This includes non-intervention stewardship, more staff and sanctioning of violations.
- Germany must take a stand for beech forests europe-wide and support poorer countries.
- Forest management must be close-to-nature. Harmful practices like clear cuts must end and timber extraction must decrease. In addition, forest management should be adjusted to the climate crisis and recurring heatwaves.
- The use of wood as fuel and for paper production must be reduced. Instead, long-living timber products and the cascading use of wood must be promoted.
- All legislative procedures within the EU should include a n indepoendent evaluation of consequences for climate and biodiversity.
Increasing BEECH POWER in Europe
The authors of the letter emphasize the European responsibility of Germany. After German forests were included into the Slovakian and Ukrainian heritage, it actively lobbied to include even more beech forests across Europe. Nowadays, 41 forests in 12 European countries are part of the heritage. The authors urge the German government to use its upcoming EU presidency to lobby for even better protection of old-growth beech forests EU-wide. As the biggest economy in the EU, a large timber importer and with German timber companies doing business all over Europe, Germany has the necessary leverage to sustainably change the European timber industry.
Germany takes over the EU presidency in July. We call on ministers Schulze (environment) and Klöckner (agriculture & forestry) to use this chance. Take a stand for a strong EU-wide forest strategy.
The EU Interreg project BEECH POWER is working on many of the issues the authors of the open letter mention. It aims to empower and catalyze an ecosystem-based sustainable development in and around the sites of ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’. De facto, it works on:
- Empowering World Heritage Beech communities as model for ecosystem-based sustainable development
- Creation of sustainable model for buffer zone management around World Heritage Beech forests
- Development of an exemplary European Beech Forest Quality Standard and Certification System