Private efforts to protect ancient forests in Lithuania

Following public dissatisfaction with increased forest logging in Lithuania, a team of scientists, conservationists, lawyers, artists and nature lovers united to create the Ancients Woods Foundation. It aims to restore old-growth forests in Lithuania by purchasing forest land. The forests that belongs to the Foundation will not be logged, managed or intervened with in any other way – forever.

What is an ancient forest?

There are many definitions for old-growth/ancient/primeval forests. Usually, it is described as a forest, that has not been disturbed by humans. In contrast to commercial forests, old-growth forests include: diverse tree species and age, multi-layered canopies, varying tree height and diameter. In addition, ancient forests contain high volumes of dead wood, which provides habitats for many insects, fungi, bird and other species. It is also important that ancient woods would be large in size – only large massifs of forest can sustain natural systems.

[Ancient woods] is a space where people don’t cultivate or save the forest according to their own understanding, where all organisms are equal and no one is thought of as harmful.

Ancient Woods Foundation

Lithuania – country of forests

Lithuania is situated in temperate geographical zone. Due to it’s hydrographic and soil properties, the country is prone to be covered by forests – broadleaf in the north, coniferous in the south and east and mixed forests in the rest of territory. Since the ancient times, Lithuania has been mostly covered in forests, where people found food, shelter, protection from enemies and spiritual comfort.

History of forests in Lithuania

Prior to the 11th century, 80% of Lithuania’s territory was covered in ancient forests. In the 11th century, slash-and-burn method of agriculture was adopted. This farming method of forest burning and crop growing was practiced for about seven hundred years. Afterwards, Lithuanian forest coverage was reduced to 55%. Since 14th century the forests were widely used for industrial purposes and exported to Western Europe by waterways. In the 19th century industrial logging intensified even more, following the industry development in Central and Western Europe. Eastern Europe became one of the larger wood suppliers for the West. For that purpose, a railway connecting St. Petersburg and Warsaw was built. It went through Lithuania, and local people soon realized that they can trade forest goods for high prices.

The First World War demanded lots of timber and many Lithuania’s forests were cut down to the ground. At that time, forest coverage was only ~18% of the country’s territory. However, between the World Wars, Lithuanian government noticed the lost forests and started massive planting programs (mostly pine trees were planted). Since then, forest coverage has been increasing and currently have reached 33.5% of the country’s territory. Consequently, the last decade has seen commercial maturity of many pine forests that have been planted hundred years ago. And unfortunately, current government allows forest logging as soon as it reaches commercial maturity. Therefore, the country’s forests are being legally cut down at very high rates, which creates lots of public dissatisfaction.

Creation of Ancient Woods Foundation

The author of the idea is Mindaugas Survila – biologist and cinematographer. In 2018 he released movie “Ancient Woods”. It is a documentary film about the animals of old-growth forests that live in Lithuania. The documentary received a lot of public interest and as a result the director decided to invest the revenue of the movie (60,000 euros) in purchasing forest plots which could become Ancient Woods in real life. Because it would be private property, the forest would be saved from governmental logging. And, if a few generations avoid logging, the forest would eventually become an Ancient Forest. With this in mind, an idea of private foundation was born. The idea caught up and in January 2020 the foundation was created. Since then they have been searching, visiting and evaluating suitable forest plots for purchasing.

WILDForest Punos šilas-26101.JPG - © European Wilderness Society CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

How does it work?

The aim of the Foundation is to promote forest protection and to change the current public opinion on forests in Lithuania. For the creators of the Foundation, forest is valuable in itself; it homes many endangered species of animals and plants. It also provides society with educational, recreational, ecological benefits. Undoubtedly, forests are Lithuania’s value, integral part of Lithuanian culture and identity.

Firstly, The Ancient Woods Foundation will find possible forest plots for purchasing within Lithuania. Then they will consult biologists and visit the plots to evaluate their potential to become Ancient Woods in few decades. Then the Foundation will purchase the plots. The money will be donated by the public and other possible sources. In addition, private people and organizations can donate their forests to the Foundation.

Ensuring transparency

The Foundation is a non-profit organization and it was created for the benefit of the society. Thus, the forests it protects will be open for public visit, and they will never be logged. To ensure the transparency and prevent any deviation from the initial idea, founding members have created many legal fuses.

The shareholders of the Foundation cannot claim any property. If one of shareholders decides to leave the Foundation throughout the years, the remaining shareholders will decide on a new member and invite him to join. In such way, the values of the Foundation shareholders will stay the same. In addition, the original statute of the Foundation can be changed only with a vote of 9/10 shareholders. Furthermore, additional body of shareholders-keepers is created. These people will be well known and trusted people who will not actively participate in the activities of Foundation but their vote will be needed to change organisations statute. They will ensure transparency, publicity and righteous decisions.

European Wilderness Society hopes that the Ancient Woods Foundation will successfully achieve its goals, grow and flourish. We are looking forward to adding new WildForests to our network!

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