Risks to Albanian old growth beech forests


A paper identifying risks to old growth beech forests in Albania was recently published by Abdulla Diku, forest expert from PSEDA-ILIRIA organization, and Lulezim Shuka, Professor at the Department of Biology of the University of Tirana. The paper further deals with the ongoing forest degradation in Albania. It discusses the forests’ protective status as well as the risks the identified forests are facing.

Please also read: Old Growth Beech Forests identified in Albania


Identified Old Growth Beech Forests of Albania

The authors used a set of 5 indicators to identify the old growth beech forests. These indicators deal with the age an size of forest clusters. They further describe the topography and homegeneity of an area as well as with the visible human influence. The authors also included the opportunity to manage and protect a forest cluster.

The following six old growth beech forests have been identified.

  1. Livadhi i Harushës/ She-bear’s Meadow (Malësi e Madhe Municipality)
  2. Lumi i Gashit/ Gash River (Tropoje Municipality)
  3. Curraj i Epërm/Upper Curraj (Tropoje Municipality)
  4. Lumi i Tropojës/ Tropoje River (Tropoje Municipality)
  5. Zall-Gjoçaj (Mat Municipality)
  6. Rrajcë (Përrenjas Municipality)


These six old growth beech forest clusters represent unique natural areas that, so far, have not experienced any significant human impacts. The mentioned forests are divided into two zones:

  • Core zone – represents the old growth beech forest ecosystem;
  • Buffer zone – represents other, surrounding ecosystems associated with the beech forest ecosystems, mainly alpine zone. These areas mitigate impacts or pressures on old growth beech forests, from the point of view of the territory and the socio-economic activities of the local communities.

The core zones of the six identified old growth beech forest cluster cover 11 697 ha of Albania and account for only 1,1% of the country’s forested area. The total area of the forests, core and buffer zones, covers 23 749 ha of the country.

The need to protect Albania’s old growth beech forests

Only two of the six forests are currently under protection and are part of the national system of protected areas: Lumi i Gashit is protected as IUCN category I and Rrajca as IUCN category II. There are several proposals to include the other forests into IUCN category II and IV areas. However, none of the proposals have been approved yet. The six forests are the only areas in Albania that are home to bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus) and lynx (Lynx lynx ssp. balcanicus). They furthermore host chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and the European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). Numerous endangered species, many included in the national red list, inhabit these old growth forests as well. Additionally, the forests host at least 81 endangered and red-listed plant species.

EWS - Wilderness in Albania -03927_

Risks Assessment for Albanian old growth beech forests

Albania is currently ranked as the country with the least forest resources in Europe.  In the last 20 years, the national forest stock has been reduced by 32 million m3. The cutting of the forests currently exceeds their growth by about 2-3 times. This is especially visible in the country’s virgin forests: in 1997 about 7% of the national forestry stock area was virgin forest, in 2017, only 1% accounts for virgin forests. This drastic decrease of virgin forests over the last 20 years is an alarming signal to protect the remaining old growth forests. A risk assessment included in the paper by Diku and Shuka identified all current and potential risks to the six areas. The authors ranked the risks on a scale from 1 to 10, whereas 10 is the highest level of risk. The top risks for the areas are:

  • Fire
  • Logging and cutting of trees
  • Hunting and Fishing
  • Waste pollution
  • Road construction and other construction activities
  • Tourism
  • Erosion
  • Construction of Hydro Power Plants
  • issues deriving from land ownership

Old Growth Forests all over Europe are under threat

Every area faces different threats. However, the unprotected Lumi i Tropojës (Tropoje River) ranks highest in the risk assessment as there is a road construction through the forest massif happening. This construction comes with several additional risks, such as logging, fire, waste disposal and the higher accessibility for hunting. These threats are not only endangering Albanian old growth forests and wild areas. Illegal logging threatens old growth forests all over Europe. Just earlier this year the European Court of Justice called out the illegal loggin activities in the UNESCO natural World Heritage and Natura 2000 Bialowieza Forest. The term sanitary logging is often used for hiding timber harvesting. Construction activities, such as the proposed mega ski resort in the Svydovets massif, have far-reaching ecological and social impacts on forests and surrounding communities. The construction of one  road can already significantly alter a forest ecosystem and bring in more destructive impacts.

Clear Cut Crimes documentary on illegal logging in Romania and Ukraine
Loging roads penetrate to the last wild corners of Carpathian Mountains.

How to protect these forests?

Old growth and natural forests ecosystems have important far-reaching impacts on our daily lives. Healthy, natural forests store and filter water, air and offer habitats and refuge for numerous wildlife and plant species. Furthermore, primeval forests and wilderness give us the opportunity to experience nature without human influences. Such experiences can be deeply inspiring and moving. Old growht forests are further important laboratories for scientists.

The risk assessment further listed some necessary actions to protect old growth beech forests. These actions include investments in fire protection, increased law enforcements, the prohibitions of hunting, logging and the construction of new roads or infrastructure, as well as better visitor management. The assessment also demands the installation of a national network of old growth beech forest and with this an improvement of the legal protection of these areas. The areas would further need forest management plans that deal with the sustainable development of the area. The authors furhter demand international recognition through IUCN and UNESCO to guarantee the protection of these forests. Different national and international protection statuses or networks would be suitable for the respective areas.

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