Getting the best from our forests: 5 ways to manage them well

By Doan Ho and Laura Nolan, EIT Climate-KIC

In our urgent fight against climate change and loss of biodiversity, managing forests sustainably has become a key strategy for protecting the environment and regulating ecosystems. We know that forests, often called the lungs of the Earth, play a key role in keeping our climate in check by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. But they do more than that – they’re also essential for effective land management and agriculture.

Yet we’re not always harnessing their full potential. Despite extensive investments in research, it still remains a challenge to turn the knowledge of effective forest management into practical action that make sense to actors in the sector, policy makers and citizens. This gap between knowing and doing shows how important it is to involve all affected parties in shaping strategies for sustainable forest management and land use. This not only helps people understand and find policy recommendations more relevant, but it also makes them more willing to accept change.

Here’s the thing – forest management impacts more than just those directly involved in forestry or environmental advocacy. It concerns everyone. Even if you’ve never set foot in a forest, the way they are managed affects your daily life. The choices we make about forests influence the food we eat, the air we breathe, the places we live and work, and a myriad of other human activities.

Eight essential impacts of sustainable forest management and forest conservation

So, how can we boost sustainable forest management and create more resilient land use for us and future generations? How can we enhance collaboration among diverse stakeholders to achieve these objectives effectively?

1. Foster and strengthen connections among actors. Collaboration sparks innovation, and by uniting foresters, policymakers and citizens, we can pioneer inventive solutions that bring everyone on board. Systems mapping is crucial: identifying key players and understanding their primary interests, interactions and individual challenges is paramount.

This guiding principle informs the holistic strategy of INFORMA led by our project partner EIT Climate-KIC. Using their ‘challenge-led system mapping’, Climate-KIC is fostering collaboration among industry, academia, civil society, and policymakers – stakeholders that often work in silos – to address the complexities of the European forest system. By collectively understanding stakeholders’ interests, we aim to pioneer new approaches for sustainable forest management, promoting environmental stewardship and resilience.

Example of an international knowledge mapping network, specifically on how knowledge is shared between actors. This figure was generated during the first stakeholder workshop of the INFORMA project, hosted by EIT Climate-KIC

2. Maximise the potential of existing forests. Instead of fixating solely on expansion, it’s important to efficiently make use of our current forested areas. This involves implementing adaptive strategies that address the evolving landscape and confront the impacts of climate change, including fires, storms, pests, and diseases.

3. Embrace science-driven methodologies. Robust scientific insights are essential. That’s why projects like INFORMA are conducting satellite research, data mining, and climate modelling to craft comprehensive best practices for sustainable forest management across Europe, that can be used as examples for all. It’s only by harnessing the power of science that we can make well-informed decisions that safeguard our forests for generations to come.

4. Translate knowledge into actionable policies. Simple accumulation of scientific data falls short: there is an urgent need translate this into policies that drive tangible change, for example by transforming scientific findings into policy recommendations for national and regional governments. This then feeds into policies that can, for example, improve the effectiveness of carbon certification schemes and ensure that our forest management practices align with global climate change goals.

5. Educate and empower. Awareness serves as the catalyst for transformation. By educating the public about the significance of sustainable forest management and involving citizens in decision-making processes, we can nurture a collective dedication to safeguarding our forests. Whether through grassroots initiatives or governmental policies, each initiative contributes to the preservation of our natural resources.

Implementing these steps represents a significant leap forward in advancing sustainable forest management. Forests transcend trees; they are intricately linked to all facets of our existence. By embracing these principles and executing tangible strategies, we can chart a path towards a future where forests prosper, ecosystems thrive, and humanity lives in harmony with nature.

EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework: A high-quality outline that does not guarantee the value of the final picture

Commentary by Simon Martel, Clothilde Tronquet and Julia Grimault, Institute for Climate Economics

The European co-legislators have reached an agreement on the content of the future European Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). Negotiations were swift and fruitful, against a backdrop of a general step back in the adoption of the various Green Deal texts. While today sees environmental issues played off against farmer’s livelihoods, this draft regulation brings these two elements together to create the conditions for investment in the transition of agriculture and forestry sectors. However, several details still need to be clarified to ensure that this framework actually enables effective and ambitious climate financing.

A focus on carbon removals and emission reductions related to soils

While the Commission’s initial proposal only focused on removals in the strict sense, the co-legislators have decided to broaden the scope to include emission reductions related to agricultural soils, whether they concern CO2 or N2O. This extension makes sense regarding the interconnected nature of the cycles of these two gases, but the negotiations were not a foregone conclusion. The experience of the Label bas-carbone in France has shown that this integrated GHG assessment approach at farm level ― combining emission reductions and removals ― is more effective in ensuring the transition. It also avoids perverse effects where CO2 sequestration in soils improves, despite a concomitant increase in N2O emissions, for example through nitrogen fertilisation of grasslands.

But we are only halfway there, as methane emissions, mainly linked to livestock, are not included, even though they account for 65% of European agricultural emissions. The provisional agreement between the European Parliament and the Council sets a review clause in 2026 for their possible inclusion and calls on the Commission to produce a pilot methodology by then. Let’s hope that the scope will be extended, so that livestock farming can also benefit from the funding provided by the CRCF to kick-start the necessary transition.

Lastly, the distinction of emission reductions and removals into separate units is to be welcomed, as it will ensure transparency in the funders’ communications and claims.

Any economic model for temporary credits?

Discussions on the risk of reversal (also known as risk of non-permanence) in soils and biomass took centre stage during the initial debates of the expert group supporting the European Commission in drafting certification methodologies. The risk of reversal may be the responsibility of the project developer, if practices are discontinued for example, or simply the result of natural hazards, enhanced by climate change (forest diebacks or fires, for instance). Various tools, here referred to as “liability mechanisms”, already exist to prevent these risks at global level: discount on the number of credits generated, buffer, up-front insurance, etc.

In addition to these mechanisms, Europe -in the different provisional versions of the regulation- also considers the use of temporary certificates to deal with the risk of reversal. This raises a number of questions:

The methodological translation of this temporary certificate concept will therefore be crucial if we do not want to discourage private stakeholders to finance carbon farming.

Safeguards for environmental integrity.

The provisionally adopted regulation requires carbon farming projects to generate at least a biodiversity co-benefit. This is an interesting concept to improve the environmental integrity of the scheme, but its practical implementation will be complex given the lack of consensual and operational indicators for measuring biodiversity.

On another issue, the legislators claim that they want to encourage practice changes, while rewarding the front runners of carbon farming. These are two laudable objectives, which might however be difficult to reconcile within the same instrument for the same uses. Unless Europe tolerates the creation of windfall effects, which would then be incompatible with the additionality criteria required by carbon markets.

Pragmatic view for the double counting between country and company

The outcome of the trilogue clearly indicates that the certificates will contribute to European Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and not to those of any other state. This is in line with the proposals made by I4CE over the last ten years, which considers that contributions to national or European mitigation targets are legitimate and necessary, and do not prevent voluntary buyers from claiming funding. There is no double-counting as there are only compliant climate targets for the States in the Paris agreement. This principle has been applied for the last 5 years for the Label bas-carbone without altering the environmental integrity of the carbon contributors or of the French State.

Towards a variety of uses for the certificates?

Europe has chosen to leave the question of the certificates’ uses outside of this Regulation. The framework for their use is provided by other texts, notably the Green Claims Directive. Regulation of climate claims will have to be an important part of dedicated European legislation to avoid greenwashing scandals. While carbon certification tools have mostly been used in voluntary carbon markets until now, this European framework can be extremely useful to help direct other types of funding towards projects which guarantee their positive climate impact. Europe is opening up this promising avenue by explaining that certificates can be used in a variety of ways: public subsidies, voluntary carbon markets and, in the future, compliance markets. This openness is essential because the need to finance the transition of agriculture and forestry is so great that it will be necessary to combine sources. But the rules of the game will have to be clearly set out so that this different funding types can be combined effectively. A pragmatic vision will therefore be needed so that both value chain actors and actors outside the value chain can contribute and finance the transition. I4CE‘s proposals, based on the experience of the Label bas-carbone, provide answers that could be useful at European level.

The work has just begun

The provisional regulation provides an ambitious framework that is unique at a continental scale. However, many methodological issues have been left to the Commission and the expert group to be released in delegated acts. As the devil lies in the details, the relevance and integrity of the system will be in the hands of the Commission, which will have to strike the right balance between ambition and operationality. The next few months will be crucial in determining which methodologies are prioritised in the Commission’s calendar. I4CE will be keen to show that methodologies from the land sector should be at the top of the pile, particularly if they are no-regrets, rich in environmental co-benefits or relevant for adaptation to climate change. In this respect, the Horizon Europe INFORMA project will provide technical recommendations for the certification of forestry projects. At a time when national standards continue to gain momentum (Label bas-carbone in France) or are being developed (Ireland, Portugal), the new European framework will also need to seek complementarity with these schemes and give stakeholders a clearer idea of how the different levels fit together.

The Carbon Farming Summit in Valencia and the Spring expert group meeting will be two key moments in the coming months to make progress on the methodological implementation of this new framework.

Unlocking the secrets of forests as carbon sinks: innovative tools to measure forests’ climate mitigation potential

By Sofie Van Winckel & Arne Van Wolputte

How can we maximise the carbon stocks and carbon sequestration potential of forests – by managing or not managing them? And how can carbon Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) be made effective and affordable as part of the proposed EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) regulation? KU Leuven’s MSc students Arne and Sofie are on a journey to answer these complex questions using different high-tech tools, including the Arboreal App, an iPad with LIDAR and a computer model based on satellite and field data. Read on and join them in uncovering the secrets of climate mitigation in INFORMA’s case studies!


Picture this: as the first light of dawn gently spills over the horizon, you emerge from your tent to behold a breathtaking panorama – a lush valley stretching out beneath the canopy of a verdant forest. We are two Belgian students, Arne and Sofie, and this was one of the captivating scenes that greeted us during the fieldwork of our master’s thesis in the Catalan INFORMA demo site, near the majestic Pyrenees. Energized by a nourishing breakfast, we geared up, laced our hiking boots, and set off eagerly into the wilderness to uncover its mysteries.

Walking in the forest, everyone observes different things. Maybe you notice the different bird songs, the cool temperature in summer, or the beauty of spring flowers. However, even far beyond the experiential wonders, the forest offers us a multitude of services. Climate regulation is one of those services that is especially crucial in current times of climate warming. Excessive emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2) by fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and forest degradation, are disturbing the natural cycle of carbon. Its heat-trapping properties cause an increase in the earth’s temperature at such a high speed that you can notice the differences even within the timespan of your own life. It is in this context that forests can come to the rescue, as so-called ‘nature-based solutions’. Trees and other plants take up atmospheric carbon in the form of CO2 through photosynthesis. In this way, they store the carbon in their biomass; this process is called ‘carbon sequestration’. Like that, forest ecosystems can absorb about 27% of the annual fossil fuel emissions worldwide, while they store already 45% of the terrestrial carbon.

The amount of carbon that is stored in a forest depends on complex relationships between species composition, the disturbance history of the site, the tree age, forest structure etc. Notice that we can influence all these parameters through forest management! This is especially the case for above-ground biomass, which includes stems, branches and leaves of trees. Through our research at KU Leuven, we want to answer the following research questions:

  1. How might the LiDAR scanner included in recent iPad devices be leveraged to assess above-ground biomass?
  2. What is the influence of forest management on the above-ground carbon stock in a forest?
  3. What is the influence of forest management on the above-ground carbon sequestration in a forest?

The first research question is the focus of Arne’s research, while Sofie tries to find an answer to questions 2 and 3.

Carbon markets as a climate mitigation tool

To answer the first research question, Arne has to study the economic context of his work. Carbon markets offer potential for mitigating climate change, but their reliability depends on effective measuring of carbon. Unfortunately, that’s the crux of the matter. Making Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) more affordable while maintaining sufficient reliability is therefore imperative.

In the quest for more effective climate action, the European Commission has proposed the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) regulation. This framework aims to address the current lack of a robust certification scheme by laying down rules for MRV based on four key quality criteria: quantification, additionality, long-term storage, and sustainability (QU.A.L.ITY). While the CRCF sets out to improve transparency in carbon markets, challenges persist, particularly in establishing cost-effective monitoring methods. Although the framework isn’t expected until May 2025, the technical readiness for MRV is essential for stakeholders investing in climate solutions.

A novel app-based approach, called Arboreal Forest has potential to fulfill this call. The Swedish app can be installed on any mobile device with a built-in LiDAR, such as the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPad Pro. Armed with both traditional tools – a trusty tape measure and vertex – and the cutting-edge application, Arne ventured into Belgium’s Brabants Wouden National Park and the forests surrounding the Segre-Rialb basin, in the Spanish Pyrenees. The goal was clear: to determine the accuracy and cost efficiency of inventorying with the Arboreal Forest app, using conventional forest biomass assessment as a benchmark.

Carbon stocks vs. carbon sequestration

While Arne was focusing on the first Research question, Sofie investigated the second and third.  These may look similar, but there is an important difference stock and sequestration. In unmanaged forests, stands typically consist of older trees compared to a managed forest, where trees are harvested when they reach a certain age or size. Young trees grow faster, and in this growth process they sequester carbon faster than old trees. However, this sequestered carbon does not stay in the forest, but leaves the forest as wood products. In an unmanaged forest, the carbon remains stored in the trees until they degrade.

This logic reflects the scientific consensus that existed for a long time: carbon sequestration rates are higher in managed forests, carbon stocks are higher in unmanaged forests. During the last decades however, several studies countered this idea with several findings. Unmanaged forests would still continue to sequester carbon, because they keep growing even at an older age. Moreover, their young trees would grow at a speed surpassing the rate of decay observed in older ones. Forest management can also be seen as an opportunity to optimize carbon stock in a forest by choosing specific species and reducing competition among trees. Moreover, it can protect the forest for climate change related disturbances like wildfires thus avoiding potential massive releases of carbon. Until now, a lot of controversy exists about the subject; the INFORMA Forest Management Platform, a large European dataset of unmanaged forest patches, paired with nearby managed patches, to be launched soon on the INFORMA website, will offer opportunities to obtain clarity.

To manage or not to manage? That is the question

Sofie is comparing carbon stock and sequestration between managed and unmanaged patches from the INFORMA Forest Management Platform, more particularly in  the Brabantse Wouden NP (Belgium) and the Segre-Rialb Basin (Spain). She calculates the carbon stock from the tree stem diameter and the tree height, measured in the field, using so-called ‘allometric relationships’. Using these field data, she can calibrate a model using open access Sentinel-2 satellite images to estimate above-ground biomass in unmeasured forest areas. The above-ground biomass is then directly related to the above-ground carbon stock. By comparing the stock over a time period since 2015 (when the Sentinel-2 mission was launched), she will derive the sequestration rate. To manage or not to manage: that is the question that this study will help to solve in regard to climate mitigation.

Between August and October 2023, with the valuable aid and support of Centre de la Propietat Forestal (CPF) and our mentors at the KU Leuven, we conducted the field measurements, and final results of the research are expected in May 2024. These results will guide policy makers and forest managers in using the full potential of the forest as a nature-based solution to climate warming. By embracing innovative, technological approaches, we are paving the way for a more sustainable future. Imagine the impact of streamlined biomass assessment on conservation efforts, forest management, and climate change mitigation! Together, let’s explore the possibilities and strive for a world where technology works hand in hand with nature to safeguard our planet’s precious resources.

German delegation explores cooperation with Valencia on the topic of Sustainable Forest Management

In the framework of the cooperation agreement between the regions of Sachsen-Anhalt (Germany) and Valencia (Spain), the INFORMA team at UPV (Polytechnic University of Valencia) welcomed this January a seven-member delegation from Germany to discuss potential areas of collaboration, including the topic of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).

While UPV was represented by members of its research group ICTvsCC (Information and Communication Technologies versus Climate Change), the German delegation was composed of representatives of the Ministry of Economy, Energy, Climate Protection and Environment of Sachsen-Anhalt (MWU Sachsen-Anhalt), from academia, the private sector, among others. The delegation was led by Mr Uwe Zischkale, director general of Energy, Sustainability and Structural Change at the MWU Sachsen-Anhalt.

On Tuesday, 16 January, the delegation visited the Valencian municipality of Enguera, known for its forest wealth and the sustainable forest management practices that have been in place for years. During this visit, Professor José-Vicente Oliver-Villanueva, coordinator of INFORMA, explained the idiosyncrasy of the region’s forests, their vulnerability to climate change and the positive effect of implementing SFM to address these risks. Fernando Pradells from AMUFOR (Valencian Association of Forestry Municipalities) also shared his experience and knowledge, highlighting the need to demand SFM as a goal and not as a means, by which value is given to the bioeconomy with tangible products.

The following day, a meeting took place at UPV and featured a presentation of the projects in which the ICTvsCC research group is involved, including INFORMA. Among other subjects, the topic of the certification of carbon offset markets as a means of financing forest ecosystem services, explored in the context of INFORMA, was of great interest to the German delegation, as well as sustainable forest management practices adopted in the project’s case studies and prognosis of how they may change in future scenarios.

Natural wonders in rapid transition: the Boreal Forests of North Karelia

Boreal forests are vast ecosystems encompassing one-third of the world’s forested area. When covered by snow in the winter months, these forests have a peaceful and calming appearance, evoking feelings of wonder for their natural beauty and a sense of solitude amidst their vast stretches of wilderness. But appearances can be deceiving: although they seem tranquil on the surface, boreal forests are in reality undergoing profound changes.

Northern latitudes, where boreal forests occur, are particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. This means that the biodiversity and carbon balance of these forests are being altered more rapidly and severely than those of their southern counterparts.

One example is the INFORMA case study in North Karelia (Lieksa), the easternmost region of Finland, led by the University of Eastern Finland. There, forests are dominated by Scots pine, which covers 93% of the forest area, followed by Norway Spruce (5,2%) and broadleaved trees (1,4%). Trees rely on long periods of frozen soil, which help anchor them to the ground during winter storms. The soil freeze period, however, is becoming shorter due to the warmer climate, which increases the occurrence of wind damage to forests – especially to the shallow-rooted species Norway spruce but also to Scots pine. Broadleaved trees are without leaves from late autumn to early spring – the windiest time of the year – and therefore suffer less wind damage.

Another climate impact suffered in the region are bark beetle outbreaks, which will likely become more frequent, affecting particularly Norway spruce trees. Such pest outbreaks may have cascading effects with wind damages, especially if wind-damaged trees are left in forests and not timely harvested, becoming a target of bark beetles.

Although forest regeneration and restoration can help reestablish disturbed forests, browsing of young trees by moose (especially of pine and broadleaves) prevents regeneration and is another typical forest management challenge in the region. Therefore, proper adaptive forest management practices are needed to tackle these challenges and enhance forest resilience to climate change.

North Karelia case study representative stand image (Photos by Harri Silvennoinen – UEF)

Current forest management focuses on either timber production, recreation, or nature conservation, depending on the sub-area. The intensity of forest management ranges from relatively intensive to less intensive but also includes areas where no human intervention takes place. Where recreation plays a more pivotal role, management intensity is low. In this case, selective or gap cuttings are performed and forests have trees of different ages (uneven-aged forests). Forest management may even be completely abandoned. If nature conservation is the main aim, then no management measures are allowed. Where timber production is the focus, even-aged and uneven-aged forest management approaches are applied.

Boosting forest resilience in the area will involve increasing the proportion of mixed forests which are considered less vulnerable to natural hazards than coniferous monocultures. This could be done on sites where planted or seeded pine and planted spruce could grow together with each other or with naturally regenerated broadleaved trees. For example, on medium fertile sites, a mixture of pine, spruce and broadleaves forest might be created by simultaneously planting Norway spruce and seeding Scots pine and allowing naturally-born broadleaves to also grow there as a mixture. The increase of mixed forests can also be obtained by planting broadleaved species on medium fertile and fertile sites and letting coniferous (especially spruce) grow there naturally.

However, a major part of the study area is characterized by a low fertility soil type, where Scots pine has better growth performance than Norway spruce and broadleaves. Therefore, in these locations, Scots pine should be preferred as a main tree species.

INFORMA proposes spatially explicit portfolios of multipurpose forest management practices, considering the regional circumstances and targets set for forest management, as well as the need to adapt to and mitigate climate change. The resilience of forests and multifunctionality will be increased in a sustainable way by utilising stand-level information in forest simulation modelling and scenario analyses, and through diverse dissemination activities of research findings. This will provide decision makers such as forest managers, owners and forest authorities with science-based management options that cater for their needs and preferences in times of climate change.

Banner photo: Hendrik Morkel/Unsplash

Where cultural heritage, climate adaptation and Sustainable Forest Management meet: the Carpathian Mountain Forests

Our Romanian case study, representative of Carpathian Mountain Forests, is embedded in a complex socio-cultural context. The Râșca Forest District is situated in a region in Romania that is home to several historical monasteries, hermitage sites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. INFORMA’s research in the area, led by the University Stefan cel Mare of Suceava (USV), will create new approaches to climate-adapted forest management that take stakeholders’ needs and perspectives into account. Keep reading to find out more about the case study!

The Râșca Forest District is located in the Eastern part of the Carpathian Mountains, in an area of 13,000 ha owned by the state and managed by the Râșca Forest District Administration, a part of the Romanian National Forest Administration. There, traditional communities live in close proximity to the forest and many residents rely on it for their income, generated by forestry, the tourism and wood sectors and other forest-related activities such as selling firewood, handcrafted furniture and sculptures of religious items.

The broadleaved and coniferous forests in the district consist mostly of beech, Norway spruce, and silver fir, both in mixed and pure forest stands. Damages caused by windstorms and pest disturbances, as well as the lack of forest management infrastructure (such as roads), are the most relevant management challenges currently faced in the area. As climate change increases the frequency of forest disturbances, the adaptation of management approaches to new climate scenarios will be required – a mission to be tackled by INFORMA.

Romanian forests are classified into three main management types: strictly protected forests, where no wood harvest is allowed; production forests and protected forests. In protected forests, the main management objective is to deliver ecosystem services, which vary from area to area, for instance, water and soil protection, protection against climate change impacts, scientific interest, and biodiversity conservation. More than 26,7% of state-owned forests belong to the soil protection category.

In productive forests, the regular management is based on long rotation periods of over 120 years. Natural regeneration is obtained using both shelterwood cutting – a timber harvesting method focused on establishing forest regeneration – and group selection, which results in the removal of small groups of trees.  Consequently, the aboveground biomass stored in these forests is quite high. Within the Râșca Forest District, an area of 1,000 hectares is managed with a lower harvesting intensity than average, in order to protect it against soil erosion.

There are two municipalities in the Râșca river basin: Râșca and Bogdanesti, with 9000 inhabitants. The area, however, has been to some extent affected by rural exodus and migration of workers abroad, a tendency impacting the entire region.

The most important benefits of forests are the ecosystem services delivered to the community and society in general. Climate change affects forest resources and might impact culturally and economically important plant and animal species, which in turn affects the community development, culture and economy. Large-scale disturbances such as windthrows are expected, with consequences on forestry and the wood industry. Forests also have socio-ecological importance and climate changes can shape the effectiveness of forests protection. Therefore, INFORMA’s research in the Romanian case study should bring information needed to proactively adopt management measures able to preserve the current level of the ecosystem services delivery.

Preventing megafires and land abandonment in the Mediterranean: INFORMA’s case study in the Segre-Rialb basin

The combination of climate change and land abandonment is creating the perfect conditions for mega forest fires in the Mediterranean. Higher temperatures, erratic rainfall and longer droughts are becoming increasingly commonplace, as well as claims that megafires „are here to stay”. Still, not all hope is lost. Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) can help prevent fire disasters by reducing the amount of flammable biomass that accumulates in forests, among other adaptation measures.

The INFORMA case study in the Segre-Rialb basin, Spain, is an example of an area that has suffered decades of continuous rural exodus and the decurrent lack of forest management. There, the project will equip forest practitioners with insights on how to adapt to increased climate variability while ensuring the provision of ecosystem services such as water quality and quantity, wood and non-wood forest products, recreation, and biodiversity conservation.

The Segre-Rialb basin area comprises 35,000 hectares covering the six municipalities affected by the construction of the Rialb water reservoir in the 1990s: La Baronia del Rialb, Bassella, Oliana, Peramola, Ponts, and Tiurana.  Continuous rural exodus led to a significant decrease in the local population during the past century. For instance, the population of La Baronia de Rialb decreased from 1.244 to 835 inhabitants between 1900-1950 and currently amounts to no more than 229 inhabitants.

As in other Mediterranean countries, rural abandonment ensued a forest transition in the last sixty years. Depopulation, associated with decreasing agricultural activities, led to land abandonment, which induced land use change in former fields which naturally evolved into new forests.

The water reservoir of Rialb is the second largest and newest water reservoir in Catalonia. It was built in 1992 and caused the submersion of the lowest and most fertile pieces of land in the valley. Eventually inaugurated in 2000, the reservoir provides water to 80 municipalities. In 2008, the Consortium Segre-Rialb was created to coordinate economic development and tourism promotion in the six municipalities. Thanks to the touristic appeal of the water reservoir, the forested landscape aesthetics and opportunities for hiking and mushroom picking, tourism is now an important source of income in the area. For instance, La Baronia de Rialb counts the highest number of rural tourism homes in Catalonia, with over 150 rural homes.

The main tree species in the case study area are black pine (Pinus nigra), holm oak (Quercus ilex), and Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea) and forests are mainly privately owned. While the most common management objective is wood production, truffles are also a good source of income for forest owners. Forestry is limited because it is considered a non-profitable activity due to the complex topography of the area and the typical low productivity of Mediterranean forests, which was further reduced by regular heavy tree thinnings or after the occurrence of wildfires.

Thirty-six per cent of the total private forest lands are under a forest management plan, in accordance with the average for Catalonia, where forest management plans are voluntary, but this figure varies considerably between the six municipalities. The highest percentage of private forests under a management plan occurs in La Baronia de Rialb (47%), due to an increase in truffle production in the municipality over the last decade.

Observations regarding non-managed forest areas indicate that they may increase the risks of large forest fires, diseases, and mortality during drought episodes, which are only expected to be exacerbated by climate change. While tree cover in the basins is essential to water quality, increasing vegetation cover impacts the amount and efficiency of water use by forests, potentially decreasing water availability for humans.

Wood production is usually the only objective for private forest owners although fire prevention measures are more and more being taken into account. The Catalan Government has recognised the threat of more extreme fires and droughts and is promoting and pushing for more sustainable forest management practices. Hence, the government is providing tools (i.e. maps with priority areas) and incentives for private forest owners to engage in forest management in strategic locations, mainly for fire prevention. Direct investments in private properties for fire prevention are also being made. In addition, research is being conducted to identify the most promising locations for water production.

Management alternatives to the current approaches foresee an increased integration of biodiversity conservation within managed forests as well as the improvement of water management. For contributing to forests as a carbon sink, enrichment plantations are also considered. They seek to introduce or increase the proportion of one or more species into the pre-existent forest. The overall aim is to increase the complexity of forest composition and structure, thus improving the resilience of forests to disturbances and taking advantage of the productive potential of the most favourable micro-sites (e.g. valley floors, ditches, affixed areas). Besides this, holm oak is planted for truffle production on former agricultural lands.

The INFORMA case study in the Segre-Rialb basin is led by CREAF (Ecological and Forestry Applications Research Centre) and Catalonia’s Forest Ownership Centre.

Looking into the past and future of Flanders’ ancient woodlands: the Woods of Brabant

Forest management is under continuous evolution in Flandres’ Woods of Brabant. These multifunctional woodlands of high conservation value are home to important species such as the honey buzzard and the middle-spotted woodpecker, while also providing a source of wood and recreational sites for the publicSustainable forest management plays a crucial role in balancing ecological, societal and economic priorities, but is becoming more challenging as climate change increases the occurrence of windstorms, drought, pests and diseases.

INFORMA’s mission in the area is to propose management options that cater for different needs, expectations and pressures in future climate scenarios. Read on to find more about our case study in Belgium!

Among the most beautiful and oldest forests in Belgium, the Woods of Brabant (Brabantse Wouden) are characterised by more than 10,000 hectares of Atlantic and Subatlantic forest, abundant in oak and beech trees, with an admixture of maples and pines. The larger areas of Meerdaal, Halle and Sonian forests alternate with smaller forest patches, open fields and urban areas, creating a mosaic in the landscape.

The forests are partly under strict protection (about 600 ha of strict reserves plus smaller set-aside patches), while other sections are managed for multiple purposes. In the managed areas, small-scale close-to-nature management is the rule, but patches with more intensive management, mostly for the conversion of conifer to broadleaved forest, are also present. The management aims to ensure that the woods retain their beauty, ecological functionality, and wood production capacity in times of climate change. In order to do  so, management practices are adapting to account for more frequent windstorms, drought, pests, and diseases.

All of the forests in the Woods of Brabant have a high natural value: They are ancient woodland sites with rich fauna and flora. The term “ancient woodlands” refers to the fact that they have been permanently forested, at least since their oldest topographic map of 1770, but most probably since the early Middle Age, a reason why they are all included in the Natura 2000 network of European protected areas.

As currently the woodlands are located within a highly urbanised landscape, recreation plays an important role in these forests, receiving over 2 million visitors per year. Management planning and infrastructure therefore need to cater for this high recreational pressure.

Satellite view of the Brabantse Wouden. In white, from left to right: Hallerbos, Sonian, and Meerdaal-Heverlee forests, surrounded by dense urban infrastructure and intensive agriculture in their immediate surroundings. Source: Google Maps.

Forest management history and practice

The forests of Hallerbos, Meerdaal, and Sonian Forest are all public forests, managed by the regional forest management service. They are shaped by many centuries of intensive but sustainable forest management, interspaced with periods of instability and plundering.

The Hallerbos and Meerdaal forests were traditionally managed as mixed coppice-with-standards forests, dominated by oak. The Meerdaal forest was gradually transformed into a high forest over the last century, mainly of oak and beech, with many of the old oaks still preserved and reaching the age of 200-250 years. Hallerbos was heavily impacted by fellings during the First World War and completely replanted with stands of beech and oak in the 1920s. On sandy outcrops, stands of pine and larch were planted in both forests.

The Sonian forest has a long tradition as a high forest, mainly of beech. The forest has been renowned for its high-quality beech trees. Over the last 150 years, managers have been reluctant to perform final harvesting due to visitor protests and political pressure. This explains the high density of old and impressive trees. While the even-aged structure was long considered a problem from a silvicultural point of view, the old beech stands are now seen as recreational and ecological assets of the forest.

Over the last decades, these forests were mainly managed through selective high thinnings. Final harvest was mainly done in small group cuttings. In the conifer stands, some larger final fellings were performed. Also, some larger fellings were done in beech stands both in the Meerdaal and Sonian forests, in both cases because of the conversion of the stands to other dominant tree species (e.g. oak and lime) in order to enhance the diversification of the forest.

A forest stand in Tranendal, Hallerbos. When bluebells are flowering, large numbers of visitors from far and wide come to see this natural spectacle. Source:

Challenges for conservation and recreation

Counting among the richest and most valuable oak and beech forests in Flanders, the Woods of Brabant harbour a rich typical fauna and flora of Atlantic beech and oak forests. The sites are important habitats for species such as the honey buzzard, middle-spotted and black woodpeckers and bats, while the stag beetle has some of its last populations in Flanders in the edges of these forests.

Apart from the legal protection under the Natura 2000 network, there is also a strong commitment to nature conservation in their management planning. Strict reserves and smaller set-asides have been designated to protect a representative network of the oldest stands in the forest, and within the managed stands, efforts are made to conserve habitat trees, old trees, and increase the amount of deadwood. This already resulted in the return of species like the middle-spotted woodpecker. The reserves within the Sonian Forest form part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other parts of Europe”.

Important challenges to the conservation efforts are the strong fragmentation of the forests, surrounded by intensive agriculture and infrastructure (e.g. roads, railways, and built-up areas), and related atmospheric deposition. These depositions have diminished over the last decades, resulting in a slow but gradual recovery of the natural vegetation.

Another challenge for forest managers is pressure from the public. These forests have very high visitor numbers, coming from the close by cities. They need to be catered for, and streamlined, by providing parking areas, hiking, and biking trails etc. This public also became more empowered and informed, so sometimes also criticises the management of the forest, even up to challenging certain harvests in court. To prevent conflicts with the public, forest management avoids interventions with strong ‘visual’ impact, such as large final fellings and organises public hearings and excursions to explain the management approach.

INFORMA contributions to the management of Brabantse Wouden

INFORMA’s research activities in the area are led by two institutions: the Research Institute Nature and Forest (INBO) and KU Leuven.

INFORMA’s activities will contribute to the sustainable management of these forests in several ways. First of all, a better understanding will be gained about the differences between managed and unmanaged forest stands in terms of carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services. Second, new modeling tools will become available to monitor and predict the ecosystem services flow to be expected from these forests in times of climate change. And third, new cost-efficient monitoring tools will be developed to monitor and possibly certify  the carbon sequestration in these forests, as an important contribution to climate mitigation.

Have your say! Answer our survey „Forest Managers’ Opinions on Climate Impacts and Ecosystem Services Supply”

Are you a forest practitioner? If so, we want to hear from you! Please answer our survey on the changing conditions of forest management and let us know your views and preferences regarding climate adaptation and mitigation measures.

The results will provide qualitative data to inform our models and new forest management scenarios based on stakeholder expectations and perceptions. By answering the questionnaire, you will help us make the voices of forest practitioners heard and create forest management recommendations that are tailored to practical needs.

The survey takes 20-30 minutes to answer and is aimed at forest owners, managers, administrators, consultants, contractors, among other forest practitioners. It is available in six languages:

1. English

2. Dutch

3. German

4. Spanish

5. French

6. Finnish

The survey is coordinated by INFORMA partner University of Suceava, and all collected data will be treated according to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016/679, GDPR).

EU Agri Interview: How can we make sure forestry research has an impact on the ground?

At the 2023 EU AgriResearch Conference, INFORMA researchers Celia Yagüe (Polytechnic University of Valencia) and Jonas Simons (KU Leuven) shared their take on impactful sustainable forest management research and practices during an interview with the EU Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (EU Agri). Read the interview transcript or watch the video below to hear their views!

What does your research project do?

Celia Yagüe: The project is integrated by 14 partners from 8 countries all across Europe and the main objective is to increase the science-based knowledge of sustainable forest management practices for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

How can #AgriResearch help farmers, foresters and rural communities?

Jonas Simons: It’s mainly about making sure that knowledge is shared, that forest managers actually know what the consequences are of the actions they are taking and which options there are in management.

How can we make sure research has an impact on the ground?

Celia Yagüe: In INFORMA, one of the main pillars is to involve all stakeholders, not only during the proposal phase but also during the research phase. So we will do many workshops for gathering their perceptions and organise training sites in our five study areas. We will also develop practical guidelines for sustainable forest management adapted to the five regions that we are studying.

In a sentence: what do we need to make agriculture more resilient and sustainable?

Jonas Simons: In our case it’s about forestry. Knowledge sharing is extremely important, and more research is extremely important as it is a very complex issue. But besides this, communication is also very important to get information to the foresters, where it is most useful.

Celia Yagüe: Last but not least, I think it is important we receive funding and public investment for forest managers and owners to put into practice all the research that we have been doing during the life cycle of the project.