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.
EIT Climate-KIC, in cooperation with its INFORMA consortium partners, warmly invites you to the first open webinar and discussion on “Supporting Europe’s forests through Sustainable Forest Management and carbon certification”.
The webinar and discussion provide a virtual platform to share key insights and current (best) practices around sustainable forest management and forest carbon certification, as well as to learn more about INFORMA and how to collaborate with us further.
Date: Thursday 7th December 2023 Time: 09:30 – 11:30 CET Location: Microsoft Teams
SESSION 1Presentation by content expert: Forest carbon certification methodologies
Speaker: Julia Grimault, Team Lead, Forest-based sector, carbon certification, Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE)
Discussion: How can we build a Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) framework in carbon certification that is robust enough to ensure transparent projects, but also cost-effective and implementable? What are the methods to monitor this carbon sequestration?
SESSION 2Presentation by content expert: Carbon storage in wood products certification
Speaker: Samy Porteron, Programme Manager, ECOS
Discussion: Forests offer huge potential in carbon storage, sink, and sequestration. How can forest carbon certification support climate-smart forestry economies?
10:50 – 11:20
SESSION 3Presentation by content expert: Managing supply and demand in a timber marketplace
Speaker: Samuel Welsh, Forest Carbon Ltd
11:20 – 11:30
What next? How to get involved Co-creating sessions on improved carbon certification in Europe
High mountain peaks, rich wildlife and two national parks surround the INFORMA case study in Austria: the Forest Management District of Göstling, in the Northern Limestone Alps. The district is part of the Prealps Unit of the Austrian Federal Forests, comprising a remote area of approximately 10,000 ha mainly covered by mountain forests with altitudes ranging from 600-1800 meters above sea level.
Although undeniably scenic, this vast forested landscape is also marked by contradictions. Historically, the naturally occurring Norway Spruce has been favoured by foresters due to its superior growth performance and ease of management. But as climate change worsens and increases the occurrence of droughts, which weaken trees’ natural defence mechanisms, the species is becoming a common target of destructive bark beetle outbreaks.
As Norway Spruce is particularly vulnerable to climate change, the overall strategic aim of forest management is to reduce its share in species composition and establish mixed-species forest stands. To achieve this, measures are necessary to minimise another less obvious disturbance: ungulate browsing. The impact of ungulate browsing constitutes a severe problem for forest regeneration – both in the case of natural regeneration and of tree planting – and may require costly measures to protect tree saplings of species such as silver fir and beech.
Current management in the Austrian case study focuses on timber production in certain areas and on nature conservation in others, such as nature reserves where there is no human intervention or very low-intensity management. In managed areas, the main goal is wood production and the most common approach to harvesting is the strip-wise shelterwood method, in which mature trees are removed in a series of cuttings, enabling the stand to regenerate below the partial shelter of the remaining old trees. Regeneration may also be actively supported by planting. Other forest management goals include wildlife management, hunting as well as protection from gravitational hazards (avalanches, rockfall, erosion, and landslides).
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.
Destructive forest fires are increasing in Spain, and so is awareness of their connection to climate change. A topic worth more visibility, however, is how societal factors such as the abandonment of rural areas contribute to catalyse forest fires. With this in mind, the Spanish Board of Forest Engineers (Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Montes – COIM) distinguished the work of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González in drawing public attention to the issue. The award of COIM Honorary Member was handed to González this October in Madrid by INFORMA’s Scientific Committee Chairman and COIM dean, Eduardo Rojas Briales, from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).
According to the COIM, González has worked since 2016 to disseminate the circumstances surrounding the problem of forest fires and, simultaneously, promoted practical solutions, emphasising the importance of sustainable forest management and the development of the rural economy as the most effective means of prevention.
Eduardo Rojas Briales said “This is a well-deserved recognition because the informative work carried out by Felipe González is in line with the work that the COIM has been doing for years. We have always shared in our institution the concern about forest fires, but in recent years, this concern has intensified due to the significant growth of our forest area. It is worth remembering that Spain is not experiencing deforestation, but quite the opposite. This is largely due to the abandonment of rural areas. The lack of timely action exposes us to the serious risk of facing mega-fires that could jeopardise everything we achieved in recent decades”.
For the COIM, it is essential to focus efforts on land planning and management. In this sense, Felipe González emphasised that “when the degrees reached by this mass of fire exceed a thousand degrees, as if it were the La Palma Volcano, there is no water to combat it. All the water that falls on it simply evaporates before it hits the ground, but everyone is calling for more seaplanes, more helicopters… and specialists know that they are not working. This is really one of the things that shocked me the most because I was really focused for a long time on the technology and the available means of firefighting”.
The Board also believes that measures such as revitalising forest management and supporting extensive livestock farming are essential to reduce the intensity of fires should they occur. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of encouraging extensive farming to create and maintain effective separations between forest areas, while at the same time combating the abandonment of the rural environment in a coherent manner. As Felipe González commented: “We have to know this, because it is essential for governance and for the media, the landscape and the countryside. Local people will not always be right, but you have to listen to what they have to say. There is nothing that protects the forest more, and nothing that improves the fight against forest fires more than a landscape that is aware of what it is worth, especially if it has a communal value”.
Finally, the COIM considers it necessary to address the barriers that hinder the implementation of these actions, such as excessive restrictions on primary activities or the lack of management of small properties in the adverse context of climate change.
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.
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.
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 public. Sustainable 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: hallerbos.be
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 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.
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:
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.