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Myths of the European forest

Published: 03 October 2001

There are many mistaken perceptions of the state of forests in Europe and elsewhere. Specialists of the forest sector know they are simplifications or distortions of the real situation but they persist stubbornly in the minds of the public. The State of the World’s Forests 2001, launched today in Geneva, presents the best ever data set on the world’s forests (FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment). UNECE contributed to this work and takes this opportunity to correct some of the myths about Europe’s forests.

Myth 1: Europe’s forests are not significant

Russia’s forest area is the world’s largest (851 million ha, a fifth of the world’s total), and in the rest of the region, forests cover about 38% of the land area, conserving biodiversity, protecting against erosion, and providing employment, recreation, wood and a wide range of other goods and services, many of them not yet economically valued. This counteracts their relative lack of importance in conventional GDP calculations.

Myth 2: Europe’s forests are shrinking

The shrinking of Europe’s forests stopped in most countries between the 19th and 20th centuries. They are now expanding by about 880 thousand ha a year, mostly through natural extension onto former agricultural land, but also through plantation programmes. Conversion of forest to other uses is severely limited everywhere. The expansion of European forests contributes to a globally lower net loss of forests in the 1990s compared with the 1980s.

Myth 3: Europe’s forests are publicly owned

In fact 47% of the regions’ forest (excluding the former Soviet Union, where forest is still all publicly owned) is in private hands, mostly by millions of forest owners with less than 5 ha of forest each. Their number is increasing as restitution and privatisation of forests continues in some countries in transition.

Myth 4: Most forests in Europe are natural

Russian forests are mostly natural, but elsewhere in the region, most forest is "semi-natural", which includes a wide range of forest types all influenced to a greater or lesser extent by human actions over hundreds of years.

Myth 5: The only threat to Europe’s forests is air pollution

Air pollution is a major concern as yet not well understood. However there are other important causes of damage:

· fires (about 200,000 ha/year in southern Europe, up to 7 million ha/year in Russia),

· damage by insects and game, and

· severe climatic events (e.g. the hurricanes in December 1999 which blew down the equivalent of three years harvest in two days).

Myth 6: Europe’s forests are being over-cut

Less than two thirds of the annual growth of Europe’s forests (excluding Russia) is harvested, so that the volume of wood contained in the forests is growing steadily. In Russia, only 14% of the growth is harvested. As a consequence, the forests of Europe and the CIS are sequestering large amounts of carbon, about 540 million tons per year.

Sources

State of the World’s Forests 2001, FAO, 2001

Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, UNECE/FAO contribution to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, United Nations, 2000

Background

A small group of FAO and UNECE specialists, based in Geneva, contribute to FAO’s global forest programmes, and service UNECE and FAO cooperation on forests and timber in the European region.

For further information please contact:

Kit Prins

Chief, Timber Section
UNECE Trade Division
Palais des Nations
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Telephone: +41 22 917 2874
Fax: +41 22 917 0041
E-mail: info.timber@unece.org
Website: www.unece.org/trade/timber

Key data for European countries from SOFO 2001

Country/Area

Land area

Total forest 2000

   

Forest cover change, 1990-2000

   

Area

Percentage of land area

Area per caput

Annual change

 

('000 ha)

('000 ha)

%

ha

('000 ha)

Albania

2,740

991

36.2

0.3

-8

Andorra

45

-

-

-

-

Austria

8,273

3,886

47.0

0.5

8

Belarus

20,748

9,402

45.3

0.9

256

Belgium & Luxembourg

3,282

728

22.2

0.1

-1

Bosnia & Herzegovina

5,100

2,273

44.6

0.6

n.s.

Bulgaria

11,055

3,690

33.4

0.4

20

Croatia

5,592

1,783

31.9

0.4

2

Czech Republic

7,728

2,632

34.1

0.3

1

Denmark

4,243

455

10.7

0.1

1

Estonia

4,227

2,060

48.7

1.5

13

Finland

30,459

21,935

72.0

4.2

8

France

55,010

15,341

27.9

0.3

62

Germany

34,927

10,740

30.7

0.1

n.s.

Greece

12,890

3,599

27.9

0.3

30

Hungary

9,234

1,840

19.9

0.2

7

Iceland

10,025

31

0.3

0.1

1

Ireland

6,889

659

9.6

0.2

17

Italy

29,406

10,003

34.0

0.2

30

Latvia

6,205

2,923

47.1

1.2

13

Liechtenstein

15

7

46.7

0.2

n.s.

Lithuania

6,258

1,994

31.9

0.5

5

Malta

32

n.s.

n.s.

-

n.s.

Netherlands

3,392

375

11.1

n.s.

1

Norway

30,683

8,868

28.9

2.0

31

Poland

30,442

9,047

29.7

0.2

18

Portugal

9,150

3,666

40.1

0.4

57

Republic of Moldova

3,296

325

9.9

0.1

1

Romania

23,034

6,448

28.0

0.3

15

Russian Federation

1,688,851

851,392

50.4

5.8

135

San Marino

6

-

-

-

-

Slovakia

4,808

2,177

45.3

0.4

18

Slovenia

2,012

1,107

55.0

0.6

2

Spain

49,945

14,370

28.8

0.4

86

Sweden

41,162

27,134

65.9

3.1

1

Switzerland

3,955

1,199

30.3

0.2

4

The FYR of Macedonia

2,543

906

35.6

0.5

n.s.

Ukraine

57,935

9,584

16.5

0.2

31

United Kingdom

24,160

2,794

11.6

n.s.

17

Yugoslavia

10,200

2,887

28.3

0.3

-1

Total Europe

2,259,957

1,039,251

46.0

1.4

881

Ref: ECE/TIM/01/02


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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