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Europe’s forests are expanding, but has the public noticed?

Published: 07 June 2010

Geneva

There are a number of public misperceptions about forests in the pan-European region. According to national and regional surveys, it is common belief that forests are disappearing and using wood is a threat to forest health. But the opposite is in fact the case.

Forests now cover more than 44 per cent of Europe’s land area. And in the last 15 years, in the pan-European forests grew by 17 million hectares. This is equivalent to the area of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia combined.

“People are reluctant to use more wood because they think this contributes to deforestation and environmental degradation. But Europe’s forests are healthy and the public need to be encouraged to use more wood and wood products”, says Mr. Ingwald Gschwandtl, Chairman of the UNECE/FAO Forest Communicators Network. “In forests that are sustainably managed, more trees grow every year than are harvested”.

The UNECE/FAO Forest Communicators Network is mobilizing its participants to become proactive and dispel widespread public misconceptions about forests in Europe. The Network consists of a group of experts from member States in the UNECE region. It met recently in Gothenburg, Sweden, to develop a pan-European strategy for forest communication, and share plans and experiences concerning national public-awareness campaigns.

“To make sure that forest issues are properly understood by governments and the general public, we are going to have to be very creative and use all possible channels of communication”, said Mr. Gschwandtl. “We already know how wood benefits the environment. In addition, to produce wood requires less energy and emits less carbon dioxide than to produce most other construction materials. So, if we can convince people to use wood instead of concrete, plastic or steel, this is going to reduce long-term emissions of carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas.“

The Network discussed several examples. Austria, for instance, has developed several initiatives, and is planning to engage the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra to announce the Year of the Forests and initiate celebrations through their New Year’s concert, which is broadcast internationally. Similarly, Finland has developed a campaign called “Forest Speaks” to restore public belief in forests as a source of sustainable products and jobs. Estonia’s “integrated forestry communication” started in 2009 and is increasing its outreach through public contests, conferences, media events, radio shows and use of social media.

According to Ms. Paola Deda, head of the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section, “we want the public to appreciate fully the enormous value and potential of European forests and learn how to use them wisely. Forests are key to our economies as well as to our environment and societies. It’s in all our interest to keep them alive and well. 2011 will be the International Year of the Forest. It will represent a unique opportunity for the Network to get the right message across to the European public".

For more information on the Forest Communicators Network, please visit: http://timber.unece.org/index.php?id=95

or contact:

Ms. Eve Charles

Research and Communications

ECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section

Phone: +41 (0)22 917 3922

Ref: ECE/TIM/10/P09


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