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Sustainable economic development is the latest buzz word as Europe begins re-building for a new future - and the timber sector can play a vital role in that recovery.
That’s the message delivered to politicians and policy-makers in the European Parliament this week by the forestry and climate change FUTUREforest project.
“The foresters of Europe invented the concept of sustainable development generations ago,” said Georg Wagener Lohse, manager of the INTERREG IVC project.
“Based on real values and long lasting material Europe’s forest owners have created sustainable wealth and jobs for hundreds of years but this unique European sustainable industry is in danger from climate change.”
The seven region European forestry project has proved that woodlands can make a major contribution to the future in its report – Europe’s Forests and Climate Change – the Voice of the Regions.
“The project is particularly valuable to Wales, because many of our partners are experiencing problems which we can expect to face as our climate begins to become more like theirs,” said FUTUREforest’s Wales manager Dr Helen Cariss of Forestry Commission Wales, which runs the project here.
“FUTUREforest has given us a different perspective on what may happen in the future for our forests and the valuable insights we have gained can be incorporated into the policies being drawn up for managing the nation’s woodlands.”
Launched in Brussels on Tuesday 6 September at the European Parliament the project team’s report announced some of the best climate change adaptation and mitigation measures for forestry from across the regions.
“We need more support from governments and greater integration of our industry with agriculture, water management and sustainable development policies,” said Herr Wagener Lohse.
“And we delivered a list of recommendations for policy-makers and politicians which can provide forestry with the opportunity to make an even greater contribution to the European economy.
“Already our forests support more than four million jobs as well as capturing 286 million tonnes of carbon every year and helping to prevent natural disasters. But with the right help and support we can do even more.”
Teams from the partnership have investigated some of the most radical climate mitigation and adaptation measures across Europe on a series of study visits.
Good practice guides, which bring together the best ideas to help our forests survive the predicted increase in extreme weather conditions and capture more carbon, has already been published and they are available to download at: www.futureforest.eu/publications.php?func=list&sel_country=&sel_subject=&sel_event=Good practice
“Our aim has been to produce documents which contain information that is invaluable to foresters and can help influence politicians and policy makers across Europe,” said Wagener Lohse.
Consensus from across the regions is that monoculture conifer plantations across the continent are increasingly at risk from drought, pests and disease.
Already many of the regions are implementing a range of management techniques and silvicultural systems that will play a part in creating diversity, matched to site conditions and management objectives.
Foresters in Wales, Germany and France are moving towards these ‘plastic’ or ‘irregular’ woodlands which are expected to have better resilience to climate change.
By encouraging a mix of conifer and broadleaf in mixed age stands, relying on natural regeneration to re-stock and harvesting individual trees for high value timber they believe these new forests will actually be more profitable.
Exciting new management measures from all over Europe also cover key areas including flood prevention, soil erosion control, the use of biomass for carbon neutral energy and new ways of increasing biodiversity.
“But to make these vital changes quickly enough forest owners need help from society. Forest provide water and air purification, recreation possibilities and landscape protection and we believe that in any new agricultural policy forest owners should be re-imbursed for their ecological services,” said Herr Wagener Lohse.
FUTUREforest is a three year INTERREG IVC programme funded by the EU and Regional Governments. The FUTUREforest partner regions are – Wales (water management); Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration). It aims to identify the threats, weaknesses and strengths of Europe’s forest as they face up to climate change; developing best management techniques to guide policy makers and stakeholders.
It also aims to improve and adapt regional and local forest management policies and practices focusing on water balance, soil, biodiversity, timber and non-timber forest products, air quality including carbon sequestration, and natural risk like fires, pests and pathogens. The objective is to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies and contribute to the economic modernisation and increased competitiveness of Europe through exchange, sharing and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practices in woodland management.
The project will provide political decision makers and other stakeholders in European regions with the knowledge, tools and approaches to enable effective forestry/regional development policies and forest management practices. It also intends to identify opportunities resulting from climate change including increased biomass production - and therefore carbon sequestration - due to changes in rainfall pattern and higher temperatures.