Close-to-nature forestry in Europe

Thirty years of close-to-nature forest management at Sommereben, Austria. Copyright: Eckart Senitza

By Jonathan Hulson, Eckart Senitza and Philippe Morgan, Austria

Pro Silva is a European association of foresters who advocate forest management based on natural processes. It was founded in Slovenia in 1989 by a pan-European movement of silvicultural practitioners from Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland and France amongst others, who were interested in the implementation of forest management techniques that attempt to emulate the dynamics of virgin forest ecosystems. Today, Pro Silva brings together forest owners, managers and researchers from across 25 countries, who share this vision of forest management following close-to-nature principles. From the boreal pine forests of Northern Scandinavia to the Pyrenean oak woods of Spain and Portugal, Pro Silva members work towards a common aim of maintaining the vitality of European forests. This means improving their structure and stability, increasing their resistance and resilience, and ensuring that their varied functions, productivity and profitability are guaranteed in a sustainable way.

Association Futaie Irrégulière

As well as promoting a global concept of forest ecosystems and actively participating in policy discussions that supports these aims, Pro Silva facilitates the regular exchange of information between members and has established a network of reference forests that are managed according to close-to-nature principles. One such member is the Association Futaie Irrégulière (AFI), which is led by a group of private forestry consultants in France, with the aim of monitoring management practices and silvicultural systems for irregular stand structures in both broadleaf and coniferous forests in Europe. The AFI also includes a network of 165 research stands established in a wide range of forest types across nine European countries.

Taking measurements at an AFI research plot at Gladbeck, Germany. Copyright: Eckart Senitza.

A research stand consists of a minimum of 10 permanent sample plots which are remeasured on a five-year cycle. The elegant and very efficient sampling protocol combines basal area fixed angle sampling techniques with fixed radius plots and linear transects to sample all the characteristics of the stand including species diversity, size class distribution, regeneration, timber quality, deadwood and biodiversity. By monitoring the changes in the dendrological characteristics of the stand as well as changes to the deadwood resource and biodiversity, the AFI has shown how close-to-nature forest management regimes perform in terms of economic, environmental and social outputs. Data from these research stands is recorded in individual inventory booklets and is shared amongst the network through summary reports following each re-measurement.

The Marteloscope

The AFI also provides training to forestry students through the provision of its marteloscope exercise in single tree selection. Managers of both broadleaf and coniferous forests are able to learn the skill of stem selection and how this enables an optimum level of growing stock to be maintained in close-to-nature managed forests. Marteloscopes are now promoted through the European Forestry Institute’s Integrate+ Project and is complemented by training software developed for tablets in the field. Marteloscopes are now established in many countries across Europe and thousands of participants have taken part in these exercises.

Forestry students from Bangor University taking part in a marteloscope training exercise in North Wales, UK. Copyright: Jonathan Hulson
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After 20 years of consolidated inventory work, the AFI network has revealed invaluable insights into the dynamics of close-to-nature managed forests. For example, the length of time to rotate the financial capital of irregular stands is in the order of 15 years, and that rates of removal in stands at equilibrium equates to between 1.5 to 3% depending on the species concerned (less in stands needing recruitment and more in stands needing to be de-capitalised). These revelations support the general principle of close-to-nature managed forests; that thinning interventions which are light and frequent will nurture quality material of larger size, will avert sudden changes in radial growth leading to quality defects, as well as reducing the risks of tree disease and windblow. Further insights provided through the AFI network include the effectiveness of methods in transforming conifer plantations to irregular forests, and that between 2 and 3 m²/ha of under-storey needs to be maintained following any harvesting operations. These revealing findings demonstrate how close-to-nature forestry maintains a dynamic forest capital as a channel for adaptation to climate change.

We appear to be at a turning point for how forests are managed and utilised in Europe. We have never experienced such pressing demands on our remaining forests in Europe, but at Pro Silva we believe that the adoption of integrated forest management more widely is a crucial step in our attempts to solve the interlinked crises facing biodiversity and the climate. We are proud to have the opportunity to share the incredible work of the AFI and all Pro Silva members across Europe in promoting close-to-nature forest management with the XV World Forestry Congress!


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