Old growth forest conference launches key elements for protection strategy
The Wild Europe conference on 13/14th September to develop a Protection Strategy for remaining old growth forest in Europe has been hailed as a significant success by those attending.
Kindly hosted by the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels, this had 149 registrations and attendance from 28 EU and non EU countries.
The conference included representatives from the European Commission, UNESCO, Council of Europe, national and local governments. A key theme of the programme was the need for a multi-sector approach to developing the Protection Strategy. Participation by a balance of foresters, state agencies, enterprise specialists and landowners as well as conservation NGOs proved of considerable help in identifying common ground to underwrite the Strategy.
'Re-wilding’ – a wind of change gathers strength in Western Europe
Whilst wilderness is mainly associated with Northern and Eastern Europe, where the prime objective is protection of remaining great areas of natural ecology, this is increasingly complemented by re-wilding of habitats and reintroduction of species in Western Europe.
A growing number of countries are now adopting national strategies for restoration of large-scale natural ecosystems, amid increased awareness of their benefit to conservation objectives and society in general.
Austria has led the fray. In December 2014 it set a 2% target in its 2020+ National Biodiversity Strategy for wilderness and areas with wilderness characteristics. The Wild Europe definition forms the basis for wilderness in the Austrian strategy for National Parks, two of which will have core areas designated to Wild Europe criteria in 2015/16.
France is also moving ahead. A specialist group has been formed within IUCN (from 2012) to assess potential for a wilderness strategy. Also based around the Wild Europe definition, this brings together a range of experts.
More recently, but gaining momentum rapidly, Rewilding Britain was established in December 2014 from a coalition of NGOs, with Wild Europe as a trustee.
Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change
A study published in London on 23rd February 2017 by the well respected Royal Institute of International Affairs warns that most schemes to generate “low carbon electricity” from wood burning are actually doing the opposite, with carbon emissions from wood pellets higher than coal and considerably higher than gas.
Calculations of net carbon savings have not been counting emissions from the actual wood burning, merely assuming that these are countered by the sequestration impact of new plantings – which effectively leaves a large gap.
The Study calls for an urgent review of EU biomass subsidies. This comes in the wake of an investigation by Birdlife International which found significant logging in protected areas of Europe to supply renewable energy installations.
Global management guidelines published for wilderness protected areas
The IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, in tandem with the Wild Foundation, has published a comprehensive set of guidelines governing all key aspects of management for wilderness areas.
These are applied under all forms of governance - public, private, local community. They also address a range of management instruments, including rewilding and restoration.
A range of case studies are examined, including the Natura 2000 network, where EC guidelines for management of wilderness areas are based on a definition of wilderness developed by Wild Europe.
Wide welcome for Wild Europe’s old growth forest protection strategy
Rising timber demand, fragmentation from new transport routes and general development pose threats which are intensifying as the recession ends.
Yet all too often these are tackled piecemeal by conservationists at local level where it is difficult to muster support. Above all, there is insufficient awareness of the value of this habitat.
Wild Europe has assembled a strategy to address these issues. It covers five key areas: policy framework, protective action, management practice, long-term opportunities and funding.
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Wild Europe programme 2017/18
Despite the uncertainties created by Brexit, 2016/17 saw further solid progress by Wild Europe.
A key focus has been the urgent need to develop a coordinated protection strategy for remaining ancient, or old growth, forests; this iconic habitat for the wilderness agenda is coming under growing threat as Europe emerges from recession, timber prices rise and illegal logging proliferates.
We have continued our support for developing model areas and national level programmes for wildlands and wilderness, alongside a range of projects designed to promote their value.
Objectives for 2017/18 have now been published. For a strategic outline of the previous year see Achievements & Objectives in 2016/18 More detailed reports are available on request.
Leading scientists dismayed by emerging EU climate policy and its impact on forests
A letter sent on 25th September by 194 leading environmental scientists to the Estonian EC Presidency and key members of the European Parliament expresses ‘concern and dismay’ at the recent vote in the European Parliament on EU climate legislation for forests. This involves the LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry) Regulation and the sustainability criteria of biomass in the Renewable Energy Directive.
The letter argues against promotion of increased harvest levels to substitute fossil-derived fuels and products with wood and bioenergy without accounting for their full climate impacts.
Such an approach, says the letter, risks having adverse effects on climate, biodiversity and resilient ecosystems by emitting more greenhouse gases and causing additional habitat loss - with particular focus on the fate of old growth forest: already under pressure from rising timber prices and illegal logging.
Accumulating evidence, argue the scientists, suggests that the proposed strategy risks being counterproductive.
This letter is sent in the wake of two reports:
The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) May 2017 "Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union's Forests"
Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) February 2017 "The Impacts of the Demand for Woody Biomass for Power and Heat on Climate and Forests"