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.

Participants included a balance of foresters, state agencies, enterprise specialists and landowners as well as conservation NGOs, which proved of considerable help in identifying common ground to underwrite the Strategy.

Conference participants in the opening sessionConference participants in the opening session

A welcome was provided by the Director General of DG Environment at the European Commission, Daniel Calleja. Speaking by video (he was in Beijing), he declared “Old growth forests are icons of Europe’s natural heritage… We are committed to protecting and restoring them”.

The conference was opened by Humberto Delgado, Head of Natural Capital for the European Commission, who stressed the multiple benefits of the forests, in particular their importance to the ecosystem services agenda (biodiversity, nature tourism, carbon, hydrology) – with much greater levels of ongoing carbon capture for mitigating climate change than was often appreciated.

Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Chief of the Europe and North America Department for UNESCO World Heritage, welcomed the conference and strategy. She underlined the importance of old growth forest benefits for local communities as well as biodiversity, and pointed to the potential for securing them through stronger links between Natura 2000 and World Heritage networks.

Key elements of protection strategy launched

In addition to its declared aim of raising the profile of old growth forest with policy makers, the conference introduced a range of practical proposals, including:

  • A Europe wide definition structure providing a standardized approach to identifying virgin, primary and old growth forest (OGF) – vital for effective protection and restoration
  • An interactive mapping instrument to locate and monitor old growth forest sites across Europe
  • An ‘early alert system’ designed to provide early notice of prospective threats
  • Assessment of new forms of long-term protection structure
  • Funding sources: traditional and innovative, including proposals for improving cash flow opportunities from the Payment for Ecosystem Services agenda
  • Proposals for set-aside of state agency forest
  • Focus, for the first time, on potential for coordination between UNESCO World Heritage and Natura 2000 networks, as cited by Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel. Implementation of the protection strategy is proposed as an initial trial

The resulting Protection Strategy will be informed by specialist reports, also introduced at the conference: by Conservation Capital on Incentives for Landholder Protection of Old Growth Forests in the non-state (private) sector, and the ClientEarth lawyer network on Legal and Policy Aspects of Protection.

Consultation for a consensus approach

The conference was held at the EU Committee of the Regions, reflecting the importance of support at regional and local levelThe conference was held at the EU Committee of the Regions, reflecting the importance of support at regional and local level

The location of the conference was highly relevant to the proceedings. As pointed out by Roby Biwer, speaking as a Council Member for the Committee of the Regions at the very start of the conference, the success of the Protection Strategy will be determined substantially by actions at local level.

The conference itself is rooted in three years of consultation involving many inspirational protection initiatives already established across Europe.

A key theme of the programme was the need for a multi-sector approach to developing the Protection Strategy. This resulted in production of a guidance document Options for Building a Strategy.

A full account of the conference, together with further information on the protection strategy with a proposed action plan, will follow shortly.

See conference programme

Many thanks are due to the Committee of the Regions and all our sponsors for their generous support of this event.