Forest is the largest terrestrial ecosystem in the European Union covering around 40% of the territory and is home to much of the continent’s biodiversity. In addition, forests provide a multitude of benefits to humans in terms of climate regulation, water supply and regulation, timber, energy, habitat for biodiversity, clean air, erosion control and many others. Nevertheless, European forests face multiple natural and anthropogenic pressures. For instance, a changing climate affects tree species composition and assemblage. Climate-driven forest pressures are foreseen to increase and competing socio-economic demands for forest services result in multiple drivers of forest change.
The monitoring and assessment of forest ecosystems condition and services is an essential part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 and a necessary step to inform restoration, conservation, planning, and development processes and decision. In this context, our activity on forest ecosystem services and biodiversity aims at mapping and assessing forest condition and forest ecosystem services, contributing to Commission’s initiatives in support to the Biodiversity Strategy to 2030.
Forests are biologically diverse ecosystems that provide habitat for a multiplicity of plants, animals and micro-organism. According to the Convention of Biological Diversity forest biodiversity is a term that refers to all life forms found within forested areas and their ecological roles. Forest biodiversity can be considered at different levels, including the ecosystem, landscapes, species, populations and genetics. In high-biodiversity forests this complexity allows organisms to adapt to continually changing environmental conditions and to maintain ecosystem functions.
Forest ecosystems and biodiversity are strongly interlinked. On the one hand, biodiversity levels depend to a large extent on the integrity, condition and vitality of forests. On the other hand, losses of forest biodiversity lead to decreased forest productivity and sustainability. Therefore, forest ecosystems management is oriented to support the provision of forest services and to enhance biodiversity levels and condition. Enhancing forest biodiversity and delivering multiple services in a balanced way is one of the main objectives of the EU Forest Strategy. Moreover, the EU has set targets to assess, halt, and reverse biodiversity loss in its Biodiversity Strategy to 2030. From this perspective, analysing forest condition, the multiple services and trade-offs, and the relation with forest biodiversity, provides decision instruments for targeted provisions in the context of the bioeconomy in a transition to a greener Europe.
Several pressures affect the condition of forest ecosystems, the provision of services and biodiversity levels. Pressures on forests vary significantly from one region to another and their effects often change following a latitudinal and altitudinal gradient.
The list of main natural and human-induced pressures on European forests is large. In addition, evidence suggests that some pressures may increase in severity and frequency in the future. This indicates that long-term planning and management should be encouraged. Natural pressures include specific environmental drivers as well as interlinked effects such as for example storm damage and drought that could facilitate propagation of some diseases and insect pests. Natural pressures of primary concern in European forest are drought, forest fires, storms, insect outbreaks and diseases, invasive alien species, and a changing climate. The main human-induced pressures are forest and habitat fragmentation, forest land change and habitat loss, pollutants, and unsustainable forest management.
Despite the fact that in the EU forest cover has increased over the last decades and that the average condition of EU forests improves slightly, the condition of one third of forests is in decline. Furthermore, according to the data reported by Member States in the frame of the progress report under the Habitats Directive for the period 2013-2018, the major pressure for forest habitats is forestry, affecting 80% of the assessments at EU level.
Forest habitats assessments reported as being affected by pressures across EU member states