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Nature needs decay

Europe`s forests need less management, and more decaying wood

Europe must protect at least ten per cent of its forests from any form of logging, and manage the rest in a much more wildlife-friendly way, if species such as Capercaillie and White-backed Woodpecker are not to dwindle towards extinction. This is the key message of a new book, How Much, How To? ? Practical Tools for Forest Conservation, published by BirdLife International at the opening of its International Workshop on Forestry Legislation and Conservation. The new book draws together many recent studies of forest ecology, and practical conservation programmes around Europe, to make direct legal and policy recommendations to all European nations about protecting forests.In recent years, forest certification and other wildlife-enhancement measures in commercial forests may have given the impression that leaving small patches of habitat here and there is enough to save even rare species, says Professor Ilkka Hanski of the University of Helsinki, author of the How Much section of the book. Wildlife-friendly forest management has some value? for example as buffer zones around fully protected forest areas. But the amount of decaying wood in managed forests is so low, and the patches of woodland key habitats that are currently preserved are so small, that the threshold condition for the long term persistence of most threatened species is not met.

Studies suggest that increasing numbers of specialised forest species -like Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus and White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos- become endangered when the area of natural and semi-natural forest falls below 10-20 percent of forested land. Professor Hanski says less than one per cent of European forest outside Russia is in a natural or semi-natural state. European forest legislation is progressing, but our policies lack overall vision of how or even what we need to put in place for the future says Marcus Walsh, Chairman of BirdLife`s European Forest Task Force and author of the book`s How To section. The value of forests is too often measured purely in terms of saw-wood and pulp, when well-developed tourist programmes can generate more for rural areas on a regular, sustainable basis. Marcus Walsh adds that in reality, forest protection needs are modest, and could be reached over a few decades. BirdLife`s new publication provides a clear programme, as well as a yardstick for measuring progress towards truly sustainable forest use across Europe.

4th July 2014