Forests provide timber and non-forest wood products, and also supports numerous other benefits to society, such as withdrawing vast amounts of carbon emissions from the atmosphere, regulating water flows, controlling soil erosion, cleaning the air we breathe and places of recreation and spirituality.

The EU ecosystem accounts recently assessed several ecosystem services. Forest ecosystems contribute to 47.5% of the total ecosystem services. This significant contribution makes the value supplied by a unit of area of forest land almost 9 times more than the value supplied by a unit of area in urban land.

 

Economic value provided by ecosystem services in the EU (EU28, 2012, M EUR)

Urban

Cropland

Grassland

Woodland and forest

Wetland

Heathland and shrub

Sparsely vegetated land

Rivers and lakes

Marine inlets and transitional waters

No results

Source: Accounting for ecosystems and their services in the European Union (INCA) 2021 published by EUROSTAT

Forest ecosystems provide multiple ecosystem benefits, which have been classified into three types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services. An over-emphasis on the supply of one type of services may erode the capacity of ecosystems to supply other types of services. Sustaining multiple ecosystem benefits from forest ecosystems in a particular stand requires knowledge and decision making on the synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services.

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Provisioning services

Wood production is the basis for many economic activities (e.g. paper, construction, energy). The EU ecosystem assessment estimated that between 2000 and 2010, the amount of fellings reported in the EU did not exceed the amount of timber that forests can annually offer. These data are the latest officially reported country statistics on fellings. There are no data that account for illegal logging, which remains a problem in many regions of Europe.


Carbon sequestration is the net removal by ecosystems of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change mitigation. This benefit extends global society, since CO2 is considered to be equally distributed over the global atmosphere.

ESTIMATED ECONOMIC VALUE OF CARBON SEQUESTRATION BY ECOSYSTEMS IN EU28 IN 2012

Non-wood forest products are important sources of income and include products such as mushrooms, berries, herbs, nuts, honey, game and fodder, resin, bark, ornamentals, cork, Christmas trees and medicinal plants.

Regulating ecosystem services

Carbon sequestration as ecosystem service is the net removal by ecosystems of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change mitigation. These benefits extend beyond the EU to global society, since CO2 is considered to be equally distributed over the global atmosphere.

Flood control

Upstream ecosystems and wetlands protect cities, farmlands and infrastructure from flooding. Ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and grasslands regulate water flows. They reduce the speed of runoff water during heavy rain or they infiltrate and store water temporarily in the soil. Thus the risk of downstream flooding is reduced, people and infrastructure are protected, and damage costs related to floods are avoided. Different ecosystem types differ in their ability to provide the flood control ecosystem service – forests and wetlands are particularly effective in holding water. About 3/5 of the EU territory has a potential to provide flood control. More than hald of this land is covered by forests.

 

Water purification

Water purification as an ecosystem service is the removal of pollution from the environment by ecosystems.

The economic value of nitrogen removal that forests provide as an ecosystem service for the EU (2012, EU28), based on replacement costs (the total costs of water purification through alternative means – constructed wetland – to replace this ecosystem service if ecosystems were not providing it)

SHARE (AND ECONOMIC VALUE) OF NITROGEN REMOVAL BY EU28 FORESTS IN 2012

Cultural ecosystem services

Nature-based recreation as an ecosystem service is considered as the biophysical characteristics or qualities of ecosystems that are viewed, observed, experienced or enjoyed in a passive, or active, way by people. The covid-19 pandemic has spotlighted the importance of daily access to nature for recreation.

The economic value of nature-based recreation opportunities that people have in forests, based on daily recreation opportunities in a high natural quality forest within 4 km from human settlements (2012, EU28):

SHARE OF RECREATION OPPORTUNITIES IN EU28 FORESTS IN 2012