The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and EU Forest Strategy for 2030 support the protection of all primary and old-growth forests considered as the most biodiverse EU forest ecosystems, significant for storing carbon captured from the atmosphere. Only few old-growth and primary forests are left, but when they form large continuous forest areas, particularly with semi-natural forests, it allows natural ecosystem dynamics to occur.

Semi-natural forests dominate Europe's forest

Only 2% of forests are primary forests undisturbed by humans. Most forests habitats in the EU are semi-natural (~93%) and the remaining share is covered by plantations (~4%).Undisturbed forests have a natural tree composition, age structure, regeneration processes and occurrence of substantial amounts of deadwood. Such forests provide habitat to forest plants and animals and flora. The distinction between semi-natural forests and plantations in Europe is not always clear. For instance, the planting of indigenous species on clear-cut forests can make classifying a forest as a plantation, when the forest reaches maturity, difficult. In slow-growing forests, planted and natural stands are virtually impossible to distinguish after several decades.Furthermore, the definition of plantation forests is interpreted differently in different countries.

The majority of European forests is covered by semi-natural forests, in EU27

 

Europe’s sustainable forest management framework provides a Pan-European common understanding of sustainable forest management. It already covers deadwood and tree species diversity as indicators. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and EU Forest Strategy for 2030 provides for extending this set of indicators in FISE for measuring and monitoring ecosystem health, biodiversity and climate change, which includes defining thresholds or ranges for achieving a desirable condition for each indicator.

Forest area by classes of naturalness, by region, 2020

 

Increase in deadwood in EU27

Deadwood in forests is an important source of habitat, shelter and food source for many rare and threatened species, such as insects (especially beetles), fungi and lichens, birds and bats. Deadwood plays an important role in carbon and nutrient cycles. The volume of deadwood has increased in EU27.

Increase in deadwood in EU27 (m3/ha)

 

Deadwood is often removed in commercial forests and even in protected areas, after large disturbances such as storms, and to reduce the risk of forest fires and insect or pest outbreaks. Deadwood is lower in intensively managed forests than in semi-natural forests.

Forest deadwood

Average deadwood Europe's forests (m3/ha)

 

Average deadwood in Europe region forests (m3/ha)

 

Tree species composition in Europe

One third of Europe’s forest area comprises stands of only one tree species, especially in South-East Europe. The remaining area is covered with 2 or more species. Especially in South-West Europe, a considerable share of the forest area consists of forests where six or more tree species occur. Monocultures harbour less biodiversity than mixed stands and are more vulnerable to invasive alien species, pest and diseases outbreaks, and disturbances.

Forest area in Europe classified by a number of tree species occurring, 2015