Soil cultivation

Soil cultivation operations are typically carried out to prepare a site for seed germination, seedling survival and early growth [8], but can also be carried out to facilitate access after harvesting activities or to reduce wildfire risk. Operations may include:
Scarification: an operation that removes the upper organic layers to uncover the bare soil, as well as competing vegetation [9] to create desirable planting spots in mineral soils or in mixed-organic soils, improving temperature, nutrient availability and moisture status [9].
Subsoiling or ripping: a surface treatment applied in case of dry soils or compacted surface layer, which restricts the root growth and plant development. This practice fractures soil structure without mixing the soil horizons.
Mounding: an operation that creates elevated planting spots free from water logging and with low weed competition [10].
Drainage: an operation that, through the establishment of ditches or other techniques, seeks to improve the terrain water drainage.
Fertilization: the process of applying fertilizer to the soil to improve growth in forest stands. While the average annual rates of fertilizer application per hectare are generally low, the amounts and types per application could be similar to volumes used in agriculture [11]. The application of fertilizers is common in nurseries and (containerized) planting material.

Major decisions involved in forest management and the associated silvicultural operations, modified from Duncker et al. (2012)

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Disc trenching in Finland

Photo by P.J. Verkerk

Share of peat and peat topped soils (0–30cm), %

Silviculture on peatlands is more challenging than in non-peated mineral soil sites. It is due to a high soil water content and deficiencies of primary soil nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients.

Both features impact tree growth and survivability and need to be addressed in forest management. The peat soil also has a loose peat structure that complicates forest operations.

Sources:Montanarella, L., Jones, R. J., & Hiederer, R. (2006). The distribution of peatland in Europe
Jones, R.J., Hiederer, R., Rusco, E. and Montanarella, L., 2005. Estimating organic carbon in the soils of Europe for policy support. European Journal of Soil Science, 56(5), pp.655-671

Application of chemical agents

The application of chemical agents refers to the use of chemical substances to reduce or prevent competition or pests that may negatively affect the establishment and development of a stand. The use of pesticides in European forestry appears to be limited [17] and significantly less than in agriculture. Available information on 13 European countries in 2009 indicates that the use of pesticides and herbicides ranges from 0.0002 to 0.69 kg active ingredient per ha/yr over the whole forest area in these countries, with a tendency of lower rates in northern countries [18]. The amount per application ranges between 0.1 and 2.2 kg active ingredient per ha/ yr [18].

Pesticide and herbicide use in 13 European countries in 2009.


Note the logarithmic scale on the y-axis.

Integration of biodiversity conservation

The integration of biodiversity conservation refers to the extent that forest dependent species and habitats, as well as natural processes are considered in the management of forests. Nature protection is implemented by protecting designated forest features or by integrating nature protection objectives in the multifunctional management of forests. The difference between these two complementary strategies may, however, not always be clear as protected forests may be actively managed, and managed forests may include sites that are voluntarily or temporarily protected.

Management decisions related to biodiversity protection in managed forests also include decisions on for example naturalness of tree species composition, type of regeneration and harvest regimes.

Forest protection

In the EU, 25 M ha were protected for biodiversity purposes in 2015, corresponding to 11% of total forests areas of these countries. The extent of protected forests for biodiversity and landscape purposes has increased in Europe between 2000 and 2015 and especially the area protected with active management has increased [4].

Area, and share of forest managed for biodiversity by country in 2015, kha

Source: ForestEurope protected forests

Biodiversity conservation in managed forests

Biodiversity conservation in managed forests is typically arranged by forest management certification schemes and national or regional forestry guidelines. Existing guidelines and certification standards typically include a range of measures to integrate biodiversity conservation in forest management, including maintenance of deadwood and habitat trees, and tree retention by leaving single trees, groups of trees and buffer zones surrounding waterbodies.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are the most common international certification standards in Europe. In 2019, about 36 M ha was certified by FSC [19] and 70 M ha by PEFC [20]. About 21 M ha was certified both by PEFC and FSC in 2016 and the double certified area increased to 26 M ha in 2019 in 17 European countries [21].

Proportion of forest area certified according to FSC or PEFC certification standards in 2020, %


The Integrate Network is actively working on integrating nature conservation into sustainable forest management.