Posted on 08 June 2016
One-third of them is not protected
The latest statistics of WWF Hungary show alarming data on the state of Hungarian old-growth forests and their conservation status. Forests older than 120 years, which are crucial to nature conservation, constitute barely two percent of the country’s forest area, or 37,000 hectares, according to the Hungarian National Forest Stand Database. One-third of these forests is not protected, and more than half of the old-growth forests located on protected and specially protected public lands are being exploited.
Currently, 95% of the country’s forest area is being used for wood production. This rate reaches 98% in the Nyírség region in Eastern Hungary. Some 90% of the forests that are older than 120 years are being exploited by logging, mainly clear-cutting.
For example, the size of old pedunculate oak forests that once enriched Alföld, the Great Hungarian Plain occupying the southern and eastern part of Hungary, has decreased critically due to timber harvesting. The same is true for old-growth mountain beech forests. This not only endangers biodiversity, but threatens to destroy essential public amenity values. Some forests must be kept for the purpose of maintaining nature conservation, the opportunities for tourism and recreation and ecosystem services like soil protection, water and air purification and the reduction of the impacts of climate change.
“Wood harvesting is important, but we cannot allow a further decline in biodiversity. This would be against the interests of the Hungarian people. Nature conservation and public amenities in the protected and specially protected state forests is of great importance. We must by all means preserve the nearly 150-year-old forests”, said László Gálhidy, Forest Programme Manager of WWF-Hungary.
If forests older than 120 years are two percent of the country’s forest area, those older than 150 years are only 0.35% according to the statistics of the Hungarian National Forest Stand Database. Trees that are over 200 years old are found in about 30 sections of forests and their total area is 186 hectares. This area is only as big as some larger public parks. Even these forests cannot be considered really old, given that oak and beech species can exceed 300-400 years in an undisturbed environment.
Hungarian forest background
Less than half of Hungary’s forest area consists of natural, “real forests”, mainly oak and beech forests. They nearly disappeared after the deforestation of the plains for agricultural reasons in the previous centuries and were replaced in the 20th
century by plantations of pine, black locust and poplar. In the mountains, forests consist of native trees, but most of them are young. The forests that grew after the extensive clear-cutting during the wars and the intensive industrial forest management during socialism barely remind of their ancestors. There are only a few old-growth forests left on mountainsides and in ravines that are difficult to access. Although the economic importance of still existing old-growth forests is often minimal, they are great tourist attractions and their conservation value is huge.
Where the old-growth forests are today
More than half of Hungary’s old-growth forests are located in the Bükk Mountains. They can also be found in the mountains of High Bakony, Mecsek, Vértes, Zemplén and Börzsöny. There are old forests around Budapest as well – especially around Normafa – and since they are very popular among excursionists they have an important role of environmental education.
However, there are many regions with no old forests left. In Gemenc, the largest floodplain forest in Hungary, only two old-growth forests over 120 years survived the centuries of timber harvesting.