Virgin Forests: WWF Saving the Last Remaining in Europe, Part 2

Posted on 22 September 2016

Disappeared areas and locals activation in Central Europe

BRATISLAVA, BUDAPEST - Old-growth forests in Central and Eastern Europe face major threats - unsustainable resources use, poor forests management and illegal logging. 
A significant part of the remained European pristine forests is situated in the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, the Green Heart of Europe, and needs a better protection

Europe destroyed a major part of its old-growth forests and most of what left is now situated in the Danube-Carpathian region. If the virgin forest disappears, the natural model is gone, it loses a natural evolution and hence biodiversity created over thousands of years. Currently, all country WWF offices are expansively working to prevent the destruction of the old-growth forests in the Central and Easter Europe, and to conserve the biodiversity - home to many impressive species.

Part 2 (follows from Part 1)

Slovakia: The disappeared virgin forests

Covering 41% of the Slovak landscape the forested area in Slovakia has been steadily growing since the 1950s, increasing by 12.6% (245,312 ha). According to WWF’s investigations about 10 000 ha of those are old growth forests, which represents just 0.47% of the total forest area of Slovakia.

The small size is in a huge contradiction to the officially announced numbers by the National Forestry Programme in 2007 - stating the existence of 24,000 ha of old growth forests in Slovakia.

What’s even more curious, a study conducted in 2010 found that even areas of primeval beech forest in eastern Slovakia designated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site no longer existed. 

At first sight, the protection of old growth forests in Slovakia appears adequate. Of the 122 localities of old growth forests, 68 sites are situated in National Parks, 2 in the buffer zones of National Parks, and 24 in Protected Landscape Areas. At the same time, almost all sites are included within the EU’s Natura 2000 network of specially protected sites. However, in practice designation within the folds of a National Park or Natura 2000 site affords little real protection and WWF’s current objectives are to ensure more legal protection, to give a status of about 3 000 ha that remain out of strict regulation, and to stop harvesting in the most valuable forest habitats.

Hungary: Locals and WWF work together to raise awareness

The latest statistics in Hungary show alarming data on the state of the Hungarian old-growth forests and their conservation status.

Forests older than 120 years, which are crucial to nature conservation, constitute barely 2% of the country’s forest area - 37,000 ha, according to the Hungarian National Forest Stand Database. 
One-third of these forests are 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. WWF is working to prevent over usage and harvesting in the old forests and to raise awareness among the society. In the past months WWF-Hungary conducted field surveys with volunteers to identify the amount and size of largest trees near the capital city. A habitat called Normafa, which is a primal tourist center of Budapest, was threatened recently by unsustainable development and the WWF worked with locals to estimate the caused damages. Another initiative ongoing is Hungary is a campaign called “The dead tree is not dead - raising awareness of healthy forests“ aiming to gather educational materials about the role of dead trees in forests and to popularize the impact of the deadwood importance for the wildlife of the forest. 

Forests for Future Generations – it is possible

In the virgin forest trees die of old age - they break and fall or they simply dry out, still standing, feeding the ecosystem for future generations. The virgin forest is filled with trees of all ages, from the seed that has just sprouted to trees that have reached their physiological limits - just like a human community: children, parents and elders supporting each other, enjoying harmonious and healthy lives.

The virgin forests cannot be left in the current conditions because the destruction of the last untouchable areas will lead to final loss of the unique natural heritage of Europe.

We are pushing for special and priority recognition of virgin and old growth forest in the national legislation in Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as in the secondary regulations and forestry plans. We base our efforts on EU and national legislation as well as on the Convention for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (also known as the Carpathian Convention).  In the next period we will continue the process of identification of virgin forests - a mandatory condition to secure the valuable ecosystems, to ensure the granting of compensatory payments and promote FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) forest certification as a tool for responsible forest management.
Virgin forests are the last forest ecosystems where nature survives in its purest form
© WWF-Ukraine
Call for proposals: The dead tree is not dead - raising awareness of healthy forests in Hungary
© WWF-Hungary
Field-training in old-growth forests in Hungary