Virgin Forests: WWF Saving the Last Remaining in Europe, Part 1

Posted on 20 September 2016

Europe destroyed a major part of its virgin forests
BUCHAREST, SOFIA, KIEV - Old-growth forests face major threats as unsustainable resources use, poor forests management and illegal logging are common practices. 
A significant part of the remained European pristine forests is situated in the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, the Green Heart of Europe, and needs 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.

The virgin forests are the last forest ecosystems where nature survives in its purest form, without being affected by human intervention. They are home to eight out of ten terrestrial species of plants and animals, many of which endangered or very rare in cultivated forests. The old trees shelter under their crowns more than 10,000 species of animals, from unicellular organisms, fungi, plants, insects to familiar creatures such as the wild boar, stag, chamois, wolf, lynx, eagle owl, and brown bear - species naturally connected to each other. Many of them live in our region, but some are seriously endangered.

What is WWF's role in the region?

One of the major activities WWF does in the Danube-Carpathian Region is identification and mapping of the virgin forests in Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. We are pushing for special and priority recognition of the old-growth forest in the national legislations as this is essential for their effective protection.  

Romania: New field evaluations of the old forests size

Less than 300,000 hectares of old-growth forests are now thought to exist in the Carpathians, with 200,000 of those situated in Romania. Only 18 % are in protected areas.
New evaluations in Romania estimated over 100,000 ha of potential virgin forests. Over 20,000 ha of virgin and qvasi-virgin forest have been identified and nominated as an extension of the already existing Joint World Heritage Property “Primeval Beech forests of the Carpathians (Slovak Republic and Ukraine) and the Ancient Beech forests of Germany”.  The following regions are included: Maramures, Brasov, Valcea, and Caras-Severin. The decisions whether these areas will be designated to the UNESCO’s World Heritage will be taken in May 2017. The nomination is a result of more than three years of collaboration between the Romanian government, the National Forest Research Institute, WWF, Greenpeace and National Forest Administration.

Bulgaria: Stop the destruction of habitats through infrastructure development of roads and ski resorts

In Bulgaria over 50% of the left old-growth forests in the country are not listed as protected areas. The old growth forests cover an area about 150,000 ha which counts on nearly 4% of all forests in the country. The most significant virgin forests in Bulgaria that were mapped are West and East Stara Planina, West Rhodopes and Sredna Gora. WWF team alerted that only about 21 000 ha gated forests are still having the characteristics of a virgin forest. The low protection and lack of policy control is heading to an expansive destruction of these virgin forests in the country.
Currently, WWF attempts are to fight against the acceptance of new management plans for Rila, Pirin and Vitosha which are aimed to open the door to extensive logging in the wild mountains and to serve ambiguous economic interests.  An urgent public debate about the future of old forests in Bulgaria is needed and WWF and a coalition of local NGOs request timely decisions for a final determination of the status of these forests. The topic is a subject of a great public interest as the forests are the second most important natural resource of Bulgaria.  

Ukraine:  Improve the weak law system for forests protection 

In the Ukrainian Carpathians there are about 48 000 ha of virgin forest, of which about 30 000 ha are located within natural protected areas and are supposed to be protected by law. Some of them belong to the UNESCO World Heritage “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe", but other sites are without a conservation status and is easy to be destroyed for business purpose. 
The policy which is supposed to protect the old-growth forests is still not developed enough to function effectively. WWF and other local NGOs are having a dialogue with the government to establish new regulations, to improve the current policy and to set clear preservation strategy. A lobbing campaign in Ukraine is ongoing for few months from now, and still few results are achieved as many challenges and resistance is seen from the policy makers. A draft law was proposed back in April and is still a subject of discussion. 

Later this week, Part 2 of the article will reveal more about the WWF actions in Hungary, Slovakia and our view about how to conserve the virgin forests for the next generations. 
Strandzha Mountain in Bulgaria, known for its virgin forests and its species of flora and fauna that are unique to Europe
© WWF Bulgaria
The virgin forests are home to eight out of ten terrestrial species of plants and animals.
© WWF-Ukraine
Virgin forests have survived because of their inaccessibility and the low economic value of the wood coming from the old trees.
Virgin forests have survived because of their inaccessibility and the low economic value of the wood coming from the old trees.
© Mircea Struteanu