On the Trail of Old Oak Forests: A Field Report | WWF
On the Trail of Old Oak Forests: A Field Report

Posted on 03 December 2019

Due to their valuable timber and easy accessibility, oak forests in Central and Eastern Europe have always been heavily influenced and impacted by humans.
Today there are only very few natural forests left in Europe. These habitats are much more abundant in species and, thanks to their varied structure, are more resistant to climate change. During our Slovakian trip in the frame of the Life4OakForests Project, WWF-Hungary visited forests in Boky and Drastvica that have remained largely undisturbed.
 
Due to their valuable timber and easy accessibility, oak forests in Central and Eastern Europe have always been heavily influenced and impacted by humans. In fact, we can hardly point to genuinely untouched oak forests to observe as examples of perfectly “operating” wilderness ecological systems. However, their study is highly important, and the data forms the basis for the project’s aim to make high conservation value forests (HCVF) and protected oak forests more natural.
 
And yet there are still some last tell-tale signs of the untouched forest
A common feature of undisturbed forests is that they are found in almost inaccessible places, on steep slopes, far from human settlements. The same was true for the two forests we surveyed. During our two-day visit in Slovakia, we were seeking to better comprehend how a natural oak forest operates.
 
Into the woods
Despite its nature trail, the natural oak forest in Boky in the Körmöci Mountains near Budca (Zólyombúcs) and Zólyom remains fairly untouched. During our trip, we explored the continuous transition between oak stands with small grasslands, to moist, closed oak-hornbeam forests or patches of beech trees.
 
These forests share one thing in common: variability
Autumn forests are ablaze with colours from several tree and bush species such as wild service tree and field maple. They typically contain ancient trees with various trunk forms, a lot of hollows and a vast number of standing and fallen deadwood that sometimes comprise up to one third of the tree stock. This variability makes it possible for oak forests to provide habitat for hundreds of animal and plant species, many of which are endangered and survive only under specific conditions.
 
Our journey led us towards Drastvica, an oak forest on Selmeci Mountain that was only identified in the last decade. The forest is located on the top of the mountain and has an area of 100 hectares, only some of which contains sessile oak. However, it still impressed even our expert team. We found giant trees, many of which had a diameter of more than 70 cm and were more than 400 years old.
 
Our guide, a nature conservation expert from civil organisation Prales, told us how the Slovakian natural forests had been identified, studied and monitored in the last decade. Thanks to their efforts, more focused attention can be paid to the conservation of these forests which reflect the wonderful variety of former wilderness areas. In Hungary, WWF-Hungary experts and national park staff have begun to search for and identify those valuable and special forests that may eventually comprise a network of Hungarian “forest sanctuaries.”
 
A New Deal for Nature and People
Healthy, natural forests are essential for the health of our planet and the ecological services they can provide to the people that depend on them. Biodiversity, climate change resilience, soil anchoring and erosion prevention, habitat protection, filtering freshwater, generating oxygen, providing eco-corridors for large carnivores and other wildlife, and drought mitigation are just some of these benefits. WWF’s Life4Oak Forests Project is one of several forest projects in Central and Eastern Europe being carried out to help achieve our New Deal for Nature and People targets:
  • ZERO loss of natural habitats;
  • HALVE the footprint of production and consumption; and
  • and ZERO human-induced extinction.
About the LIFE4OAK FORESTS Project
Hungarian oak forests provide shelter for several endangered species. With our partners, we aim to halt biodiversity decline in areas with oak forests that are parts of the Natura 2000 network. We apply agricultural and habitat management methods that increase the structural complexity of the forests and the variety of species. In addition, we create microhabitats that ensure appropriate conditions for species with special habitat requirements, such as insects or bats that live in deadwood. This 10-year project aims to establish uniform nature conservative forest management procedures that help our oak forests become more natural and consequently, healthier.
 
Author: Pál Bódis
 
For more information:
Viktoria Kokics
Senior Communications Officer,
WWF-Hungary
viktoria.kokics@wwf.hu, Tel:  +36 20 938 3804 
http://www.life4oakforests.eu/
#Life4OakForest
We aim to halt biodiversity decline in areas with oak forests that are parts of the Natura 2000 network.
© László Gálhidy
Healthy, natural forests are essential for the health of our planet and the ecological services they can provide to the people that depend on them.
© László Gálhidy