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European Forest Week – let’s celebrate

December 8, 2013

Gabriel Hemery

European Forest Week 2013
European Forest Week 2013

European Forest Week 2013

Europe’s forests are thriving—make the smart choice and use them responsibly—so says the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Europe leads the way in sustainable forest management, both politically and practically, being the only global region where forests are growing in volume and expanding in area. The forest sector in Europe is playing a lead role in “greening” the economy by improving human well-being and social equity, while reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

The idea behind European Forest Week, which runs from 9 – 13 December, is to celebrate and raise awareness on the good health of forests in Europe.

Some of the main messages of European Forest Week

  • Wood— the smart choice in your daily life and the renewable way to build, heat and furnish your home
  • Healthy forests safeguard Europe’s future
  • Sustainable forests contribute to a sustainable economy
  • Using forest products, the smart choice, will reduce our environmental footprint
  • Innovative wood products are the future – from traditional wood products to the latest high-performance engineered products, quality wood products meet traditional and modern structural needs.
  • Have you seen your green factory, visited by millions of people every year?


European Forest Week – official webpage

European bioeconomy and the forest sector

September 26, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Forestry bio-economy

A couple of weeks ago I attended an exhibition at the European Parliament in Brussels, outlining the forest sector’s contribution to the European bio-economy. Bio-economy is a concept that extends well beyond biofuels, where many are currently focussing innovation and investment.  Instead, think of completely new sectors, using new materials, for new markets.


The exhibition provided a fascinating insight into the future role of the forest sector in many unexpected forms. Although this was a celebration of the potential for the forest sector, a stark futurologist’s view during an accompanying workshop by Dr. Petri Vasara, of Pöyry Management Consulting Oy, highlighted that:

“without innovation and collaboration, food use will eat the bioeconomy before it is born.”

Vasara argued that without the forest sector, there would be no true bioeconomy, especially in the shadow of looming political and food crises.  His view was that the forest sector is already a part of many new growing bio-based industries of importance to Europe and that the scope of possibilities for forest-based products in the bioeconomy is second to none. The connected chain land-food-agriculture-silviculture-recycling-waste-water-metals will shake the world, and the forest sector is in a key position.


Here are some examples of the emerging technologies and innovation that make up the bioeconomy in Europe.

Download the guide to the exhibition …

Forestry bio-economy

The forest sector's contribution to the European bio-economy. Click to download leaflet (7MB)

Gabriel Hemery

Future of European forest policy

September 7, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

“Our fate is closely entwined with forests” said MEP and Vice-President of the European parliament Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou at a recent and important conference on the future of Europe’s forests held in Brussels. This fundamental statement was soon followed by another by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco who made a clarion call that for true sustainability we “must change our way of life”.

I attended the conference “European and global forests – which way for the future” 6-7 September 2011, hosted by the European Parliament Intergroup: Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. The conference included top-level policy figures from Europe and beyond including the FAO, UNEP, European Environment Agency, IUCN and many more. Here is my summary of some of the important points raised at the conference.

European forests - what future

European and Global forests - what future? conference at the European Parliament 6-7 September 2011

Global & European forest resources

In the opening speech Director General of IUCN, Julia Marton-Lefevre, stated that “the role of forests in the world and the EU cannot be overstated.” She added that we “must unlock the potential of Europe’s forests as an engine for green growth, while recognising their social and environmental values.”

FAO Assistant Director General of the Forest Department Eduardo Rojas-Briales explained that there are 4 million hectares of forests worldwide covering 31% of the land area. Deforestation is decreasing, contrary to some public opinion: from 16 million hectares per year between 1990-2000, to 13 million hectares per year between 2000-2010. Meanwhile over 7 million hectares have been afforested, including 3 million naturally, in the last decade. Therefore the net loss has dropped from 8.3 to 5.2 million hectares a year during the last ten years. That’s still a significant loss of course, so much more must be done to tackle deforestation, and how much of the 7 million hectares afforested has been the type of forest than can replace the areas cut down; their rich biodiversity, local protection where most needed, and importance to indigenous people – very little I suspect!

Europe has 177 million hectares of forests covering 42% of its land area. 465 million m3 of wood are felled annually from Europe’s forests while the annual growth in them is 769 million m3. MEP and Chair of the EP Committee explained that forests in Europe create €300 billion turnover and 2 million jobs.

Towards a European forestry policy

Some delegates called for a European Forestry Policy although they recognised the considerable difficulties of merging the current policies of individual member states. However, the latest European Forestry Strategy (note not Policy) will be published in 2012: this will be an important and much-needed update to the 1998 Strategy. The aims are to strengthen internal EU strategies while boosting Europe’s international voice on forestry issues. The Strategy must help in meeting 2020 targets, in particular EU climate change legislation, and include measures to help both protect/recover forests from events economically, in terms of resilience, and in delivering ecosystem services. Read more

Following the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from 2012, agricultural policy needs to assist sustainable forest management (SFM) said former commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development for the EU, Franz Fischler. “SFM must be emphasised in Pillar II in the new CAP.”

Another important policy context is the EU2020 Strategy that is a “flagship initiative supporting a shift to a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth”. The role of forestry is likely to be fundamentally recognised.

The path to RIO+20

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio in 2012 is likely to be very important for forestry across the world said Christian Vanden Bilcke, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He believes that forestry policy has matured positively and delivered increasingly well in the last 10 years. Vanden Bilcke explained that Rio+20 will be very different to Johannesburg2002 and that it must “take forests out of and beyond the old environmental silo”. Even though forests may not be included as a specific paragraph, it is clear that real impacts for forests and forestry policy will emerge.


This was an important, perhaps historic conference, that has laid the foundations for forestry to fulfill a more central role in European policy in the future. The many statements by various MEPs and NGO senior decision makers, who came together for this event, created a tangible sense of a real political commitment to forests and to forestry across Europe.

Gabriel Hemery

More forest plantations less green fuzz

June 18, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Forest of Dean plantation

Britain is the second-least wooded country in Europe, a fact that I’ve written about previously.  The prominent clarion call by Professor Sir David Read and colleagues in the Read Report of 2009 (see below) identified “a clear need for more woodlands”.  The proposed woodland expansion programme is for an additional 4% of forest cover to be established in Britain, which would see a welcome increase to a total of 16%, although Britain would remain one of the least-wooded European countries.

Unfortunately some seem to have seen used this as a call for more ‘native woodlands’.  Try a Google search for “read report increase woodland cover” and you will see what I mean.  As far as I recall, Read never called specifically for more ‘native woodlands’.  The native obsession is ironic and narrow-minded in that plantations of any appropriate species, if they are well-designed and managed, will remove the pressure from our existing and precious native semi-natural woodlands that many of these same organisations are striving to protect.

There’s nothing wrong with new ‘native woodlands’ per se but when their design and composition has ambition limited to greening the countryside, which is admirable in its own narrow way, they fall very far short of deliverying the sort of outputs that Read anticipated.

Read saw the increase in Britain’s woodland cover making a “significant contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets” with the aim of creating an emissions abatement equivalent to 10% of total green house gas emissions.  To achieve these targets we need to either lock up carbon in wood, and the most efficient means of doing this is by growing trees as a crop that will produce timber, or create renewable energy by producing wood fuel.  These can be provided together with social (e.g. recreation) and environmental (e.g. habitat provision) benefits.  This is the essence of modern plantation forestry: the activity in which the UK Forestry Commission excels.

If we continue to plant green fuzz across our food-producing fields, with little concern either for the impending need to be more self-sufficient in food production (read more), or for the need to reduce our enormous reliance on timber imports (Britain’s sixth largest import), Britain’s environmental credibility will be increasingly undermined.

Forest of Dean plantation

Forest plantations in the 21st Century are a long way in their design from the monocultural and regimental coniferous plantings that scarred so much of Britain’s upland landscapes in the early and mid 20th Century.  Advances in tree breeding are bringing the production of quality hardwoods nearer to becoming economically viable, while the new market for wood fuel is helping by producing income from thinnings; a natural by-product of a well-managed woodland.  Woodlands with ambitions to produce timber and fuel can deliver equally well in greening the landscape, or in providing wildlife habitat and places for people to exercise than any ‘native woodland’.  Conversely, planting more of the same ‘native woodlands’ that now litter the English countryside with little more ambition in their creation and management than a membership publicity drive or community engagement excercise, will be regretted long after the PR-masters behind them have past.  In their own way, these are as regrettable as the dark satanic rows of conifers that were planted sixty years ago.

The WWF is promoting a New generation of plantations that (note the fourth objective):

  1. maintain ecosystem integrity;
  2. protect the high conservation values;
  3. are developed through effective stakeholder participation processes;
  4. contribute to economic growth and employment.

The WWF suggest we should rethink our attitude to plantations, suggesting that they can be part of the solution more than the problem.  They recognise that plantation forestry is controversial:

Some companies have put profit before the planet and destroyed valuable forest habitats in order to expand their plantations. Some have also trampled the rights of forest communities and workers. Yet tree plantations can be developed without these impacts and thus help maintain the most valuable ecosystems while contributing for economic development and employment.

So, in the global context, Britain could help in its own way by aiming to satisfy more of its own timber and wood fuel needs by planting and managing more forest plantations.  We must wake up to our real environmental responsibilities, which extend way beyond our tiny shores.

As a first step, and so as to avoid the native debate for now (remember beech, sweet chestnut, walnut and all productive conifers are not native to most of Britain), let’s have a drive to plant ‘native plantations’.  To do so will mean that some environmental bodies will have to bite the bullet and start talking to their members about felling trees as well as planting them.  Now, that would demonstrate real environmental vision.

Gabriel Hemery

Read more

New Generation Plantations Project, WWF. Synthesis Report 2009

Read, D.J., Freer-Smith, P.H., Morison, J.I.L., Hanley, N., West, C.C. and Snowdon, P. (eds). 2009. Combating climate change – a role for UK forests. An assessment of the potential of the UK’s trees and woodlands to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The synthesis report. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh.

Securing healthy sustainably managed forests across Europe

June 14, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Forest Europe Ministerial Conference June 2011Securing healthy, sustainably managed forests in the light of climate change and its severe consequences is one of the biggest challenges we have to solve in Europe and globally. This is the headline from the Forest Europe Ministerial Conference that opened today, hosted by Norway.

The fact that Europe’s forests are increasing represents a huge potential in helping to solve these challenges and sustain the vital values deriving from forests for people, their livelihood, our environment and future generations.

One of the main outcomes of the conference is an eagerly awaited strengthening of a strengthened policy framework for sustainable forest management throughout Europe. Ministers are expected to decide whether to enter into negotiations on a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe. The stance that the UK Government will take is currently unclear but given the UK’s exemplary record we should have high expectations.  The UK’s Forestry Commission was awarded a WWF ‘Gift to the Earth’ in 2001 for its contribution to and delivery on sustainable forestry, and was the first state forestry service to achieve 100% certification for its woods.

Gabriel Hemery

England’s paucity of forests

June 9, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

I have written before about the scale of England’s forests in relation to those elsewhere in Europe (read more), and in terms of those in public ownership (read more).  I found another very useful summary of this in the Forestry Commission’s recent submission to Defra’s Independent Panel on Forestry.

England has proportionately the smallest forest area and the least state forest resource in Europe and yet is one of the most intensively used.  Compared to the EU average there are over 66 times more people per hectare (ha) of state forest in England.

EU Average Scotland England
% Forest cover 38 17 9
% State forests 36 35 18
Population per ha of state forest 3 10 200

Forestry Commission submission to Independent Panel on ForestryDownload the paper prepared for the Forestry Panel by the Forestry Commission

Gabriel Hemery

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