Eight facts about Europe’s forest ecosystems
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- In Europe, forests cover around 35% of the land area (190 million ha), making Europe one of the most forest-rich regions in the world. The recent increase in European forest cover is a result of national legislation, afforestation and natural expansion over the last 200 years.
- Forests are an economic resource. Forests generate income for more than 16 million private forest owners, and forest activities have a turnover of almost € 500 billion, employing approximately 3.5 million people.
- Forests provide unseen services: Alongside wood and other products, forests are also valuable for their ‘ecosystem services’. For example, more than 20 % of European forests are managed to protect water and soils, mainly in mountainous areas. Other services include preventing floods and filtering air.
- Forests help mitigate climate change impacts. European forests absorb approximately 10% of Europe's annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the latest State of Europe’s forests report.
- Forest structures in the EU are becoming more uniform, as the variety of tree species is reduced. This means forest biodiversity is lost, making these ecosystems less resilient to pests, disease and a changing climate. Natural forest once covered most of Europe, but only a very small proportion remains untouched, mostly in isolated pockets.
- But many forest ecosystems are in poor health. The effects of poor forest management can be seen in the population of woodland birds, which declined more than 30% in some regions of Europe between 1980 and 2005. The IUCN estimated in 2009 that 27 % of mammal species, 10 % of reptiles and 8 % of amphibians related to forests are threatened with extinction in the EU.
- Invasive alien species are increasingly a problem for European forests. There are around 1 800 species in Europe’s forests which are invasive and alien to the natural environment. For example, European forests have been devastated by Dutch elm disease caused by fungi introduced from Asia, and grey squirrels are outcompeting red squirrels. Globally, invasive alien species are one of the largest causes of biodiversity loss.
- Climate change is very likely to harm forest ecosystems. One area which may change is the pattern of forest fires. On average, around 400 000 ha of forest currently burns down every year, mostly in the Mediterranean region. Some habitats, such as forest wetlands, are particularly sensitive to climate change.