Indicator Assessment

Forest: deadwood

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-156-en
  Also known as: SEBI 018
Published 19 Feb 2015 Last modified 18 Nov 2021
8 min read
This page was archived on 18 Nov 2021 with reason: No more updates will be done

Since 2000, an overall increase of deadwood has been observed in several countries, a sign of more biodiversity-friendly management practices, but also of large disturbances such as storms.

Average deadwood volume in forests in several EEA countries


Average volume of total deadwood in European countries 2000 - 2010


The quantity of deadwood in Europe’s forests has decreased significantly since the middle of the 19th century due to intense forest exploitation and the widespread burning of small wood and other debris. Since 2000, however, a small overall increase in this indicator has been observed (figure 1). This may be due to forest management practices that deliberately increase the amount of deadwood in managed forests either as a result of government policy or because of the establishment of requirements for forest certification. Large disturbances such as storms could also have contributed to the increase. Better reporting on deadwood must be noted, with 17 EEA countries providing data in 2010 against just eight in 1990. At national level, the average volume is variable across the European region (figure 2).

Deadwood (coarse woody debris) is a proxy indicator for biodiversity, since it is a habitat for a wide array of organisms including vertebrates, invertebrates, lichens, bryophytes and fungi. Deadwood decomposition plays a key role in the recycling of nutrients and organic matter, as well as in providing a wide variety of (micro)habitats for plants and invertebrates, particularly insect species and other organisms. Deadwood in forests can be measured relatively easily. The amount of deadwood is thus a good indicator of the biodiversity value of a forest.

Overall, deadwood in most European countries is nowadays generally low compared to natural conditions. However, many European countries have recently launched initiatives to increase the amount of deadwood, though not all increases are the result of biodiversity considerations.

Disturbances such as storms, fires and insect outbreaks also produce deadwood. In some areas the accumulation of deadwood may not be desirable, for example where forest fires or the risk of insect pests (such as bark beetle plagues) is considered unacceptable, such as in Mediterranean coniferous plantations where deadwood must be removed to reduce the risk of fires. Although most countries legally require harvesting of extensive amounts of damaged trees, such as deadwood from recent storm damage, it has not been possible to completely remove the entire extent of deadwood produced by these disturbance events.






Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator shows the volume of standing and lying deadwood in forest and other wooded land, classified by forest type (Forest Europe - Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE)). In national forest inventories, countries generally classify according to type (standing, snags, lying, species and state of decay).


cubic metre/ha


Policy context and targets

Context description

Deadwood (coarse woody debris) in the form of snags (dead standing trees) and logs (dead lying trees) is a habitat for a wide array of organisms and, after humification, an important component of forest soil. During some parts of their life cycle, some species are dependent on finding a place to live either on the surface or in the cavities/protected places of dead or dying wood of moribund or dead trees (standing and fallen), or upon wood-inhabiting fungi or other species. Because of a lack of deadwood in multipurpose forests, many of the species dependent on deadwood are endangered.

At present it is still debated what amount of deadwood is required in order to maintain the most valuable species and under what circumstances the accumulated deadwood component may give rise to a risk for insect outbreaks.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

Decaying wood habitats are important components of biodiversity in European forests and recognised as an indicator for assessing and monitoring biodiversity as well as sustainable forest management.


2020 EU biodiversity targets - target 3: Increase the contribution of agriculture and forestry to biodiversity

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss


Methodology for indicator calculation

Definition of terms:

Terminology is well defined for international reporting by Forest Europe. Deadwood (coarse woody debris) as such, and the methodology for reporting its volume are thus defined according to Forest Europe standards.

On a national scale, the monitoring of deadwood is carried out in several National Forest Inventories (NFIs). Work towards the harmonisation of terminology is carried out by the COST E43 action. This comprises type classification (standing, bending, lying) as well as potentially important additional parameters (uprooted stems, clearcut stems, pieces of stems, cut branches, uprooted staves, logging residues, fine woody debris, intact snags, broken snags, broken, lying stems without uprooting). There are several approaches to register state of decay, most commonly this is classified in five classes. Noting the tree species is desirable but data are not collected by everybody.

MCPFE has defined the following reporting of the indicator "Deadwood":

Measurement units

  • Status: m3/ha.
  • Changes: m3/ha/yr.

Figures to be reported on

  • Volume of dead standing trees (snags) and lying trees (logs) on forest area and
    other wooded land, classified by forest type.

Minimum length and diameter of standing and lying dead trees

  • Length: 2 m.
  • Diameter: It is up to the countries to define the minimum size of diameter to be
    reported. It is recommended that the minimum size be:

Standing deadwood: 10 cm d.b.h.
Lying deadwood: 10 cm mean diameter.

Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


  • The indicator is a general measure on habitat quality. It will not, at least not in international reporting, be possible to evaluate the indicator with respect to specific organisms, e.g. threatened species.
  • A minimum level of required deadwood to create suitable habitats in multifunctional forests is not yet defined. This will probably have to be done when developing management plans at landscape or stand scales. Huge amounts of deadwood may also be a risk (insect calamities, fire).
  • Methodology to measure deadwood differs between countries. Some countries also include tree stumps in the calculations. Numbers may also be influenced by the share of undisturbed forest (in which case figures for deadwood may reflect the share of undisturbed forest instead of the real amount of deadwood in production forests).


The 35 MCPFE quantitative indicators (
all relate to sustainable forestry management. From this set, those with most direct relevance to biodiversity were selected.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 018
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 3 years
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage