Forest: growing stock, increment and fellings

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-155-en
Also known as: SEBI 017
expired Created 17 Sep 2009 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 04 Sep 2015
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The ratio of felling to increment is relatively stable at around 60 %. This favourable utilization rate prevails across Europe, with the exception of Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and has allowed growing stock to increase.

Key messages

The ratio of felling to increment is relatively stable at around 60 %. This favourable utilization rate prevails across Europe, with the exception of Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and has allowed growing stock to increase.

Is forestry in Europe sustainable in terms of the balance between increment of growing stock and felling?

Forest utilisation rate in 2005 (annual increment in growing stock as a percentage of annual felling) for countries in the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE)

Note: This map shows the forest utilisation rate in 2005 (annual increment in growing stock as a percentage of annual felling) for countries in the MCPFE

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Balance between felling and increment on forest available for wood supply

Note: Growing stock decreases if the ratio of felling to increment is under 100 %.

Data source:

MCPFE, 2007.

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Incremental production has increased continuously throughout Europe and felling has generally increased proportionally. In general, the amount of wood felled has been less than that planted and added as incremental growth. This has allowed a build up of the growing stock. The growing stock in Europe is increasing from a low level after clearances for agriculture and charcoal production in recent centuries. On the European scale, the area of forests probably reached its lowest level at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century (Kirby and Watkins, 1998, in Agnoletti, 2000).

Of the several factors that have contributed to the build up of growing stock, forest management is considered the most important. As shown in Map 1, the 'utilisation rate', which is the percentage of annual felling in relation to the net annual increment, varies considerably between countries but remains generally below the 'sustainability limit' of 100 %. A more in-depth analysis of the forest utilisation rate should preferably be conducted at a more detailed geographical level, taking into account age-class distribution and the silvicultural system. From a biodiversity point of view, such an analysis should also specifically address the proportion of older age classes in the stock and the type of forest management employed.

The ratio of felling to increment is forecast to increase to between 70 % and 80 % by 2010. This is due to an expected increase in demand for wood in the wider European region due to factors such as the development of eastern European markets (MCPFE, 2007; Schelhaas et al., 2006).

Of course the sustainability of forests cannot be measured by a ratio of felling and increment alone. This particular indicator addresses just one aspect of the sustainability of the forest sector. While maintaining felling below incremental production is a necessary condition for sustainability, it is not sufficient on its own. For a more comprehensive assessment, a complete set of forestry sector indicators is needed such as the 35 indicators within six criteria used in reports to the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE)(1).

Moreover, the felling-to-increment ratio indicator does not capture whether the increment is from forestry that is being managed in a biodiversity friendly way or not. It is not apparent whether increment is due to increased use of fertiliser or the planting of fast-growing alien species, for example.

(1) Criterion 4 is 'Maintenance, Conservation and Appropriate Enhancement of Biological Diversity in Forest Ecosystems'. Nine indicators are defined within this criterion: tree species composition; regeneration; naturalness; introduced tree species; deadwood; geneticresources; landscape pattern; threatened forest species; and protected forests.



  • Kirby, K. J. and Watkins, C., 1998. 'Introduction: Historical Ecology and European Woodland'. In: Kirby, K.J. and Watkins, C. (eds.), 1998. The Ecological History of European Forests. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK.
  • Agnoletti, M., 2000. 'Introduction: Factors and Processes in the History of Forest Resources'. In: Agnoletti, M. and Anderson, S. (eds), Forest History: International Studies on Socio-economic Change. Report No. 2 of the IUFRO Task Force on Environmental Change. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK.
  • MCPFE, 2007. State of Europe's Forests 2007. Jointly prepared by the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe Liaison Unit Warsaw, UNECE and FAO. Available at: [Accessed 23 June 2008]
  • Schelhaas, M-J.; Van Brusselen, J.; Pussinen, A.; Pesonen, E.; Schuck, A.; Nabuurs, G-J. and Sasse, V., 2006. Outlook for the Development of European Forest Resources. A study prepared for the European Forest Sector Outlook Study (EFSOS). Geneva Timber and Forest Discussion Paper 41. United Nations Food Economic Commission for Europe and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ECE/TIM/DP/41. Available at. [Accessed 11 May 2009].


  • MCPFE:
  • European Forest Insititute:

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

Growing stock in forest and other wooded land, classified by forest type and by availability for wood supply, and balance between net annual increment and annual fellings of wood on forest available for wood supply.


ratio fellings to increment (5)
utilisation rate (%)

Policy context and targets

Context description

Growing stock is one of the basic statistics of any forest inventory and useful for various purposes. The standing volume of growing stock can by applying biomass expansion factors be converted into estimates of above and below-ground woody biomass. Data on growing stock, increment and fellings are crucial for the calculation of carbon budgets in the forest sector.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

The balance between increment and fellings highlights the sustainability of timber production over time as well as the current availability and the potential for future availability of timber. For a long-run sustainability the annual fellings must not exceed the net annual increment.

An increase in the growing stock, relative to forest area, is an indication of maturing forests. The balance between the growth and felling in production forests is the best indicator to understand both potential for wood production possibilites, and conditions of biodiversity, health, recreation and other functions of forests. The quality of this indicator with regard to biodiversity would improve considerably if suggestions for improvements (see below) would be implemented.


EU 2020 biodiversity target 3

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:

Growing stock:

The living tree component of the standing volume.
The standing volume refers to the volume of standing trees, living or dead, above-stump measured overbark to top (0 cm). Includes all trees with diameter over 0 cm diameter breast height (d.b.h. -- typically at 130 cm above stump). Includes: tops of stems, large branches, dead trees lying on the ground which can still be used for fibre or fuel. Excludes: Small branches, twigs and foliage. (UNECE/FAO (2000)).

Gross annual increment:

Average annual volume of increment over the reference period of all trees, measured to a minimum d.b.h. of 0 cm. Includes: the increment on trees which have been felled or die during the reference period (UNECE/FAO (2000)).

Net annual increment:

Average annual volume over the given reference period of gross increment less that of natural losses on all trees to a minimum diameter of 0 cm (d.b.h.) (UNECE/FAO (2000)).

Annual fellings:

Average annual standing volume of all trees, living or dead, measured overbark to a minimum diameter of 0 cm (d.b.h.) that are felled during the given reference period, including the volume of trees or parts of trees that are not removed from the forest, other wooded land or other felling site. Includes: silvicultural and pre-commercial thinnings and cleanings left in the forest; and natural losses that are recovered (harvested) (UNECE/FAO (2000)).
Various methods exist in countries to estimate fellings. Fellings are measured from the standing trees, already felled trees, at factory gates, or a combination of techniques. Typically a problem is posed by estimates of fellings for energy and especially the fraction of fellings for domestic firewood. Another issue in some countries is illegal logging and ranges for the volume of illegally felled wood is difficult to assess and with a large error margin.
Combined with forest scenario modelling, it is also possible to create cautious outlooks into the future development of this indicator. Such data are developed under auspices of UN-ECE/FAO as part of its European Forest Sector Outlook Studies (formerly: European Timber Trends Studies).

Measurement units for growing stock:

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

Measurement units for increment and fellings:

Status: m3.
Changes: m3/yr.

Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


  • Growing stock, increment and fellings have only indirect linkages to biodiversity, but these linkages are strong especially when considered relative to the forest area. The balance between fellings and increment is primarily an indicator for long-term sustainability of use of woody forest resources and of forest cover. If fellings are lower than increment - which at present generally is the case in Europe - this indicates that forest volume is increasing and probably also that forests are getting older before felling, both indications to be interpreted as beneficial to forest species adapted to more mature forest stages.
  • The indicator should be interpreted carefully, for example fast-growing non native species, fertilisation etc. may contribute to increase in growing stock, but may also be detrimental to biodiversity.


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

Forest certification was discussed as a possible indicator for sustainable forest management. Although there is a close connection between criteria and indicators and forest certification, i.e. both are promoting sustainable forest management, forest certification was not selected as indicator of area of sustainable managed forest. Certification is a voluntary, market driven tool, an assurance of conformity with a set of agreed standards, and does not suit long-term monitoring of changes in the forest. Moreover, it is restricted to multipurpose and plantation forests. Even non-certified forests could be sustainable managed.

Data sources



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DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala
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