Forests are responsible for a range of ecosystem services which are imperative for our health and well-being, as well as for the health of our planet.

Europe is among the most forested regions of the world – around 40% of its land area is covered by forests. Because of its extent and relatively extensive management compared to other land types, forests play an essential role in Europe’s nature, hosting most of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and fungi native to Europe.

Forests offer numerous benefits:

  • Climate regulation: They act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and helping to combat climate change.
  • Water source: Forests provide clean water and aid in regulating water cycles.
  • Renewable resources: They offer materials that can be sustainably used.
  • Natural disaster mitigation: Forests decrease the risks of landslides and floods.
  • Supporting agriculture: They contribute to maintaining conditions necessary for farming, enhancing food security.
  • Environmental stability: Forests stabilize soil, prevent erosion, and moderate temperatures.
  • Ecosystem services: They provide various services such as protection, recreation, and contribute to combating climate change.
  • Economic contribution: Forests are vital for national economies and create employment opportunities.

In recent years, forests have undergone significant changes. They face various challenges that affect how they work and their ability to provide different benefits to nature and people. Although forests in Europe are getting healthier in some ways, many of them remain at risk due to issues like pollution in the air and water, loss of habitats and diverse wildlife, and the growth of cities into forested areas.

With ever-increasing demands for biomass, forests are projected to come under further ecological strain, necessitating a holistic policy framework and robust governance.

The official definition of forest land is “land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than five meters and a canopy cover of more than 10%, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not include land predominantly under agricultural or urban land use.”

  • Forests and other wooded areas cover around 40% of the European land surface.
  • Populations of common forest bird species are generally stable – a good indicator of the health of European forests.
  • Protected forests prevent soil erosion, preserve water resources, and maintain other ecosystem services — they form one-quarter of Europe’s forests.
  • An increasing amount of Europe’s forests are damaged, mainly by wind, insects, disease and forest fires.
  • The forest sector contributes to about 0.7% of the GDP in Europe. 25% of people depend on forests for subsistence and income. Today, there are more than 2.6 million employees in the forest sector, but revenue in forestry is volatile.
  • Renewable energy from wood covers about 6.4% of total energy consumption.
  • 70% of forests and other wooded land are available for public recreation — offering a green oasis for Europeans.

The EU forest strategy for 2030 is one of the flagship initiatives of the European Green Deal. The strategy sets a vision and concrete actions to improve the quantity and quality of EU forests and strengthen their protection, restoration and resilience. It aims to adapt Europe’s forests to the new conditions, weather extremes and high uncertainty brought about by climate change.

The EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 commits to planting at least three billion additional trees in the EU by 2030, in full respect of ecological principles: the appropriate tree species in forests, agricultural areas, urban and peri-urban areas and along infrastructure corridors. The EU nature restoration law is a key element of the EU biodiversity strategy.

Again, under the European Green Deal and the Fit For 55 Package, forests are expected to deliver 310 MtCO2 removals to the LULUCF sector (land use, land use change and forestry) by 2030 towards the EU 2030 target and contribute with more removals towards 2050 to help the EU become climate neutral by 2050.

To preserve forests and their biodiversity, forest species and habitats are protected by nature and biodiversity legislation such as the nature restoration law and, the birds and habitats directives. Species and habitats are monitored to evaluate the conservation status of sites, the impacts of pressures, and measures to restore ecosystems.

Natura 2000 represents the largest coordinated network of nature conservation areas in the world. 18% of the EU’s land area and more than 8% of its marine territory is part of Natura 2000. Half of the Natura 2000 network comprises forests.

Biomass and forests

Biomass is a renewable resource, but it is not infinite. Its supply depends on natural growth rates.

In the case of forests in particular, biomass regrowth requires several years and is not guaranteed, especially under a changing climate.

This means that it is critical to harvest it at a sustainable rate that allows for regeneration.

Biomass harvesting should not exceed the natural growth rate needed to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem structure,functioning and productivity.

Picture of a truck carrying large tree logs descending down a road into a green forest.

Forests help us fight climate change

Forests play an important role both in climate change mitigation and in climate change adaptation. Europe's forests are an essential carbon sink, capturing emissions. EU forests currently absorb around 10% of the total EU emissions.

At the same time, forests have an innate ability to regenerate and adapt to damages, disturbances and weather impacts — this ability makes them a great ally in facing the damaging effects of climate change.

Healthy forests, ready for climate change impacts?

Forest ecosystems play a vital role in supporting biodiversity and provide many benefits to our own well-being, helping to provide clean air and water, regulating weather extremes as well as providing recreation. However, forests are trying to cope with dramatic changes over past decades which have left them more vulnerable to disease, pests and biodiversity loss.

The EEA two briefings: ‘European forest ecosystems: key allies in sustainable development‘ and ‘How are European forest ecosystems doing?’ give the latest state and trends on how European forests are doing. They also provide an explanation of EU efforts to improve forest ecosystem resilience.

Image of a green sprouting tree in the centre of large tree logs in a forest setting.

How can Copernicus help?

The European Union has passed a number of ambitious and binding policies such as the Biodiversity Strategy, the Forest Strategy, the LULUCF Regulation, and the EU Timber Regulation, all of which aim to halt deforestation and promote protection and restoration of European forests. Each of these regulations include strict and specific targets, and as a result, the need for accurate and large-scale forest monitoring is higher than ever.

The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service offers several different products that contain information on forests and tree cover. Tree Cover Density (TCD) provides information on the percentage of tree cover in a given area. Dominant Leaf Type (DLT) is produced in parallel with Tree Cover Density and allows users to identify and track changes in the dominant leaf type of all European tree cover. The Forest Type product is derived from the TCD and DLT products and together, these represent some of the best publicly available data on tree cover monitoring data in the world.

Discover Europe's forests

The Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) is the entry point for sharing information with the forest
community on Europe's forest environment, its state and development.

A walk in the woods

Forests support human well-being by providing space for rest, relaxation and exercise. The health benefits of green spaces are well recognised for children, whose physical and mental development is enhanced by living, playing and learning in green environments.

The elderly also benefit significantly from visiting green and blue spaces, through improved physical health and social well-being, while nature-based education and play can help children develop their motor skills.

In contrast, studies suggest that young people and children with relatively low exposure to green space are more likely to have poorer eyesight, suffer from obesity and be exposed to oxidative stress.

Picture of two people sitting on chairs under a large tree and gazing at a clear yellow-green lake in a green forest setting.

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