EU Commission Publishes New Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management and Payment Schemes for Forest Ecosystem Services
The European Commission has released two new guidelines as part of the EU Green Deal, focusing on sustainable forest management and payment schemes for forest ecosystem services. The first set of guidelines, known as the “closer-to-nature” guidelines, aim to enhance forest multifunctionality and resilience to climate change, while also promoting long-term economic and societal benefits. The second set of guidelines provides advice on payment schemes that enable land managers, including foresters, to derive monetary benefits from the provision of various ecosystem services.
While wood production remains the primary source of income for forest owners and managers, there is an increasing demand for a wide range of forest ecosystem services. However, financial rewards from these services, such as habitats for biodiversity, water purification, and climate regulation, are currently limited. Forests also play a crucial role in carbon sequestration, cooling, and providing renewable raw materials, food, and medicines. The guidelines aim to address this issue by offering information and advice to public and private entities, as well as forest owners and managers, to develop and implement payment schemes for forest ecosystem services.
Forest management in Europe has led to a decline in structural complexity and species diversity. Approximately one-third of forests consist of a single species, while 50% are limited to only two or three species. Moreover, over 60% of the biomass in European forests is exposed to risks such as fires, pest outbreaks, and wind throws, which negatively impact wood provision, carbon sequestration, and other services. Forests that include multiple tree species, age classes, and life-cycle stages are more resilient and adaptable to climate change, benefiting forest functions, services, and long-term productivity. Closer-to-nature forestry, which promotes more diverse and heterogeneous forests with reduced human intervention, is seen as a more sustainable approach to forest management.
These guidelines are in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the EU Forest Strategy 2030 and have been developed in collaboration with member states and relevant stakeholders.
In Ireland, there has been growing interest in alternative forest management methods that move away from clear-felling and rotational forest management. These alternatives, known as continuous cover forestry (CCF) or close-to-nature forestry, have gained considerable attention in Europe. Currently, CCF accounts for only 1% of forests in Ireland, according to EU figures. However, there is an expectation that the demand for alternatives to clear-felling will increase in the future, driven by initiatives such as the proposed Nature Restoration Law.
The commission highlights that it is relatively straightforward to apply closer-to-nature principles to restore and enhance biodiversity in Ireland’s native oak, yew, and bog forests. Measures and indicators for improving forest biodiversity, including increasing deadwood volume, have been identified and are easily applicable to native and semi-natural forests. However, achieving these goals becomes more challenging in existing production forests, which predominantly consist of non-native conifers planted on former agricultural land. In these cases, the elements of native forest biodiversity are severely limited.
One significant obstacle to the widespread adoption of CCF in Ireland is the country’s windy climate and the fragmented nature of its forest estate. Additionally, much of the forest has been established on peaty or wet mineral soils. The commission suggests that any large-scale implementation of closer-to-nature forestry should focus on achieving structural change during the restock stage while minimizing financial and environmental risks.
These new guidelines from the European Commission provide valuable information and advice for forest owners, managers, and policymakers in Ireland and across Europe. By promoting sustainable forest management and payment schemes for ecosystem services, these guidelines aim to enhance the resilience and multifunctionality of forests while ensuring their long-term economic and societal benefits.