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collopa Aug 22, 2014 11:18 AM
Thank you for your effort to define a High Nature Value of European forests as part of the study on forest naturalness, but as almost all forests in Europe are no longer primary or even secondary forests - how can we define indicators valid across Europe while only ~ 4% of the European forests can be considered as natural?
The purpose of the HNV concept seems to be designed "to better safeguard natural and semi-natural areas supporting great diversity of species and habitats". Yet most European forests are replanted ones by mankind, so what could we measure in terms of indication of naturalness (1st what do we understand by "naturalness")?
As I understand the report the focus seems to be more on forestry activities in Europe, which can also have negative impacts on biodiversity as unsustainable forest operations can lead to forest degradation and loss of biodiversity. The HNV indicator is defined by IEEP as an HNV for farmland process, to also target: "all natural forests and those semi-natural forests in Europe, where the management (historical or present) supports a high diversity of native species and habitats."
That means 4% (at best) as natural forests, thus an inventory of the biodiversity of those forests should be done to base the HNV criteria upon. The report assimilates also semi-natural forests (still to be clearly defined) as included. The report also states:" If only one or a limited number of indicators are used, erroneous conclusions may be drawn". Yet the assessment of HNV is based on 5 indicators: "naturalness (still to be defined); the degree of human influence on the ecosystem; accessibility (expressed by the steepness of terrain and thus how accessible the forest is for management); growing stock (the volume of living trees); connectivity (forest availability and distance between patches of forests i.e. the extent to which the landscape facilitates or impedes the movement of species)."

The criteria include: "rare or threatened species, endemic species"; what is the definition in this context of endemic species for forest semi-natural? How can we be sure that the species have not been imported with planted trees 4/5 centuries ago and as then have disappeared in the rest of Europe?
Thank you in advance for clarifying these points for me.
Replies (4)
EEA Sep 04, 2014 07:28 AM
Still awaiting input to your questions from our relevant experts. Hope to be able to provide answers very soon.
EEA Sep 09, 2014 12:44 PM
Hi again,
The purpose of our study is in fact not to define natural forests but instead to assess the level of naturalness. Under this perspective European forests cover all the ranges between forests with very limited naturalness (i.e.: forest plantations) and very natural forests (old-growth forests).

Naturalness can be considered as a gradient, ranking from the extreme of absolutely natural to the opposite, absolutely artificial. In our approach naturalness can be considered synonymous with biological integrity. That can measured as the similarity of a current ecosystem state to its natural state.

Your third question requires multiple clarifications:
1) It is important to not create confusion between biodiversity an naturalness. From Box 1.3 at page 17 of the report: The concepts of naturalness and biodiversity are sometimes misinterpreted. If naturalness can be defined as 'the similarity of a current ecosystem state to its natural state' (Winter, 2012), biodiversity can be defined as 'the diversity of life in all its forms and all its levels of organization' (Hunter, 1990). Confusion arises between the two concepts because some virgin forest ecosystems (with high naturalness) also harbour a large amount of biodiversity. But this is not always the case: a pristine forest habitat located in environments affected by strong limiting factors (extreme cold or drought, poor soils, etc.) may still have very high level of naturalness, even if it is usually characterised by a limited number of life forms, and thus has a lower level of biodiversity.
So naturalness and biodiversity are not correlated in all forest ecosystems.
Both naturalness and biodiversity are complex concepts that should be monitored through the use of several indicators. If only one or a limited number of indicators are used, erroneous conclusions may be drawn. For example, one commonly used indicator of forest biodiversity is the number of tree species; it is based on information routinely acquired through NFIs.
Old-growth beech forests (with a very high level of naturalness) are frequently characterised by almost pure stands, while an artificial plantation (very limited naturalness), for example, can be created with a mixture of several tree species. If one measures biodiversity only in terms of number of tree species, the plantation appears to have more biodiversity than the old-growth forest!
Since biodiversity loss is mainly caused by a loss of naturalness of ecosystems (Hunter, 1990), it is essential to include naturalness in monitoring programmes, in order to support sustainable forest management and conservation planning.
Finally, a biodiversity indicator can be used as part of a multicriteria approach for monitoring naturalness.

2) The concept of “semi-natural forests” is vague, we agree. But unfortunately that is already included in many forest monitoring efforts such as the Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) (FAO, 2010) and the State of Europe's Forests (Forest Europe, UNECE and FAO, 2011). See the Table 1.2 of that report.

3) The problem of defining which species is natural in which area of the world is very old in the scientific community (mainly within botanists). Several maps and studies exist in Europe. In our study we suggest to refer to this map in order to identify potential natural vegetation (and related species): Bohn, U., Gollub, G., Hettwer, C., Weber, H., Neuhäuslová, Z., Raus, T. and Schlüter, H., 2004, 'Interactive CD-Rom Map of the Natural Vegetation of Europe. Version 2.0', in: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation ( accessed 19 March 2014.

Hopefully this clarifies.

collopa Sep 11, 2014 10:07 AM
Hi many thanks for your explanation, but I am still uneasy with the term "naturalness" which I have difficulties to grasp totally and by the fact that I don't see the need for creating a new word while the classification of forests in primary, secondary and tertiary forests is well known and express most of the distinctions you are referring to in the report and in your response. Take (as example) the Landes Forest in the SW of France. If based on the visual indication of endemic patches of forest primarily composed of maritime pines, the large Landes' forest has been created to fix sand dunes and dry up the swamps and marshes infested with Malaria mosquitos. The 1857 regulation forces regional authorities to plant trees and tests (1786 to 1800) showed the Maritime Pine was the best bet. Thus the implementing rule was published and so the Landes' Forest was created. Some diversity in the tree regrowth was allowed, but it is made primarily of maritime pine trees, which were further used industrially (still are), thus what is the level of naturalness of this particular example? Can we indeed speak about naturalness in this case or should it be more classified as an old plantation? I take the example of the Landes' Forest, but it is representatice of at least many other forests in western Europe.
Thank you for your feedback
EEA Sep 12, 2014 09:12 AM
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