These forests, home to the continent’s largest surviving carnivores and offering ecosystem services, were in danger of fragmentation, the body said
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) called on multiple stakeholders, including the European Union (EU), to save Europe’s last old-growth forests.
The whole of Europe must act now to preserve the forests and the wildlife and people that depend on them, WWF Central and Eastern Europe noted in a statement March 3, 2021 that is celebrated globally as ‘World Wildlife Day’.
Finding ways to ensure that Central and Eastern Europe’s old-growth (OGF) and other natural forests remain intact must be a key element of the EU Green Deal, the statement added.
The organisation called on national and local authorities, the European Commission and the private sector to:
1. Develop and promote sustainable compensation mechanisms (including payments for ecosystem services schemes) for owners of OGF covered by national, European and private sector funds as both the public and companies were beneficiaries of forest ecosystem services.
2. Accelerate the process to include identified old-growth forests in the “National Virgin and Quasi-Virgin Forest Catalogue” in Romania, and grant such areas in Ukraine and Slovakia official protected status by regional and / or national governing bodies.
3. Develop forest-based local green business and investment schemes to support sustainable development and the well-being of local communities owning such forests and living from the use of this natural resource.
4. Identify and promote better alternatives to firewood for heating in rural and remote areas where these alternatives usually do not exist, aiming at reducing the pressures on these forests. This is particularly relevant for Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
The largest areas of surviving OGF and forest habitats in Europe (outside of Russia) were found primarily in Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Bulgaria, the statement noted.
They were home to Europe’s largest surviving large carnivore populations, as well as thousands of other species of flora and fauna.
These forests rendered important ecosystem services such as filtering and storing freshwater to regulating the climate and were thus are essential to people and to the economy.
WWF said Central and Eastern Europe were experiencing increasing pressure on forests from both unsustainable legal and illegal logging, as well as the impacts of climate change.
The fragmentation and destruction of forest habitats meant that both animals and disease vectors were inadvertently coming into more frequent contact and conflict with humans.
To date, 350,000 hectares (ha) of old-growth and virgin forests had been identified in Central and Southeastern Europe. Of these, only 280,000 ha were legally protected.
The remaining unprotected old-growth forests were at risk of being felled due to a deficiency in legal and economic incentives not to log them, while those already under protection were facing pressures to be harvested as well.
“The effort to preserve our European natural heritage must be supported by all Europe and equally shared by all beneficiaries of their services, not only by the countries that host them,” the statement said.
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