Over the past 200 years, Europe's forests have been on the 'comeback' trail. Today, forests and other wooded lands cover some 40% of the European Union’s landmass.
They are remarkable ecosystems, a precious natural resource and a source of income and wealth. Forests capture and store carbon, prevent soil erosion, protect us from floods and landslides, provide habitats for plants and animals, and support leisure and recreation – as well as providing timber and other forest products. However, forests are under pressure. Storms, fires and pests are expected to damage forests more frequently and more intensely as a result of climate change.
Unsustainable management practices have resulted in habitat and biodiversity loss. And continued high nitrogen depositions are a concern.
In order to continue providing European citizens with their wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits, but also to protect them and keep them in good condition, it is crucial that our forests are managed sustainably – and this requires improving our knowledge. Knowing how forest tree species are distributed across the EU is vital for making decisions about forest management, the protection of areas of high nature value, the selection of species for afforestation and the measures for adapting to climate change.
This Atlas of Forest Tree Species of Europe is the first report to compile and make this essential information available to forest managers, researchers, citizens and policy makers.
An enormous amount of work has gone into creating this Atlas, involving collaborations with national forest services, research organisations, universities and international institutions dealing with the many different aspects of forest life; the botanical sciences, soils, biodiversity, vegetation and pests for example.
I believe that this Atlas of Forest Tree Species of Europe will soon become an important reference text for this rich European resource. By learning more about our trees and forests, we can truly appreciate their critical role in our environment, our economies and our lives.
This article first appeared as the preface to the European Atlas of Forest Tree Species, co-signed with European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics.