Restoration of deciduous forest in Söderåsen National Park, Sweden
Species-rich broad-leaf deciduous forest, dominated by oak, beech, ash and elm trees, is the natural final succession stage for forest communities in large parts of Central and Western Europe.
For centuries, much of this land has been converted to agricultural areas and more recently, with the development of modern forest industry, most of the remaining natural forests have been heavily affected by forest practices and even replaced by plantations. The latter often involved a shift from deciduous to coniferous trees.
Furthermore, trees of different geographic origins have been moved to new places and alien tree species have been introduced. The total effect is a substantial impact and biodiversity loss in the majority of the forested areas of Europe of today.
Söderåsen National Park, located in Skåne County in southern-most Sweden, harbours one of the largest remaining continuous tracts of species-rich broad-leaf forest in Northern Europe. Although much of the forest has been affected by forestry in the past, the park managers considered it possible to launch a large-scale restoration project soon after the national park was established in 2001.
A main driving force was that a long-term strategy for the preservation of broad-leaf deciduous forests should not only concentrate on the protection of remaining fragments, but should also find ways to remove coniferous plantations and to initiate a process of re-establishment of deciduous forests. The beneficiary had full control of the land-use as the national park is in public ownership, and this had made it possible to test various methods in full-scale, in order to gain experiences of relevance for future work elsewhere.
There is no formal arrangement of partnership for this project, but the strategic importance is demonstrated by the fact that the Swedish Environmental Protection Board has committed to cover 96 % of the national co-finance to the project.
Testing and implementing innovative methods
Launched in 2002, the project has tested out various restoration methods to stop the decline of forest habitats. Various actions, such as removal of spruce plantations, spruce undergrowth in existing deciduous forests and soil scarification were done in order to enhance the conditions for regeneration of deciduous trees as was the planting and the preparation of oak-acorns and beech-nuts for sowing.
It is expected that by the end of the project the declining trend will have been reversed towards a more favourable conservation status on 1070 hectares, or around two thirds of the total area of the national park. The main habitats to benefit are beech forests, but also alluvial forests etc., although the expected final results in terms of an enhanced conservation status is a long-term objective that might be achieved not until 20-30 years from now.
One challenge has been to avoid damage on the ground during the restoration work, and for this purpose various environment-friendly methods have been tested as alternatives to the machinery mostly used in forestry. This has included the use of horses instead of tractors and other machines, and also the engagement of a local race of pigs, "Linderöd Pigs", for the soil scarification. This relates to the local historical tradition, still in use in the 1930s, to keep pigs grazing the nutrient-rich nuts.
Thus, useful experience for the restoration of broad-leaf deciduous forest habitats have been gained during the initial years of operation, although the conclusion is that modifications of light-weight machines already available on the market are more time and cost-effective than relating to old-time traditional methods, without any loss of the expected nature conservation benefit.
With the restoration methods now tested useful tools in order to enhance the conservation status various species suffering from the decline of natural deciduous forests. These include some 63 rare insects, 22 bryophytes and 36 mushrooms as well as breeding bird fauna such as Red Kite Milvus milvus, Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva and Black Woodpecker Dryocopos martius.
The project has already attracted much attention with reference to its demonstrative value and potential incentive impact. Study visits have been done by scientists, students, site managers and administrators from various parts of Sweden as well as from several other European countries including Denmark, Germany, Poland, Estonia and Lithuania.
The national park also attracts a lot of interest from the general public; with 100,000-200,000 visitors per year there is a potential to promote Natura 2000 and the multifunctionality of forests, not just in terms of production but also in terms of amenity value.
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