Knowledge for policy
Publication 9 July 2020

Recent and abrupt increase in forest harvesting in Europe

Science for Policy Brief

Key messages

A new study (Ceccherini et al., 2020) reported a
recent and abrupt increase in the forest area and
biomass harvested in the EU

Fifteen years of high-resolution satellite observations revealed a large increase (+49%) of the area of forest harvested with clear-cuts in Europe in recent years (2016-2018), relative to the period 2011-2015. When associated with a biomass map, this increase in area corresponds to a 69% increase in biomass harvested during the same period. These trends are mostly due to an intensification of management, since salvage logging after forest fires and windstorms is factored out.

Where, how and which forests are harvested
About 80% of the increase in the EU forest harvested area with clear-cuts in 2016-2018 is located in seven Member States: Sweden (29%), Finland (22%), Poland (9%), France (6%), Latvia (4%), Germany (4%) and Spain (4%). Harvesting occurs mostly in large patches (i.e. greater than 7.2 hectares). Overall, the patch size has recently increased by 34% across the EU. Needleleaf forests account for half of the total EU harvest and the recent increase in harvest rates.

Drivers of change
The possible drivers of the current increase in the forest harvested area and biomass include:
1) the growing share of forests used for wood production which are reaching harvesting maturity, 2) an increase in the forest area affected by unaccounted natural disturbances (e.g. bark-beetle outbreaks), and 3) the recent expansion of the wood markets, as shown by econometric indicators on forestry, woodbased economy and international trade. According to our analysis, socio-economic and political factors are likely the most probable drivers, even if a causal connection is difficult to prove and quantify.