Forests are not weathering the storm
European forests are more susceptible to storm damage than ever before, according to research led by the British Forestry Commission.
With an average of two destructive storms each year, wind causes more than 50% of all damage to European forests.
Barry Gardiner, Programme Group Manager in Forest Research, based in Midlothian, UK, has been tracking storm damage since joining the Forestry Commission in 1987. He recently led a European Forest Institute project that involved eight different countries and catalogued all storms that have occurred in Europe since the early 1950s. It was noticed that although they have been occurring at frequent intervals, the severity of damage has increased and it is predicted to continue to do so throughout the century.
Gardiner points out that, up to now, the increase has not been caused by climate change. ‘There is just more forest to be damaged,’ he says. ‘The volume of trees in Europe is increasing each year because we are not actually using as much timber as is growing. Taking this into account, along with changing wind climate, by the end of the century, we estimate there to be two to four times as much damage in European forests as now. That’s quite a lot more timber on the ground.’
With the cost of extracting and salvaging material, every storm that wreaks havoc on a forest means lost earnings. However, damage can be mitigated by simple measures, such as regular and light tree thinning. ‘However, people are so busy and before you know it, six or seven years have gone by. Thinning takes place too late and the trees are left vulnerable – you can be sure that the year after there’ll be a big storm and the trees will not have had a chance to adapt,’ notes Gardiner.
As a result, he has been developing risk models that predict the probability of wind damage and are designed to help foresters look at how risk changes with time as the trees grow, as well as the implications of thinning the forest and managing it in different ways.
He points out that though adequate forest management skills and knowledge exist, more cohesion between European countries would be beneficial. He highlights ways in which British forest management already factors in risk, and says that he has been working with colleagues in France to share the expertise and help them map potential wind damage into their management plans.
In the report, Past and Future Impacts of Storms to European Forests, due to be published, Gardiner and his colleagues recommend a range of practice and policy measures that the European Commission could adopt as a way of sharing forest management techniques between member states. The report explores factors such as how to best match up supply and demand after a storm and translating manuals into different languages.