Afforestation of mountain areas can be counterproductive for the conservation of habitats and species, as pointed out by the European Commission in its recently published guidelines for Biodiversity-Friendly Afforestation, Reforestation and Tree Planting aimed at public and private actors in the forest sector.
The guidelines stem from the new EU Forest Strategy, which was adopted in 2021 and aims to plant 3 billion trees by 2030. They include assessing the target habitat, planting native or locally adapted species, and taking into account the impact of climate change, for example by promoting the planting of mixed species to make forests more resilient to extreme climate events such as fire or drought.
Euromontana welcomes the approach taken in these guidelines, which favour a place-based approach to afforestation and recognise its detrimental effects in certain local contexts. In particular, the document mentions that abandoned mountain areas are not suitable for afforestation, which would be at the expense of non-forest biodiversity in open landscapes. The Commission also notes that afforestation should be avoided on grasslands, wetlands, some Natura 2000 areas and areas that provide ecosystem services, which are common in mountainous areas.
Euromontana had warned against indiscriminate afforestation of mountain areas in its public position on the 2030 Forest Strategy, as well as following the adoption by the European Parliament of a report calling for afforestation and reforestation “especially on abandoned land that is not suitable for food production, close to urban and peri-urban areas as well as in mountainous areas, where appropriate”.
These balanced recommendations, adapted to different areas and landscapes, are therefore crucial, as is the awareness of the multifunctional use of forests. Although they are not binding, Euromontana calls on Member States to integrate these guidelines into their national recommendations and encourages forest stakeholders to respect them in order to avoid negative impacts on local ecosystems and, where appropriate, to promote more resilient forests in the face of climate change.25 April 2023