Forest growth

  • Forests need metabolism to maintain and increase the ability of storing CO2. Because young, active trees absorb yet more CO2 than the mature trees, which should be harvested and replaced sustainably.
  • Europe’s forests are growing by 0.8 million ha a year. In the last 20 years they have grown by 16 million ha – an area roughly twice the size of Ireland. The wood used in construction in Europe comes from sustainably managed forests, as only about 2/3 of Europe’s forests’ annual growth is harvested.
  • Widely using wood and prosperous markets are important drives to forest growth under regulations and management.

The role of wood products in supporting forests

Contrary to the commonly held belief that there is a direct causal link between using wood and the destruction of forests, increasing the use of wood makes a positive contribution to maintaining and increasing forests.

Clearly there is a distinction to be made between tropical or sub-tropical forests and temperate forests. In the former, tropical forest cover is indeed being reduced, for a number of reasons linked to population growth, poverty and institutional deficiencies. However, increasing wood use is not a contributory factor. On the contrary, it creates a market value for the forests which is a powerful incentive to preserve them.

As far as temperate, and more especially European forests, are concerned, the situation is completely different. Europe’s forest cover is increasing by 800 000 ha every year since 1990 and only 64% of annual growth is harvested: the amount of wood available in Europe is growing continuously, as a result of under-harvest on the one hand, and the increase in forest cover on the other.

In Europe (even without Russia), the standing volume of forest is growing by 700 million m³ every year, almost the equivalent of the wood needed for a single family wooden house every second. This means that very little needs to be imported into Europe, with over 97% of softwood, and over 90% of all wood used in Europe being sourced from European forests.

The European forest-based sector is well aware that its own future is linked to the future of its forests. This, together with regulations requiring the reforestation of harvested trees and the development of certification schemes, gives the stability needed in order for the forests to continue to thrive. A forest’s survival depends, broadly speaking, on its value to the local community.

As was noted during the Earth Summit of Rio in 1992, conserving tropical forests is more often considered by the countries concerned as an obstacle to their own development than an ecological necessity. In providing energy, arable or pasture land, or simply more space, deforestation is frequently seen as a solution rather than a problem.

Developing a market for wood helps owners and governments to see forests in a different way, recognizing their contribution to local and national economies. As soon as the prosperity of a local community is seen to be associated with the presence of a forest, the principles of sustainable management begin to be respected.

The global context

Globally, forests are an immense resource, accounting for 31% of the Earth’s total land base. Although European forests, excluding Russia, account for just 5% of that area, they are the most intensively managed in the world. They provide for over 25% of the current global industrial roundwood removals, wood-based-panels, paper and paperboard. Despite the increasing demand for forest resources, the EU has become a net exporter of forest products, while at the same time expanding Europe’s forests.

Europe’s forest cover

Europe has 1,005 million ha of forest spread over 46 countries, equivalent to 25% of the global forest and to 1.4 ha (more than two football pitches) per capita. Although the Russian Federation accounts for over 80% of this forest area, EU forest cover averages 45% per country while EU 27 countries have average forest cover of 37.6 % , amounting to 157 million ha of forest.

Europe’s forest growth

In all European regions, forest area has increased since 1990. Europe is the only region to have a positive net change in forest area for the past 20 years. Europe gained 5.1 million ha of forest and other forest land since 2005 and 16.69 million ha since 1990. The total standing volume in Europe in 2010 amounted to 96 252 of which 21 750 million cubic metres in EU 27 countries.

Sustainable forest management

For Europe, the concept of sustainable forest management was defined in 1993 at the pan-European Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe as: ‘The stewardship and use of forest lands in a way and at a rate that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil now and in the future relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.’

Reliable information and careful planning are important for sustainable forest management. The work of organisations such the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) in the field of forestry planning and statistics provides information and tools to assist forest management and forestry policies. Forests in Europe are increasingly being managed as ecosystems, taking into account both economic benefits and environmental values.

Sustainable forest management (SFM) takes into consideration various pressures and demands, both environmental and societal, such as: climate change, air impurities, land use changes, protection, biodiversity certification, timber production, water resources.


The European forest industry recognises that its future is inextricably linked to the protection and expansion of its forests. This couples with strong and effectively enforced laws and ensures that more trees are planted than harvested.

All European countries have policies and practices requiring reforestation. Although the number of trees planted per hectare will vary depending upon the species and site, it will always be more than the number cut in order to allow for natural losses and for the forest to be well stocked.

A variety of approaches

Due to the wide variety of historical, demographic, economic, climatic, and ecological circumstances, different management and regeneration methods are used across Europe – from large-scale regeneration felling in uniform coniferous monocultures, to group or even single tree selection systems in mixed or broadleaved forests.

Protected forest

Nearly 12% of the forest area is set aside to conserve forest biological and landscape diversity. Of this, more than 1.6 million ha are strict forest reserves. There are large tracts of protected forests in Northern and Eastern Europe with little human intervention, which are actively managed for biodiversity. 85-90% of the European forest serves multi-functional purposes and also helps to protect the soil, water, and other ecosystem functions.