Forest management: Plotting the future of forestry
A new European-wide project has been launched to analyse issues such as forest management, governance and ownership
Forests cover 159m hectares or 37pc of Europe's land area. These forests are a major natural resource with multiple ecological, economic and social functions, and they provide a multitude of forest products.
Europe's forest-based industries employ between four and five million people, and support around 600,000 enterprises with a combined turnover of about €550bn. And the likelihood is that these output and employment figures are set to grow significantly as demand for wood increases.
Demand for solid wood in its known current forms is steadily increasing, as evidenced by timber prices remaining strong even during the worst periods of the current recession; and demand for new chemical uses of wood are expected to emerge and gain momentum.
It is anticipated that the highest growth rate will be in bioenergy as wood is to play a critical role in Europe's future renewable energy supply.
Increased demand is expected to lead to scarcity of supply, yet it is well known that there are significant reserves of unused wood in European forests. Most of this is 'locked' in forests that belong to private owners.
While historically Europe has a strong tradition of private forest ownership, this pattern is changing, with a new generation of forest owners adopting a more urban lifestyle and often ignoring the economic potential of their forestry assets.
The challenges in Ireland are similar but result from different root causes. Here, there is little tradition of private forest ownership, and forestry is an entirely new venture to the great majority of owners.
Accordingly, as a sector, private owners suffer from limited knowledge of forest management, and here too the demographic is changing as a majority of private owners are aged 65 or older.