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Europe and the former USSR1,2

1 This section covers the region of Europe and the area of the former USSR. The following breakdown has been used:

Nordic countries:

Finland (SF), Iceland (IS), Norway (NO), Sweden (SE)


Belgium (BE), Denmark (DK), France (FR), Germany (DE), Greece (GR), Ireland (IR), Italy (IT), Luxembourg (LU), The Netherlands (NL), Portugal (PT), Spain (ES), United Kingdom (GB)

EU (15):

EU (12) plus Austria, Finland and Sweden

Central Europe:

Austria (AT), Switzerland (CH)

Eastern Europe:

Bulgaria (BG), Czech Republic (CZ), Hungary (HU), Poland (PL), Romania (RO), Slovakia (SK)

S.E. Europe:

Albania (AL), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BA), Croatia (HR), Macedonia (MK), Malta (MT), Slovenia (SI), Turkey (TU), Yugoslavia (YU)

Baltic States:

Estonia (EE), Latvia (LV), Lithuania (LT) former USSR: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan plus the Baltic States

2 Unless otherwise stated, all data on forest cover and forest products cited are from UN-ECE/FAO databases.


Forest resources

Europe has nearly 215 million ha of forest and other wooded land,3 which together account for nearly 30 percent of the land area of Europe. Forests alone cover 162 million ha. Forests and other wooded land are unequally distributed between countries within the region. Their cover is well above average in the Nordic and Baltic countries and in Central Europe, and below average in southern Europe and in some densely populated northwestern areas, such as the UK and The Netherlands. Other wooded land is located mostly around the Mediterranean (e.g., maquis and garrigue) and in harsh boreal climates.

3 'Other wooded land' (OWL) Is wooded land which has some forestry characteristics but is not defined as forest: it Includes open woodland and scrub, notably in the Mediterranean region.

Europe's forest area is fairly stable. A slight net increase occurred between 1990 and 1995 as losses to other land uses, notably urban development and infrastructure, were more than offset by afforestation and natural regeneration, chiefly on former agricultural land.

Forest resources development and conservation

Almost all of Europe's forest is managed, although with widely differing management objectives and intensity. Eighty-five percent of Europe's forest area is considered 'exploitable', i.e. with no legal, technical or economic restrictions on wood production (see Table 1). 'Exploitable forests' are rarely managed only for wood production as non-wood goods and services are normally also supplied from this type of forest. About two-thirds of Europe's exploitable forest are in the EU(15). There is about one-third of a hectare of forest per person, but rather less in the EU(12) and Eastern Europe, and considerably more in the Nordic countries, where there is more than 3 ha per person, and nearly 1 ha in the Baltic countries. In the Nordic countries and southeast Europe, the area of exploitable forest has dropped slightly as areas have been taken out of wood production and classified for other uses, such as for nature conservation (see Table 2).

Slightly less than one-half of Europe's forest land is in private hands. In part these belong to large traditional family holdings, or the forest industries, but in many countries there are thousands, even millions, of owners with very small holdings. Whereas in a number of countries, forestry traditions, public support, and cooperative arrangements and extension services, enable these owners to manage their forests intensively and rationally, elsewhere many holdings are badly managed or not managed at all, especially where the estate has been broken up by succession and owners have left the country for the cities.

Stocking level (growing stock per hectare) is determined both by ecological conditions and by management choices. Since the 1950s, fellings have consistently been less than forest growth (net annual increment), enabling European forests to supply ever greater quantities of wood while simultaneously increasing the growing stock of forest capital. On average there are 140 m3/ha, for a total growing stock in Europe of 22.6 billion m3, but stocking is lower in the Nordic countries (see Table 3). In Germany and neighbouring countries, growing stock has been allowed to build up to very high levels, sometimes more than 300 m3/ha. Of a net annual increment exceeding 700 million m3, about 60 percent is felled, leading to a steady build-up of growing stock. Only in southeast Europe are fellings greater than the net annual increment, due to pressure from grazing, fuelwood demand and removals forced by forest fires.

Table 1
Forest area, 1995

forest and other wooded land

total forest area

exploitable forest area

other wooded land

forest cover

million ha

million ha

million ha

million ha


Nordic countries












Central Europe






Eastern Europe






southeast Europe






Baltic States












Table 2
Changes in the forest resource, 1990-95

forest and other wooded land

total forest area

exploitable forest area

other wooded land

million ha

million ha

million ha

million ha

Nordic countries






+ 1.7




Central Europe





Eastern Europe





southeast Europe

+ 1.0


- 1.0

+ 1.0

Baltic States










Two main threats to European forests are fire and pollution. In southern Europe, hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest4 are destroyed by fire every year, effectively preventing sustainable forest management in many regions as forests are unable to achieve maturity.

4 An average of 0.6 million ha of forest per year have been destroyed by fire over the last decade, with large year-to-year variations.

In some areas, most notably north-central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, eastern Germany), pollution has caused considerable forest damage. This is, however, a local or regional phenomenon. The more widespread foliage loss since the early 1980s has more complex causes, of which pollution is probably only one. Much is still unknown about the relationship between pollution, climate and site characteristics. The annual survey of forest condition5 carried out under the auspices of UN-ECE and the EU found in 1995 that, of the trees assessed, significant defoliation had occurred on more than one-quarter of the total sample. Although improvements of forest condition were reported from certain locations, overall forest damage seems to be increasing on a regional level. National reports indicated various causes of deteriorating forest condition: drought and heat had a particularly high impact, but pest infestation, human activities, game and grazing were also factors. Air pollution is considered to be the direct cause of forest decline in some areas, particularly central Europe, but in most cases it is an indirect factor, predisposing trees to damage from other elements, such as pest and disease.

5 Forest Condition in Europe, published by the UN Economic Commission for Europe and the European Commission, under the auspices of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.

Table 3
Growing stock, increment and fellings in 1995; and change from 1990

growing stock (1995)

change (1990-95)

net annual increment

change (1990-95)

fellings (1995)

change (1990-95)

million m3

million m3

million m3

million m3

million m3


Nordic countries

5 641







7 321






Central Europe

1 460






Eastern Europe

4 781






southeast Europe

2 272






Baltic States

1 127







22 601

+1 351





a The 1990 fellings were exceptionally high due to the hurricane which blew down over 100 million m3 of wood in that year, accounting for the steep drop in fellings between 1990 and 1995 in some countries.

Table 4
Key forest ratios, 1995

forest and OWL per caput

growing stock/ha


fellings as percent of increment





Nordic countries










Central Europe





Eastern Europe





southeast Europe





Baltic States










Continuing damage from storms (more than 100 million m3 blown down in 1990) and insects (e.g. the regular cycle of infestation of Polish forests by the nun moth Lymantria monacha) are also significant factors in forest condition.

Forest products

After the very weak or negative growth of the early 1990s, there was strong demand for most forest products in Europe in 1994 and the first half of 1995. This was marked by high prices for all products, particularly pulp, which almost reached the psychologically significant level of US$ 1 000/tonne in the spring/summer of 1995. Consumption of some panels, notably medium density fibreboard (MDF) and oriented strand board (OSB) which compete strongly with other forest products on grounds of both performance and price, rose sharply. Rapid capacity expansion followed the strong growth in consumption, and eventually led to an over-supplied market. A weakening of demand in mid-1995, combined with destocking, resulted in steep price falls in many sectors, and to cutbacks in production. The globalization of forest products markets became increasingly apparent, as developments in the USA,

Canada, Southeast Asia, Brazil and Russia all directly (and rather rapidly) affected European forest products markets. Increasing concern was voiced about apparently increasing volatility and cyclicality of markets, notably for pulp, but also for newsprint, sawnwood and some panels. Stock cycles and capacity not adapted to real demand, as well as poor communications between buyers and sellers have been identified as aggravating factors.

Forest policy and institutions6 Probably the most striking recent development is the number of countries which have undertaken or are carrying out a fundamental review and reappraisal of their national forestry legislation and policies. Many are doing so in the light of the new priorities identified during the widespread debate on sustainable forest management and articulated in many international fora, notably UNCED and the Helsinki Ministerial Conference. Many countries are carrying out a review of policy and drawing up or endorsing 'strategies' 'new policy concepts' or 'plans'.7 Most of these are concerned with giving the proper weight to environmental and social functions of forests and setting up effective and efficient systems for consultation and implementation. Efforts are being made to ensure harmonization of strategies between national and regional strategies.

6 The Information provided in this section was synthesized from 22 national reports submitted to the joint session of the FAO European Forestry Commission and the UN-ECE Timber Committee held in September 1996

7 CZ, DK, EE, SF, DE, IR, NO, SK, SI, SE, GB.

These processes were also reflected in forestry legislation. New forest laws have been approved in the last few years in ten countries8. In many cases the forest laws are part of a 'package' with linked sectors, notably land use, nature/biological diversity conservation and hunting - a welcome sign of the integration of policy-making processes. A major factor has also been the need to adapt the complete legal and institutional framework in transition countries. For example, Slovakia is proceeding with the establishment of a definitive legal structure for the forestry sector to replace the transitional measures which had been used in recent years of rapid social and political change. Several countries are also involved in the development of 'guidelines' or 'codes of practice' for the implementation of the broad concepts laid down in legislation or policy documents.9 Also, as a result of changed priorities, many countries have increased the area of forest under some sort of legal protection.10

8 AT, HR, DK, EE, SF, HU, LT, SI, SK (for 1997/98), CH.
9 HR, DK, EE, SF, IR, SE,
10 AT, BG, CY, EE, SF, DE, HU, NO.

An issue for several countries in transition is the restitution or privatization of forest land - one which, in some countries, may take many years to resolve. For example, in Croatia, the topic of 'denationalization' is being considered by Parliament as an 'especially delicate issue'.

The new policies and strategies, as well as other pressures, notably to increase efficiency and reduce costs, have led more countries to continue or start the reorganization of their forest institutions. For instance, the UK Forestry Commission now is divided into a 'Forestry Authority', a 'Forestry Enterprise' (responsible for management of public forests) and the research agency. In Germany, several Länder are reorganizing their forest services because of financial pressures. The rapid multiplication of 'clients' (i.e. private forest owners) in Hungary, combined with reductions in staffing levels, is making the provision of adequate services extremely difficult. Three countries in transition have established or strengthened specialized bodies for forestry extension and consulting, to help and guide new forest owners.11

11 HU, LT, SK.

Many countries have completed or are carrying out exercises, often in a consultative process, to identify criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management at the national level, to collect information on the indicators, and to assess the implications of this exercise for forest policy. The Helsinki process criteria and indicators have been used as a starting point but many countries have adapted them to national circumstances.12 Denmark is also extending this exercise to the forest management unit level.

12 BG, CZ, EE, DK, DE, GR, HU, LT, NO, CH.

Many countries are making efforts to increase public participation in policy making and decision making in their countries. The concepts of public participation vary widely, including creation and support of forest owners associations, the use of extension services to inform and consult interest groups as well as formal consultation during the policy formulation process (for instance by requesting written opinions or at public hearings).13 Public participation is being manifested in various ways; for example, in Sweden an indigenous people, the Sami (or Lapps), are involved in planning forestry actions; and Switzerland is supporting research into public attitudes. While NGOs are active in organizing such public participation in most of the industrialized European countries, they are in general rather weakly-organized in countries in transition, and hence play a more limited role there.

13 AT, BG, HR, DK, SF, DE, GR, IR, LT, NO, SK, CH, GB,

The economic situation of forestry is difficult in several countries, being affected by rising costs, falling wood prices and shrinking public budgets.14 For example, in Austria and Slovakia there has been a marked drop in forestry's importance as a source of employment (40 percent fewer jobs than 10 years ago in Austria; an 11 percent drop in forestry employment in Slovakia between 1994 and 1995). In Switzerland there has been an average net loss of wood harvested, thinning has been neglected in Slovakia for economic reasons, and lower fellings in Hungary threaten the economic sustainability of forestry in the long run.

14 AT, DK, HU, SI, SK, CH.

On the other hand, long-term programmes to increase forest area and/or wood supply are being maintained or even strengthened in a number of countries.15 Some countries have adopted strategies to promote wood use or to increase/maintain the competitiveness of the forest sector.16

15 CY, DK, DE, IR, SK

16 CZ, DE, IR, NO, GB

Energy aspects of forestry are of concern to some countries17 such as rules on emissions of wood-burning installations and the encouragement of higher insulation standards. Denmark, for example, has a programme to develop energy plantations and harvesting systems.

17 AT, DE, DK

International cooperation and negotiation

The importance of the international dimension in European forest policy has never been greater. Participation by European countries in international meetings and activities has been high. Among them were the FAO Committee on Forests meeting (March 1995) and the first global meeting of ministers responsible for forests held immediately thereafter;

the International Cooperative Programme of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution; and several intersessional meetings organized by European countries in support of the IPF process. Some of the international discussions on criteria and indicators, in which European countries have also been active, have had direct consequences on national forest policy initiatives.

At the European level, the intergovernmental cooperation in the pan-European 'Helsinki Process' continued, concentrating on the formulation of criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management, on collecting relevant information, and also monitoring forestry assistance to countries in transition.

The former USSR18

18 The term 'former USSR' refers to the 15 countries comprising the CIS and Baltic States (see footnote 1) Much of the information was provided by the Siberia Forest Study of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Russia is the country with both the largest land area (1 710 million ha) and largest area of forest (763.5 million ha) in the world.19 Forests are present from the Kaliningrad region on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, although most are located in Siberia. It is necessary to bear in mind the huge geographic scale of these forests; they account for 45 percent of the land area of the largest country in the world and for 22 percent of the world's total forest area.

19 The figure for forest area refers to forested area (i.e., land where there is forest cover at present, excluding non-forested land in the Forest Fund and temporarily unforested areas).

The 14 other countries of the former USSR are in general much smaller than the Russian Federation, although the size of Kazakhstan is nearly 270 million ha. Their ecological conditions are very different from one another and their forest cover varies widely, from more than 40 percent in Estonia, Georgia and Latvia, to less than 5 percent in the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Together, these countries have 816.2 million ha of forest, representing 37 percent of their total land area.

Most of Russia's forest is boreal, with the features most typical of that forest type, i.e., relatively few species, mostly coniferous, slow growth due to the harsh climate, good wood quality. Nevertheless, Russia also has significant areas of other forest types. Large areas of natural forest have experienced minimal human intervention, and are reserves of biological diversity of global importance.

Timber has always represented an important source of raw material at local level, and of wood products which are important export commodities. Exploitation of Siberia's forest resources was made possible by the development of infrastructure in the region, principally the trans-Siberian railway, which allowed for export to Western Europe from Baltic ports. Trade was maintained, even when Russia was economically isolated from other regions. Large integrated plants were built to process Siberian timber, often producing sawnwood, plywood, pulp and paper on the same site. In some cases, annual wood consumption at a single plant exceeded 5 million m3. However, the economic viability of these plants rested heavily on artificially low transport costs. Around 1990, the average trip for a sawlog from forest to mill was more than 1 000 km; sawnwood was also transported over very long distances.

Sustainability of Russian wood supply

Despite the uncertainties connected with statistics on the Russian forest resource, it is clear that, on the national level:

· the area of forest is roughly stable;
· the growing stock available for harvest is very large;
· the harvest is well below the annual increment (see Table 5).

However, when studied in more detail, the situation is more complex. According to Shvidenko and Nilsson (1996):20

20 Shvidenko, A, and Nilsson, S. Expanding forests but declining mature coniferous forests in Russia. IIASA Working Paper WP-6-59, June 1996.

· average growing stock has increased in all forests, except mature and overmature coniferous stands;

· growing stock has expanded in European Russia, but has declined severely in Asian Russia, probably due to disturbances such as fires, pests and anthropogenic activities;

· there has been severe local over-harvesting in regions with developed infrastructure, and 'creaming' (taking only the best trees) over huge areas. Despite these shortcomings in Russian forest management, Shvidenko and Nilsson consider the stability of Russian boreal forests and their capacity for natural regeneration to be extremely high.

In certain areas, such as the Kola peninsula, significant forest areas have been severely damaged by pollution. Nevertheless, these areas are relatively small compared to the huge areas of remote forests where human intervention has been minimal. The forests of the former USSR have also been severely damaged by widespread contamination by radioactive isotopes after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It is estimated that more than 7 million ha of forest and other wooded land are contaminated in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, hindering or preventing forest work and wood harvesting. Apart from the consequences for health, the economic damage to forest-dependent communities and the general economy of the three countries, there is a danger of fires which would redistribute the radio-isotopes over wide areas. New strategies are being developed to manage this situation, but resources to deal with it are extremely limited.

In the 1980s, recorded removals of wood in the USSR, most of which came from Russian forests, totalled about 380 million m3. The economic and physical disruptions associated with economic transition, including lack of finance, uncertainty about ownership, enterprise debt (leading to barter trade), infrastructure problems etc. caused this to drop sharply. In 1995, recorded removals in Russia were only about 110 million m3, although it is likely that there were significant volumes of unrecorded removals. A major factor was the imposition of realistic freight charges on the trans-Siberian railways, a decision which made huge areas of central Siberia economically inaccessible overnight. There are signs that the Russian economy may be nearing its lowest point, but political and economic uncertainty is still very high. The majority of wood processing forest enterprises have been effectively privatized, and foreign investment in some industries has also been reported, as well as joint ventures, typically aimed at producing logs for export. Practically all forest lands still belong to the state.

Table 5
Growing stock, increment and harvest on land managed by the state forest service, Russia, 1993 (million m3)21,22

21 The growing stock and increment figures in Table 5 refer to the forested area managed by the state forest service - 706 million ha, which gives average growing stock per ha on this land of 100 m³/ha and average increment of 1.2 m³/ha, roughly comparable to the figure for Canada, which also has large areas of natural boreal forest, On average the harvesting intensity (volume of wood harvested per hectare on average) is under 0.24 m³/ha, although some areas have been harvested very intenslvely.

22 Shvidenko and Nilsson (1996).

growing stock

705 800


507 700

growing stock in mature forest

42 000


34 200

growing stock in mature forest allowable for harvesting

25 700

average increment


annual allowable cut


actual harvest (final cut)




The outlook for the Russian forest, forest products sector, and trade potential is extremely uncertain; it is ultimately dependent on the successful outcome of economic transition. If the transition process is satisfactorily completed, Russian forests have the biological potential for sustainable supply of large volumes of wood, provided adequate policies are developed and enforced, and sufficient investment is forthcoming, notably for infrastructure and mills. Siberia could become the major source of an increasingly rare commodity - high quality coniferous wood, supplies of which have been reduced from the USA for policy reasons, and from Canada due to physical/economic inaccessibility. However, it should be borne in mind that, as the Russian economy recovers, so will domestic disposable income; this could unlock a huge potential demand for Russian forest products from the domestic market.

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