Europe’s jungles need our care

Did you know that Europe still hosts a number of ancient woodlands? Forests that have not been touched by humans for centuries and that are regarded as pristine. These jungles – or old growth forests to use more technical jargon – are mainly located in the eastern part of Europe. Together, they cover less than 1% of the European Union territory. They however are home to over 10,000 species of plants, animals and other species. This is a modest estimate, as much remains unknown for example on soil biodiversity. Some of these species, like Brown bear and Lynx, are very iconic and seldom seen. Other species find their last shelter in these remote jungles.

The fact that there is only so little left of this wild heritage in Europe and that it is under increasing pressure from human use calls for urgent action to be taken for them to be protected. And to be restored where possible. This is why a European strategy for old growth forest is being developed, under lead of Wild Europe, a European initiative promoting a coordinated strategy for protection and restoration of wilderness and large wild areas.

During a two-day conference in Brussels, organized by Wild Europe and hosted by the EU Committee of the Regions, some 140 participants discussed the state of these ancient woodlands, the threats to their survival, the values and benefits they offer to people (apart from their rich wildlife and biodiversity), and what we all can do to strengthen their protection.

A key outcome of the conference, and an element of the strategy to be, is the recognition that old growth forests have much to offer to society and economy, through so-called ecosystem services. Benefits include air and water purification, soil protection, ecotourism opportunities, amazing landscapes, and of course very rich and diverse nature. The challenge now is to demonstrate that these benefits offer more to society than the large-scale harvesting of their wood would bring, the biggest threat.

The strategy is still in development and will hopefully offer a clear policy framework for European action soon. I was happy to contribute to it by facilitating a workshop on financing the protection of old growth forests. And hopefully we can all enjoy the beauty of Europe’s jungles for generations to come.