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Primeval, natural and commercial forests in the context biodiversity and climate protection. Part 1: Functions for biodiversity and as carbon sinks and reservoirs

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There are heated arguments about the use of forests in the debate about wood production, contributing to climate protection, and the obligation to protect the biodiversity of forest ecosystems. Climate protection arguments are also used to discredit biodiversity protection concerns. Some of the arguments presented are based on questionable data and misinterpretation of the data. This complex situation is not only about dealing with demands to set-aside more commercial forests and the protection of natural forests in Germany; there is also, for example, the threat of the loss of the last large-scale European temperate primeval forests, all of which are in the Carpathian Arc. Causal factors are the intensive and increasing use of wood, lack of political will, and insufficient national and European commitment to the protection of this World Natural Heritage Site. Primeval and natural forests are preserved on less than 3% of the total forest area in EU member states; hundreds of thousands of hectares of European primeval forests have been lost in the past ten years alone. In this two-part essay, we discuss arguments on the topics of (1) biodiversity and forestry, (2) the CO2 storage and sink performance of used and unused forests, and (3) the climate change impact of the use of wood for energy against the background of current climate policy decisions from the EU and the federal government. The first part, pre­sented here, deals with the occurrence of primeval and natural forests in Europe and refutes the thesis that they cannot make an important contribution to biodiversity protection. Furthermore, the contribution of primeval forests, natural forests, and commercial forests is assessed in relation to climate protection.
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1 Introduction
In recent years, numerous papers have been
published that compare the ecosystem ser-
vices of managed forests with those of pri-
meval forests or former managed forests
that have been left unmanaged for many
years and so come close to their natural
state (hereafter referred to as natural for-
ests) (see also Box 1: What are primeval for-
ests, what are natural forests?). While stud-
ies in tropical and boreal forests with in-
creasing utilization have mostly found
significant declines in forest-typical bio-
diversity (e.g. Alroya 2017, Giam 2017, Pyles
et al. 2018, FAO & UNEP 2020), studies in
temperate forests presented below have
somewhat different findings (e.g. Schulze
2018, Dieler et al. 2017, Schall et al. 2020).
These can essentially be summarized in the
following points:
(1) primeval forests and natural forests
show lower biodiversity than managed for-
ests in terms of the respective taxa studied
and would therefore not be of particular sig-
nificance for nature conservation, and
(2) non-utilization of primeval forests
and natural forests would be detrimental to
climate protection because only utilization
can contribute decisively to the reduction of
greenhouse gas emissions.
Particularly in the context of climate policy
recommendations, this topic is highly rele-
vant and requires comprehensive scientific
consideration. We see our essay as a contri-
bution to currently topical political debates
Primeval, natural and commercial forests in
the context biodiversity and climate protection
Part 1: Functions for biodiversity and as carbon sinks and reservoirs
By Rainer Luick, Klaus Hennenberg, Christoph Leuschner, Manfred Grossmann, Eckhard Jedicke,
Nicolas Schoof and Thomas Waldenspuhl
Submitted on 12. 03. 2021, accepted on 16. 10. 2021
This article is also available in German: www.nul-online.de, DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.
There are heated arguments about the use of forests in the debate about
wood production, contributing to climate protection, and the obligation
to protect the biodiversity of forest ecosystems. Climate protection
arguments are also used to discredit biodiversity protection concerns.
Some of the arguments presented are based on questionable data and
misinterpretation of the data. This complex situation is not only about
dealing with demands to set-aside more commercial forests and the
protection of natural forests in Germany; there is also, for example, the
threat of the loss of the last large-scale European temperate primeval
forests, all of which are in the Carpathian Arc. Causal factors are the
intensive and increasing use of wood, lack of political will, and in suf-
ficient national and European commitment to the protection of this
World Natural Heritage Site. Primeval and natural forests are preserved
on less than 3% of the total forest area in EU member states; hundreds
of thousands of hectares of European primeval forests have been lost
in the past ten years alone.
In this two-part essay, we discuss arguments on the topics of (1) bio-
diversity and forestry, (2) the CO2 storage and sink performance of used
and unused forests, and (3) the climate change impact of the use of
wood for energy against the background of current climate policy
decisions from the EU and the federal government. The first part, pre-
sented here, deals with the occurrence of primeval and natural forests
in Europe and refutes the thesis that they cannot make an important
contribution to biodiversity protection. Furthermore, the contribution
of primeval forests, natural forests, and commercial forests is assessed
in relation to climate protection.
Urwälder, Natur- und Wirtschaftswälder im Kontext von Biodiversitäts- und
Klimaschutz – Teil 1: Funktionen für die biologische Vielfalt und als Koh-
lenstoffsenke und -speicher
Die Diskussion um die Nutzung von Wäldern im Spannungsfeld von
Holzproduktion, ihrem Beitrag zum Klimaschutz und der Verpflichtung
zum Schutz der Biodiversität von Waldökosystemen wird mit Schärfe
geführt. Es werden dabei auch Klimaschutzargumente bemüht, um
Anliegen des Biodiversitätsschutzes zu diskreditieren. Manche der an-
geführten Argumente basieren auf einer fragwürdigen Datenbasis und
-interpretation. In der Gemengelage geht es nicht nur um den Umgang
mit Forderungen zu mehr Flächenstilllegungen von Wirtschaftswäldern
und den Schutz von Naturwäldern in Deutschland, es droht auch der
Verlust der letzten großflächigen europäischen temperaten Urwälder,
die alle im Karpatenbogen liegen. Ursächliche Faktoren sind die inten-
sive und zunehmende Holznutzung, ein unzureichender politischer
Wille und ein zu geringes nationales und europäisches Engagement für
den Schutz dieses Weltnaturerbes. Urwälder und Naturwälder sind in
den EU-Mitgliedsstaaten auf weniger als 3 % der Gesamtwaldfläche
erhalten geblieben; hunderttausende Hektar europäischer Urwälder
gingen allein in den vergangenen zehn Jahren verloren.
In diesem zweiteiligen Aufsatz diskutieren wir Argumente zu den
Themenkomplexen (1) Biodiversität und Forstwirtschaft, (2) CO2-
Speicher- und -Senkenleistung genutzter und ungenutzter Wälder und
(3) Klimaschutzwirkung der energetischen Holznutzung vor dem Hin-
tergrund aktueller klimapolitischer Entscheidungen der EU und der Bun-
desregierung. Der vorliegende erste Teil befasst sich mit dem Vor kommen
von Ur- und Naturwäldern in Europa und widerlegt die These, diese
könnten keinen wichtigen Beitrag zum Biodiversitätsschutz leisten.
Außerdem wird der Beitrag von Urwäldern, Naturwäldern und Wirt-
schaftswäldern mit dem Klimaschutz vergleichend bewertet.
Abstracts
12 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e
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Box 1: What are primeval forests, what are natural forests?
Definitions from Buchwald 2005, Biris¸ș &
Veen (2005), Fanta (2005), Wirth et al.
(2009), Commarmot et al. (2013), Barredo et
al. (2021, Sabatini et al. 2021).
In the English-language scientific literature
in particular, the German term Urwald – or
synonymously Primärwald – is paraphrased
with a large number of terms that have the
same meaning (intact, mature, natural, pri-
mary, primeval, undisturbed, untouched,
virgin). There one finds agreement on the
defining descriptions: a primeval forest is a
large-scale forest ecosystem for which no
direct human interventions are known and
the composition of the natural biotic com-
munities and the forest-typical processes
have never been significantly altered. A pri-
meval forest consists of tree and shrub
species which, in their various life cycle
stages, are typical of the location and bio-
geography. Characteristic are usually large
stocks of deadwood in different qualities
(standing, lying, young, old) and a mostly
complex vertical and horizontal forest
structure resulting from undisturbed natu-
ral dynamics.
Since primeval forests have not existed
in Germany and Central Europe for a long
time, near-natural forests that have re-
mained unmanaged for a longer or shorter
time (or show only minor traces of utiliza-
tion) often serve as a reference in compar-
ative studies of forest ecosystems: accord-
ing to Vandekerkhove et al. (2007) and
Commarmot et al. (2013), these can be
referred to as “natural forests. Typical de-
scriptive terms for such woodland are
“ancient”, “near-virgin”, “old-growth”,
“quasi-virgin”, or “widely undisturbed”.
Natural forests have emerged from natural
regeneration and have developed freely
over long periods of time without human
intervention (Fig. 1). Unlike primeval for-
ests, they display influences of utilization
that can be documented to this day. Such
forests contain those (tree) species that
would also occur in the natural plant com-
munity at that particular location. Natural
forests display the natural development
cycle up to the decay phase, but, depend-
ing on the length of time without utiliza-
tion, they still have an incomplete invento-
ry of structures and stages of development
typical of primeval forests. Natural forests
can become very similar to primeval forests
over long periods of time, and in land-
scapes with high levels of disturbance (e.g.,
floodplains), this process can also be rela-
tively rapid. The conceptual basis for the
idea of natural forests, i.e. forests taken
out of utilization and to which dedicated
research activities are assigned, was al-
ready established in the 1930s by Hesmer
(1934) and Hueck (1937) under the term
“natural forest reserves”.
In the political context, however, even the
definition of the typological terms “prime-
val forest” and “natural forest”, which are
actually sufficiently well delineated in the
scientific literature, is the subject of intense
and controversial debates. In a recent study
by the European Forest Institute (EFI), it is
stated that the protection of the remaining
European primeval forests and natural for-
ests is difficult because there are no clear
and unambiguous terminological defini-
tions and boundaries. The terminological
discrepancies are in part due to the incom-
plete and inconsistent data and carto-
graphic material on these categories. Thus,
they are also difficult to apply in policy and
in practical guidance (O'Brien et al. 2021).
The EU’s draft post-2020 forest strategy
also mentions that there is still no defini-
tive agreement on the content of the terms
primeval forest and natural forest (EU 2021).
While this terminological debate rages on,
the remaining primeval and natural forests
are steadily being logged.
Picture: Rüdiger Biehl, Nationalparkverwaltung Hainich (2002)
Fig. 1: Old beech forests
rich in deadwood and
supplies are typical of the
Hainich National Park.
The nutrient-rich soils on
shell limestone lead to
high growth rates.
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and to course-setting in nature conservation
and climate policy:
(1) At the EU level, intensive and controversial
discussions are ongoing as to the instruments
to be used in new EU biodiversity strategy;
(2) The new EU climate protection targets
to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate
Agreement require adjustments to their in-
struments.
(3) These EU climate protection targets
along with the recent decision of the Ger-
man Federal Constitutional Court, which
declared key parts of the German Climate
Protection Act of 2019 unconstitutional
and emphasized the precautionary duty
to future generations, require changes to
legal norms and readjustments of political
instruments.
2 Background – Where are there
still primeval forests in Europe?
According to an assessment by Forest Europe
(2020), Europe, including the Eastern Europe-
an countries and the European part of Rus-
sia, has approximately 227 million hectares
of forests; this represents 33 % of the land
area. Only about 4.6 million hectares (2.2 %)
of European forests are still characterized as
primeval forests or natural forests; of these,
about 3.6 million hectares are in the EU
(2.4 %). Five years earlier, the Forest Europe
study (2015) still classified 7.3 million hec-
tares (3.3 %) of European forests as primeval
forests or natural forests; this would re-
present a decrease of 2.7 million hectares
(about 40 %) between the two reporting
periods. We suspect that this massive de-
cline is not only explained by actual new
land utilization and thus losses, but also in-
cludes statistical effects. In the Romanian
Carpathians, for example, large areas of
primeval and natural forests are being down-
graded by definition, because politicians
want the land to be opened up for utilization
(Luick 2021, Luick et al. 2021).
We know little about the exact distribu-
tion and condition of Europe's remaining
primeval and natural forests. This is also
clear from the study by Sabatini et al. (2018)
according to whom there are an estimated
Picture : Rainer Luick (2 016)
Fig. 2: Primeval forests
have diverse and fascinat-
ing features in detail, as
here in the National Park
“Parcul Nat¸ional Semenic
– Cheile Carasului”, or
Semenic for short. These
include methusalem
trees, i.e. mighty and
often several hundred
year old tree giants. In
dense and very old stands,
wood stocks of 1,000 m3
(solid cubic metres) and
more can be measured
per ha. However, a regen-
eration stand of little
more than 100 m3 can
stand right next to it.
The deadwood is added
to this.
Fig. 3: Since Romania's EU accession in 2007, large-scale clear-cutting has increased dramatically in the
Romanian Carpathians; even in regions with virgin forests and in designated protected areas such as
natio nal parks and Natura 2000 sites. The picture shows an area from the southern Fagra˘ s Black
Mountains, Nucsoara municipality. There, several thousand hectares of large-scale primeval forests were
clear-cut in a ver y short time, also in ecologically sensitive steep slopes.
Picture: Christoph Promberger/Fundatia Conservation Carpathia (2015)
14 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e
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1.4 million hectares of primeval forests re-
maining in Europe, excluding Russia; of
these, about 1.1 million hectares are boreal
forests, about 0.2 million hectares are mon-
tane beech and beech-fir forests, and about
0.07 million hectares are subalpine temper-
ate conifer forests. This is about 0.7 % of the
total forest area. Germany has not had a pri-
meval forest for a long time.
A study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC)
of the EU on the existence of primeval for-
ests and natural forests in EU countries de-
termined that together they account for less
than 3% of the total forest area and are also
predominantly small-scale and fragmented
(Barredo et al. 2021). In another analysis,
Sabatini et al. (2020) report that six of the
54 differentiated European forest types no
longer have any primeval forest reference
areas and that 70 % of the forest types have
less than 1 % of primeval forest reference
areas.
In relation to this very small proportion,
and without taking into account the boreal
primeval forests in the northern regions of
Scandinavia and European Russia, about
80% of the temperate primeval forests of
Europe are located in the Carpathian arc in
Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia (Fig. 2). In
the EU, no member state has as many tem-
perate, hardwood primeval forests as Roma-
nia. According to current estimates, these
represent about two-thirds of the remaining
temperate primeval forests, but even in Ro-
mania they represent only 0.5 to a maxi-
mum of 1 % of the total forest area, and
they continue to shrink (Biris¸ș 2017, Luick
2021, Luick et al. 2021). In the period 2001
to 2019 alone, according to a study by Glob-
al Forest Watch (2020), Romania lost about
350,000 hectares of primeval and natural
forests through illegal (and also legal) log-
ging. Large-scale clear-cutting takes place
even in protected areas such as national
parks, UNESCO World Heritage and Natura
2000 sites (Luick et al. 2021; see also Box 2
and Figs. 3, 4a to c). The importance of the
last primeval forests and natural forests in
the Carpathians).
3 The notion that “primeval and
natural forests do not make
an important contribution to
biodiversity conservation due
to their low biodiversity”
To compare the biodiversity of managed and
unmanaged (primeval and natural forests)
Fig. 4 a–c: The series of pictures shows impressions of large-scale clear-cutting in the central southern
Carpathians (Iezer-Ppua Mountains, Valea Rea and Valea Zârna); they are all sub-areas of the Natura 2000
site Munii Fagra˘ s . The remoteness of many valleys makes it possible that such inter ventions basically
go unnoticed by the public. According to the comparison of satellite images, these clearcuts covering
several hundred hectares took place in the period 2009-2012. They were presumably forests that were
several hundred years old, or at least ver y structurally rich natural forests. T his is also supported by the
dendrochronological assessments of the still visible stumps. According to our research, there are also no
indications of earlier forestry use in this region, which is difficult to access. There is no evidence of re-
forestation.
Picture s: Ion Holban (202 0)
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DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests
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European forests, reference is often made to
the meta-study by Paillet et al. (2010). This
summarizes, among other things, compara-
tive studies in Central European deciduous
forests that found higher vascular plant
diversity in managed forests than in un-
managed forests. In a sectoral interpretation,
this has established the narrative that pri-
meval and natural forests would generally
have lower α-biodiversity than managed for-
ests. (see also Supplement 3: The biotic rich-
ness and condition of Central European for-
ests). It is certainly interesting and useful to
compare differently utilized forests with re-
gard to their ecosystem services, which can
also include biodiversity. However, it is prob-
lematic to deduce from this
(1) that the high biodiversity desired from
a nature conservation point of view is inher-
ently aided by forest management, or even
that forest management is a prerequisite for
such biodiversity;
(2) that managed forests would per se
have an equally high or even higher nature
conservation value than primeval or natural
forests; and
(3) that the designation of new protected
areas (including wilderness and areas allow-
ing natural processes) is unnecessary and
should be rejected (e.g. Walentowski et al.
2013, Schulze et al. 2014, Schulze 2018,
Dieter et al. 2020, Dieter 2021).
Comparative studies on the biodiversity of
Central European forest ecosystems are con-
fronted with the fact that almost every for-
est has a centuries-old history of utilization.
Box 2: The importance of the last primeval forests and natural forests in the Carpathians
It may well be that cheap shelves in a
German furniture store or planks and
boards in any DIY store come from Roma-
nian, Slovakian or Ukrainian primeval
mountain spruce forests (Fig. 5). Even logs,
wood pellets or wood briquettes, which are
offered in sacks, containers and on pallets
in many DIY stores or on the internet, often
point via their labels to origins in Eastern
Europe. Not infrequently, these products
are made from centuries-old giant trees.
The enormous global demand for packag-
ing materials, due to the rapidly growing
internet trade, so-called “fresh & tasty
packaging” and seemingly “sustainable”,
wood-based substitutes for packaging and
transport materials previously made of
plastic, are further drivers and increase the
pressure to develop cheap wood resources.
The formula for success is: cheap resources
due to cheap labor and low concession lev-
ies and rents with high volumes of wood
per unit area, minimal requirements for oc-
cupational safety and corruptible social
structures. This guarantees high profits on
our markets and explains why in recent
years numerous international corporations
with large factories that have enormous
logging and processing capacities have set-
tled around the Carpathian Arc. All of them
have one thing in common: a high and in-
creasing demand for wood as raw material
(see Luick et al. 2021).
In all the countries of the Carpathian
region (Poland, Romania, Slovakia and
Ukraine), this explains the massive pres-
sure to exploit the last primeval forests and
natural forests, up to and including large-
scale deforestation. This is even affecting
important protected area categories such
as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national
parks and Natura 2000 sites. Germany, as
an importer, processor and then exporter of
such wood and wood-based products, is
also partly responsible for the pressure to
exploit these forests. This means that we
are also involved as consumers. Yet it is
equally true that Germany could provide
support to permanently preserve the re-
gion’s natural heritage due to its huge
significance for biodiversity.
It is certainly possible to justify an ethi-
cal, scientific, and even self-interest-based
commitment to protect the last remnants
of large-scale (European) primeval forests.
Important reasons for doing so are:
(1) Primeval forests are places (eco-
systems) not directly influenced by civiliza-
tion, which preserve genetic reserves vital
for the adaptability of forests. Here, the in-
traspecific variability, as it has differentiat-
ed out over very long periods of time, has
remained untouched by utilization-orient-
ed selection. This also applies to species-
specific adaptation to abiotic and biotic
environmental factors unaffected by an-
thropogenic selection. The existence of
genetically diverse populations has excep-
tional importance in the face of climate
change and the search for climate-adaptive
tree species and provenances. Primeval
beech and fir forests exist in the Carpathi-
ans over a wide geographical and climatic
gradient; some associated species are clas-
sified as tertiary relicts. The genetic diversi-
ty and thus the potential for “climate-adap-
tive” evolutionary development of these
species is significantly lower in regions to
which they migrated only in post-glacial
times and over long distances (such as the
present areas of distribution in Germany)
than in their periglacial refugial areas.
(2) In their temporal and spatial dynam-
ics, primeval forests are refugial- and
source biotopes for highly specialized
species that depend on the long-term sta-
ble habitat requisites and environmental
conditions that exist in this quality only in
primeval forests (e.g. fastidious xylobionts
among the fungi, lichens, beetles, hymen-
opterans and dipterans). Only in large-scale
primeval forests is there the necessary
long-term continuity of habitat and thus
the corresponding structures and pro-
cesses that correlate with the maturity and
age phase of the trees.
(3) Primeval forests are rare learning sites
for principles and knowledge that also have
great practical and thus economic rele-
vance for managed forest ecosystems.
From primeval forest research come prac-
tice-oriented findings on threshold values
for a minimum provision of deadwood,
habitat trees, primeval trees, disturbance
areas and microstructures to achieve
forest- specific biodiversity in managed for-
ests. They are indispensable objects of
reference for developing concepts of sus-
tainable forest management.
(4) Primeval forests are reference systems
and important research laboratories in
which long-term trends in environmental
change can be documented and analyzed
without being overshadowed by manage-
ment cycles. They are also reference sys-
tems for comparing natural forest develop-
ment with managed forests and thus serve
to guide adaptive forest management
through the iterative development of cli-
mate change adaptation and mitigation
strategies.
16 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e
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Thus, potential reference systems are not pri-
meval forests but at best natural forests. In
this context, the forest area of the Hainich in
Thuringia, Germany and especially the Hain-
ich National Park play a central role (Fig. 6).
The Hainich is a real laboratory for numerous
studies; including, among others, the project
“Biodiversity Exploratories in Germany” (see
also Section 4 and Box 3).
With an area of 130 km
2
, the Hainich is the
largest contiguous deciduous forest area in
Germany. Its southern part with 75 km2 was
designated a national park in 1997. In 2011,
1,573 hectares in the central parts of the
Hainich containing especially semi-natural
old beech forests were recognized and desig-
nated part of the UNESCO World Heritage site
“Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests and Pri-
meval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and
Other Regions of Europe”. Regardless of
site-specific variations, the forests in the
Hainich are characterized by centuries of di-
verse forest utilization, display various devel-
opments, and are still clearly differentiated to
this day. These features include, for example,
afforestation, forests that emerged from cop-
pice and coppice with standards, pasture for-
ests, and more recent successions of open
land with different starting points (NPH 2012,
see also Figs. 7a and b). Forestry utilization in
the deciduous forest of the Hainich National
Park has been discontinued over a wide area
for only about 20 years – specifically since
1998 – and only in very small subareas has no
utilization taken place since the 1960s.
Thus, the Hainich is neither primeval forest
nor large-scale natural forest since it lacks
the influence of prolonged natural distur-
bances and (aging) processes. This fact is not
always correctly taken into account in the
interpretation of data collected from the
Hainich National Park, or is ignored altogeth-
er. In the study by Schall et al. (2021), the het-
erogeneity of managed beech forests is seen
as a key factor for biodiversity. Their assess-
ment is based on a plot comparison of the
occurrence and distribution of deadwood,
microhabitats, vascular plants, and herbivo-
rous and carnivorous arthropods in two dif-
ferently managed beech forests in compari-
son with unmanaged beech forests. Data
sets from the Hainich National Park serve as
a reference for these natural beech forests,
but they are not presented in a nuanced
manner against the background of the histo-
ry of the forest’s utilization and its heteroge-
neity. Also problematic is the fact that the
individual plot data from the Hainich are
summarily placed in an interpretative con-
text with data from the federal forest inven-
tory and generalizations are derived on this
basis.
Due to their rarity, there are only a few
meaningful studies comparing the biodiver-
sity of temperate primeval forests with that
of managed forests under analogous geo-
graphical conditions. For this reason, the
comparative study of three primeval beech
forests in the Slovakian Western Carpathi-
ans, which are part of the UNESCO World
Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech
Forests and Primeval Beech Forests of the
Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”,
with three neighboring geographically-simi-
lar beech managed forests aged between 80
and 100 years (e.g. Kaufmann et al. 2017,
Fig. 6: With an area of over 5,000 ha, the Hainich National Park has the largest area of deciduous forest
in Germany that is free of utilization, but it is still far from being old natural forest.. The richness of tree
species is particularly evident in the autumn colouring.
Bild: Eckhard Jedicke (2015)
Fig. 5: Natural spruce forests are not comparable to the plantation-like stands on actual beech fores t sites
that characterise our ideas of forest in many parts of Central Europe. They are ver y patchy forest com-
munities, which at higher altitudes are of ten composed only of the spruce itself - with a high propor tion
of naturally dead trees. The undergrowth consists of dense carpets of berr y bushes. In Romania, the spruce
forest stage extends to the climatic tree line bet ween 1,600 m above sea level in the north-eastern Car-
pathians and 1,900 m in the southern Carpathians.
Picture : Rainer Luick (2 019)
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Fig. 7: (a) The forest de-
velopment phases taken
from the forest biotope
mapping of the Hainich
National Park and ( b)
assessments of the natu-
ralness of the forests
clearly show the long and
very dif ferent history of
use. Of the total area of
the National Park of
7,500 ha, appro ximately
5,287 ha were mapped
as forests (patches and
potholes: 102 ha, semi-
natural forests: 266 ha,
moderately semi-natural
forests: 1,815 ha, near-
natural forests: 3,104 ha)
(NPH 2012).
Graphic: N PH (2012)
18 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
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Box 3: The biotic richness and condition of Central European forests
The forests of Central Europe are relatively
poor in tree species, but they possess a
highly diverse fauna, fungal flora and flora
of herbaceous and lower plants. However,
this high diversity of species is only found
in near-natural forests and historical-tradi-
tional forest forms such as pasture forests
or oak coppice-with-standards forests. If
only beech forests are considered, more
than 11,000 previously known eukaryotic
organism species (excluding bacteria) have
been counted as indigenous forest species,
including more than 6,800 animal species,
3,345 fungal species, 280 lichen species,
190 moss species, and 215 herbaceous layer
plants, along with several hundred faculta-
tive vascular plant species that also occur
outside the forest (Scherzinger 1996, Ass-
mann et al. 2007, Dorow et al. 2007). In one
Hessian beech natural forest alone, more
than 6,000 animal species were recorded on
60 hectares (Dorow et al. 2007).
In many cases, highly specialized species
show higher densities in natural forests
than in managed forests, and may even be
completely absent in the latter (Friedel et al.
2006, Dörfelt 2007, Müller & Bütler 2010,
Hauk et al. 2013, Dvorak et al. 2017, Kauf-
mann et al. 2017, Gerlach et al. 2019, Jacob-
sen et al. 2020). In the case of insects and
fungi in particular, there are species which
depend on forest wilderness that are gener-
ally extremely weak in dispersal and thus
rare and highly endangered. Many dead-
wood dwellers require significantly higher
supplies of deadwood than are commonly
found in managed forests and, given a suf-
ficiently large habitat, benefit significantly
from increases in deadwood quantity and
quality (Flade & Winter 2021, Rosenthal et
al. 2021).
The forestry practices that have long
dominated Central Europe (including even-
aged forests with non-native spruce or pine)
have led to losses of forest-typical species
and habitats. Increasingly long Red Lists
and Appendices of species protected by law
(e.g. the EU-FFH-Directive and the various
regional nature conservation and forest
laws) indicate that xylobiont beetles, birds,
fungi, lichens and mosses, in particular,
which are dependent on deadwood and old
trees, have been pushed back by forest
management to a few small and mostly iso-
lated refugia. Also highly rare and endan-
gered are heliophilous biota that are sensi-
tive to specific disturbances connected to
natural dynamics (Fartmann et al. 2021,
Rosenthal et al. 2021).
Only in forest ecosystems rich in distur-
bances, such as in natural or near-natural
mountain spruce forests (due to bark bee-
tles and windthrow) or in floodplains (due
to flooding and bedload), can the amount
and heterogeneity of deadwood increase
rapidly with sufficient likelihood. The signif-
icant and rapid increases in species num-
bers and in the abundance of distur-
bance-affine species illustrate this correla-
tion (Rosenthal et al. 2015). This highlights
the central role of natural forests of suffi
-
cient size that have remained unutilized for
long periods of time in ensuring the protec-
tion of forest-typical flora and fauna. Con-
versely, forests that rely on specific tradi-
tional forms of forest utilization can be
exceptionally rich in endangered species
(e.g., wooded pastures and oak coppice-
with- standards forests; see Schoof et al.
2018, Fartmann et al. 2021). In the context
of biodiversity conservation, managed and
protected forests are complementary con-
cepts, not opposites.
However, systematic monitoring of spe-
cies diversity in the various forest commu-
nities and their alterations has only recently
begun to be carried out – a problem that is
not specific to Germany. Only for avifauna
do we have longer term data series. The bird
indicator for forests produced by the Ger-
man Federal Agency for Nature Conserva-
tion shows a slight positive population
trend over the last 30 years. However, only
the populations of 11 more or less for-
est-bound species were considered (Kamp
et al. 2021). Detailed figures are available
for the forests of England since 1970: here,
considerably more bird species were studied
and distinguished according to those with
broad (generalists) and those with narrow
habitat requirements (specialists). In Eng-
lish forests, overall woodland bird popula-
tions have declined by 28 % since 1970,
those of specialists by as much as 41 %,
while generalist populations have increased
by 7 % (DEFRA-UK 2020). Similar develop-
ments can be expected in German forests,
as initial evaluations of long-term popula-
tion trends of all forest birds show (Gerlach
et al. 2019). According to these, species tied
to natural forests with low disturbance in-
tensities, such as the white-backed wood-
pecker, gray woodpecker, collared flycatcher,
and black woodpecker, have shown declines
in recent decades; these species may bene-
fit from more protection of natural process-
es. In saying this, we do not question that
near-natural managed forests are also im-
portant for biodiversity conservation.
The “insect die-off” has apparently also
affected Central European forests. As part
of the Biodiversity Exploratories project
(https://www.biodiversity-exploratories.de/
de/), the insect fauna at 150 sites in the
three areas of Hainich, Schorfheide-Chorin
and the Swabian Alb were also studied an-
nually between 2007 and 2017 (Seibold et
al. 2019). The results were alarming: regard-
less of the type of forest management and
also including forests taken out of use, a
41% decline in insect biomass and 36% de-
cline in absolute species number was found
for this 10-year interval, while there were no
correlations with abundance. At the insect
taxa level, heliophilous species and those
dependent on tree senescence were most
affected. The researchers cannot yet come
up with clear explanatory causalities, but
trends suggest:
(1) that the environmental influence of
intensive anthropogenic practices also af-
fects forest areas, and
(2) that the forest areas taken out of use
are far too small in number and area and
too isolated to compensate for negative
effects.
Data from the other two major forest bi-
omes – tropical and boreal forests – show,
through direct comparisons between pri-
mary forest and managed forest ecosys-
tems, that the diversity of closely for-
est-bound taxa of mammals, birds, insects,
and other animal groups declines even at
low levels of forest utilization, i.e., charac-
teristic species are lost (e.g., Burivalova et
al. 2014, Franca et al. 2017, Niemalä 1997).
At low intensities of utilization, the de-
crease in diversity is in some cases numeri-
cally compensated by immigration of
non-forest species benefiting from distur-
bances, though this alters the forest-typical
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Kaufmann et al. 2018, Leuschner et al. 2021)
is particularly informative. The data are
based on an analysis of a total of 150 re-
cording plots, 30 of which were in managed
forests and 10 each in the predominant
phases of primeval forests (with develop-
ment-, optimal- and decay phases). The im-
portant findings are:
fThe diversity of lichens is twice as high in
primeval forests as in managed forests.
fThe diversity of mosses is 50 % greater in
primeval forests than in managed forests.
f
For vascular plants, managed forests have
higher species numbers at the plot level
(α-diversity); at the landscape level (γ-diver-
sity) species richness is similar in primeval
and managed forests.
The comparative study demonstrates the
great importance of the spatial heterogene-
ity of primeval forests through the occur-
rence of all tree age classes and forest devel-
opment phases. Forest management can
favor the immigration of non-forest plant
species, but usually leads to a homogeniza-
tion of the tree stand and the loss of the se-
nescence phase, i.e. the aging and decay
phases, of forest development with their
associated habitat structures (ibid.).
How do these seemingly contradictory re-
sults on the biodiversity of forest eco-
systems and the influence of forest man-
agement arise? In comparative biodiversity
studies, it is often the case that only vascu-
lar plants are taken into account. From the
consideration of this single taxon, values
for biodiversity conservation are then in-
ferred. This is demonstrated by the meta-
study by Bernes et al. (2015) of comparisons
of managed and natural forests in boreal
and temperate regions in terms of their im-
portance for nature conservation: in around
17,000 studies, it was almost exclusively
forest structures and vascular plants that
were considered as comparative para-
meters.
High species numbers of a single selective
taxon in relation to a certain area unit, scien-
tifically expressed as α-diversity, are not a
sufficient conservation criterion to assess an
ecosystem and it is generally unsuitable to
derive conservation recommendations on
this basis alone. For a holistic assessment of
habitats, further conservation criteria are
necessary in addition to species numbers
and abundance values; these include (see
also Schmidt et al. 2011, 2014, Schoof 2013,
Opitz et al. 2015, Rosenthal et al. 2015,
Brackhane et al. 2021):
(1) naturalness, i.e., the correspondence of
the biocoenoses found with a natural or at
least near-natural reference system;
(2) the rarity and endangerment of the
species;
(3) the representativeness and probability
of occurrence of natural disturbances and
processes;
(4) the resilience (stability) and restorabili-
ty (elasticity) of the biocoenoses in the event
of natural disturbances;
(5) habitat connectivity, i.e., interconnect-
edness with sufficiently similar habitats in
the surrounding landscape matrix;
(6) representativeness of the ecosystem at
a higher spatial scale; and
(7) undisturbedness, which refers to the
lowest possible indirect anthropogenic influ-
ences (e.g. by nitrogen emissions).
However, this does not address the rele-
vance and weighting of these criteria in rela-
tion to each other. The cardinal problem con-
cerning the evaluative and decision-making
basis for normative nature conservation lies
in the agglomeration of evaluative criteria
and a presumptive inclusion of non-compa-
rable criteria. Even the choice of a single,
specific criterion can lead to a completely
contrary evaluation, as illustrated by the fol-
lowing example: A managed beech forest
with diverse structures, such as clearings
created by felling, fringes along forest roads
and logging trails, ruderal areas due to de-
posits or compaction from vehicles, usually
displays a relatively high species diversity for
vascular plants, while it is poor in terms of
the “dark optimal phases” of a primeval
beech forest. Although the individual obser-
vation of such conditions is correct, the gen-
eralization and especially generalizing evalu-
ation derived from it are invalid. As men-
tioned above, a balanced spectrum of differ-
ent parameters is always needed for the eval-
uation of habitats. In the ecological assess-
ment of forests, sensitive species groups
such as old-growth and deadwood special
-
ists must also be taken into account.
species composition (see, e.g., Schmidt
2005). There is no reason to assume that
temperate primeval forests and natural for-
ests do not respond to timber harvesting
and associated disturbances with compara-
ble loss of forest-typical biodiversity.
However, “species counting” neglects the
fact that the original benchmarks of many
forest ecosystems are simply unknown and
that various (biotic and abiotic) ecosys-
tem-shaping factors (including storms, fire,
floods, calamities, megaherbivores, preda-
tors) have already been deliberately elimi-
nated by humans a long time ago (e.g. Vera
2000). Thus neither tree species diversity
nor herbaceous plant diversity are, by
themselves, useful indicators for character-
izing the species diversity of a Central Euro-
pean forest. Focusing on a specificșα-di -
versity is also problematic because it is not
a suitable assessment variable, especially
for nature conservation objectives at higher
spatial scales. Natural peatland forests or
even boreal coniferous forests are undoubt-
edly poor in species, but the associated bio-
cenoses are composed of many highly en-
dangered species. Despite this obvious con-
nection, comparative studies in the context
of forestry versus process conservation lack
this holistic perspective.
In a recent assessment of forest ecosys-
tem services in the EU-28 countries, serious
negative developments were identified and
this despite the fact that since 1990 the for-
est floor area has increased by 13 million
hectares through succession and afforesta-
tion (Maes et al. 2020). For example, accord-
ing to Hansen et al. (2013), the indicator
“tree cover loss”, which was 27% in the
period 2000-2012, has increased to 74% in
the period 2009-2018. Causes are consid-
ered to be the increased logging and the
more frequent consequences of calamities,
general pressures (mainly nitrogen emis-
sions), diseases, extreme weather events
and forest fires. Maes et al. (2020) assess
the overall ecological status of forests as a
concern: out of 81 forest habitat types, only
14% are in a favorable condition; 53% are
in an unfavorable-insufficient condition
and 31% are in an unfavorable-poor condi-
tion; for about 2%, the condition is un-
known. Nitrogen inputs also pose special
challenges for the protection of natural pro-
cesses. In some regions, emissions (mainly
from large livestock farms) are so high that
renouncing any forest management (= no
nitrogen removal) can also lead to eutroph-
ication on sensitive sites (see Bobbink et al.
1998, Hermann et al. 2020).
20 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
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Box 4: Legal obligations and goals for the protection of primeval and natural forests
In 2007, the German government adopted
the National Strategy on Biological Diver-
sity (NBS); this was 14 years after the ratifi-
cation (1993) of the Convention on Biologi-
cal Diversity (CBD), which had been signed
at the UN World Summit in Rio in 1992
(BMUB 2007). For forests, one of the goals
formulated in the NBS was to permanently
renounce forestry utilization on 5 % of the
forest area by 2020 and to allow pro-
cess-oriented natural development (and
also to secure this by law in the long term).
In short, the goal is officially “natural forest
development” on 5 % of the total forest
area.
A further goal was that nature should be
able to develop dynamically and undis-
turbed in large areas covering at least 2 %
of the country’s terrestrial surface. In addi-
tion to forest ecosystems, this also included
peatlands, former mining landscapes and
high mountains (BMUB 2007). The goals
that should have been achieved by 2020 are
modest: according to official sources on the
achievement of the NBS targets, small-scale
set-asides in accordance with the 5 % target
have so far been implemented on only 2 %
of forest areas, and the 2 % wilderness tar-
get has been implemented on only about
0.8 % of total terrestrial areas, with national
parks included here on a blanket basis, even
if in some cases they still practice forest
conversion or hunting (BMU 2018, Hölter-
mann et al. 2020).
In 2011, in response to the 1993 CBD
commitments, the EU presented the EU
Bio diversity Strategy 2020 with few con-
crete targets and these were largely
non-binding (see EU 2011). However, on is-
sue of forests, it formulated emphatically:
“The development of forests in Europe is a
cause for concern. Most managed forests
are still operated as commercial plantation
forests and are of limited value for biodiver
-
sity. Of the forest habitats and forest-dwell-
ing species protected under the EU Habitats
Directive, only 21 % of habitats and 15% of
species have favorable conservation status.
Only 1-3 % of forests in Europe are still in a
natural condition”. Objective 3, increasing
the contribution of agriculture and forestry
to the conservation and enhancement of
bio diversity, states: “By 2020, introduce for-
est management plans or equivalent instru-
ments that are consistent with sustainable
forest management. This applies to all
state-owned forests and to forest holdings
that exceed a certain size; the details of this
are to be defined by the member states or
regions. Measured against the 2010 EU ref-
erence scenario, the aim is to bring about a
measurable improvement in the conserva-
tion status of species and habitats that de-
pend on or are influenced by forestry.” To
date, however, there has been no evaluation
by the EU or its bodies such as the Europe-
an Environment Agency of the progress or
success of its own biodiversity strategy.
The new Biodiversity Strategy 2030,
which is one of the central elements of the
EU’s Green Deal project, formulates the fol-
lowing strategic objectives on the issue of
forests (EU 2020a, b):
(1) Establish a coherent network of
well-managed protected areas on at least
30% of the land area;
(2) Protect and restore forests in the EU;
(3) Strictly protect all remaining primeval
forests and old-growth forests,
(4) Call for the development of an EU for-
est strategy;
(5) Expand forest areas in the EU and
plant at least 3 billion trees, while fully re-
specting ecological principles; and
(6) Implement measures to improve the
resilience of forests and their role in com-
bating biodiversity loss and mitigating cli-
mate change. The Forest Strategy 2050 re-
cently presented by the German govern-
ment also contains a clear commitment to
implement the forest-related goals of the
EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. It explicitly
emphasizes: “placing more land area under
nature conservation and also a significant
part of it under strict protection. Old-
growth forests in particular should be
strictly protected” (BMEL 2021).
In a study by the Thünen Institute for Inter-
national Forestry and Forest Economics, by
contrast, fears are expressed that the imple-
mentation of the EU biodiversity strategy
would be associated with considerable re-
strictions on forest use and would have ex-
tremely negative effects on the forestry and
timber industries in Germany as well as in
the EU as a whole (Dieter et al. 2020, Dieter
2021).
In general, the relevance of the EU nature
conservation goals for forests (protection
and setting-aside of primeval and natural
forests and increased designation of pro-
tected areas) is questioned and changes in
strategy, away from the demand for protec-
tion and towards utilization, are called for.
A threatening scenario is presented that if
European forests were not to be utilized
there could be fatal ecological consequenc-
es: (1) that meeting projected future de-
mand for raw timber would lead to an out-
sourcing to third countries with less sus-
tainable wood production and overall lower
political regulation; (2) that serious nega-
tive effects on forest biodiversity in these
countries could thus be expected; and (3)
that this would lead to an overall increase
in deforestation pressure. These projections
are made on the basis of the following
modeled assumptions, and assuming that
EU nature conservation targets were imple-
mented normatively and instrumentally:
(1) For EU countries, a 42 % reduction in
logging by 2050 is assumed compared to a
baseline scenario (see also Section 5.4).
(2) For Germany, it is assumed that the an-
nual volume of raw timber would then fall by
an average of approx. 24 million m
3
for the pe-
riod under consideration from 2018 to 2050
(-31 % compared to the baseline scenario).
(3) For Germany, it is assumed that 10%
of total forest area will be set-aside in fu-
ture, and that this setting-aside would be
distributed representatively, i.e. would also
include highly productive sites.
On this “factual basis”, a broad alliance of
the forestry and timber industry argues
that active climate protection requires
abandoning further restrictions on forest
use and instead increasing CO
2
sequestra-
tion through wood use (Verbändeposition
der Forst- und Holzwirtschaft 2021). In our
opinion, the shifts postulated by the Thü-
nen Institute are not particularly realistic
given the few remaining and still shrinking
primeval forest areas in Europe and against
the backdrop of the 5 % target of “natural
forest development” set by the National
Bio diversity Strategy, which, though far
from being achieved, is nevertheless legally
codified, and which, it is to be hoped, will
be adhered to at the political level.
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4 The discourse on primeval
forests, natural forests and
managed forests and their con-
tribution to climate protection
The importance of forests for climate protec-
tion lies in their function as carbon reser-
voirs and sinks. During the growth phase,
forests remove large amounts of CO
2
from
the atmosphere and store it in the bio-
mass (wood) and soil over the long term (e.g.
Luyssaert et al. 2008, Gleixner et al., 2009,
Nord-Larsen et al. 2019, Meyer et al. 2021).
The global C storage of forest ecosystems
comprises 300 Gt C in mineral soil organic
carbon, 295 Gt C in living biomass, and
68 Gt C in dead wood and litter layer (Fig. 8a).
Globally, forests are the largest terrestrial
sink for CO
2
, absorbing about 2 Gt CO
2
annu-
ally; equivalent to 0.55 Gt C (UN 2021) (see
Box 5 and Carbon Inventory 2017, Riedel et
al. 2019). However, this storage capacity is
decreasing due to the destruction and over-
exploitation of forests. The main driver is the
increasing utilization of wood for thermal
energy (firewood, wood chips) (e.g. UNEP
2020, UN 2021). Increasingly, climate effects
such as forest fires, calamities and drought
stress, which reduce stands and productivity,
are also contributing to this negative devel-
opment.
For the 11.4 million hectares of forest in
Germany, the magnitude of C storage in bio-
mass, deadwood and soil is calculated to be
2.6 billion t for the baseline year 2017 (which
corresponds to 9.5 billion t CO
2
). Of this, 1.23
billion C is stored in above-ground biomass,
0.034 billion t C in dead wood and the
humus layer, and 1.335 billion t C in mineral
soil and below-ground biomass (Fig. 8b).
Baseline values are a determined average
(wood) stand of 358 m3 with a growth of
10.9 m3 per hectare per year (Riedel et al.
2019, BMEL 2021). Due to the extreme condi-
tions between 2018 to 2020, it can be ex-
pected that the average annual growth in
Germany was significantly lower in this
period; this could be interpreted as an indi-
cation of declines in production or even a
decrease in the stand in our forests that can
be expected in the near future.
The accounting of carbon storage and thus
also the CO2 sink performance of forests (or
trees) is complex in its details and strongly
dependent on the forest type, development
history and management. During tree devel-
opment, the C-sink performance gradually
decreases after reaching the culmination
point of growth. Under natural conditions, if
there are no significant disturbances, forest
development continues steadily and then
gradually enters the decay phase where re
-
lease of CO2 predominates. This is not an
abrupt process but can takes decades or
even centuries, and can vary greatly in dura-
tion depending on the tree species. C storage
is is therefore significantly higher in virgin
forests at the landscape level than in com-
mercial forests, while the increment in inten-
sively managed (thinned) commercial forests
can be higher if thinning strengthens the in-
crement of productive dominant trees (tar-
get trees) at the expense of weaker-growing
or silviculturally undesirable individuals of
inferior quality. In the case of a high intensi-
ty of timber extraction, the C-sink perfor-
mance of a forest can be very low at the
landscape level without taking into account
possible C-sinks in material products, since
an almost comparably large amount of tim-
ber is removed as grows back. However, in a
direct comparison of beech management
forests and virgin beech forests in the Slovak
Carpathians, an equally high productivity is
also reported for both forest types (Glatthorn
et al. 2017).
On productive sites, the stocks of wood
can reach high amounts when the forest is
set aside; for example, in the beech-domi-
nated primeval forests of the Ukrainian and
Romanian Carpathians, over 600 m
3
per ha.
In addition, there are high levels of dead-
wood, which can be around 200 m
3
per ha,
ten times the average value of German man-
aged forests (Commarmot et al. 2013, Glatt-
horn et al. 2017, Kun et al. 2020). In total, an
ecosystem C pool of 272 t carbon per hectare
was measured in the Slovakian Carpathians
for managed forests compared to 347 t in
primeval forests (+ 27 %) (Leuschner et al.
2021). The C sink was significantly larger
than in the managed forest, especially in
deadwood (+ 310 %), but also in wood bio-
mass (+ 20 %) and soil (+ 17 %) (Fig. 10). It
should be taken into account that for the pri-
meval forests the prevailing development
phases were mapped, whereas for the man-
aged forests it was the mature phase shortly
before harvesting. Thus, if all phases of the
beech managed forests are considered in one
production cycle and compared with the
C-storage of primeval forests, the difference
in C storage would likely increase by more
than 75 t C per hectare for the primeval for-
ests in comparison to the managed forests.
From a comparison of managed forests
with natural forests that have been set aside
for several decades, Schulze et al. (2020a,
2021) conclude that primeval forests and
natural forests are disadvantageous for cli-
mate protection, because managed forests
have a 10-fold higher climate protection ef-
fect than natural forests due to higher tree
growth and a corresponding long-term wood
product storage. These calculations and the
evaluations derived from them are now of-
ten cited as grounds for discrediting at-
tempts to protect primeval forests and to
cease natural forest use. For example, forest-
ry experts and politicians in Romania explic-
itly refer to the study by Schulze et al.
(2020a) and recommend to the Romanian
government that further protection of pri-
meval forests and natural forests is inappro-
priate for ecological and climate policy rea-
sons (UTB 2020a, b).
Box 5: Carbon reservoirs and CO2 equivalents
An average of 0.5 t of carbon is stored in 1 t
of air-dry wood. According to the molar
mass ratio of CO2 to C (44/12 = 3.67),
this amount of carbon corresponds to
1.83 t CO2. The volume-related measure of
solid cubic meters (fm = m
3
), which is com-
monly used in forest inventories, is simpli-
fied to an average wood weight of 0.7 t; this
value is plausible for the beech-dominated
forests of the Hainich, for example. This
means that an additional growth of 1 m
3
of
wood corresponds to a CO
2
sequestration
of 1.28 t CO2. During harvesting and sub-
sequent oxidation of carbon by burning,
this amount of CO2 is released to the at-
mosphere again. The same amount is also
released when the wood decays (mineraliz-
es and oxidizes) in the forest. However, this
does not happen abruptly, but over a period
of decades, depending on the tree species,
the climate and the dimensions of the dead
wood. Use of the wood in long-life prod-
ucts also delays the release of CO2, for ex-
ample in timber construction – on average
35 years (UBA 2020a, Figure 9). These fig-
ures refer exclusively to the aboveground
wood-based biomass.
22 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
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The empirical basis of the study by Schul-
ze et al. (2020a) is a comparison of data sets
from the German federal forest inventories
2002 (BWI 2) and 2012 (BWI 3) for managed
forests (comprising about 60,000 permanent
inventory points across Germany) with in-
ventory data from the Hainich National Park
for the years 2000 and 2010 (comprising
1,200 and 1,421 inventory points, respective-
ly). From the comparison of the two federal
forest inventories for German managed for-
ests, a CO2 mitigation effect of 3.2 to 3.5 t
CO2 equivalents per hectare and year is cal-
culated. This calculation takes into account
losses during harvesting and wood process-
ing as well as substitution effects deter-
mined from life cycle assessment studies
(see also part 2, section 2 of this paper). For
the Hainich National Park, a CO
2
sink of only
0.37 t CO
2
equivalents per hectare and year
was calculated by comparing the inventory
data (and excluding utilization of wood).
The Hainich National Park Authority com-
ments on this in a statement (NPH 2020,
Welle et al. 2020), saying that Schulze et al.’s
(2020a) data for the Hainich was given an in-
correct analysis, evaluation and interpretive
context, as the two time periods have differ-
ent and non-comparable forest reference
areas. To determine periodic growth, only the
respective identical forest areas can be com-
pared in a time series. In their comparative
calculations, Schulze et al. mistakenly in-
cluded about 220 samples from the Hainich
National Park that were not yet forest areas
during the first inventory and are also not
listed in the data records of the initial inven-
tory. These are several hundred hectares of
clear-cuts from previous utilization and
scrub areas of former open lands such as
shooting ranges which were within the cov-
erage threshold for forest in the initial inven-
tory (Fig. 11). These areas, even after 10 years
of development between the 2000 initial in-
ventory and the 2010 replicate, still have
very low timber inventories and are in no
way comparable to natural forest. When add-
ing up the identified stocks and averaging
over all the samples, the impression was
thus created that the forests in the Hainich,
with only 0.37 m3 per hectare and year,
would show practically no increase in stocks
over a 10-year period. This is in clear contra-
diction to the growth in stocks of about
7.9 m3 per hectare per year determined for
Slovakian primeval beech forests, a figure
which was exactly as high in site-homolo-
gous managed forests.
The second mistake of the study is to use
the forests of the Hainich as the only refer-
ence and benchmark for Central European
natural forests. The correct evaluation of the
inventory areas in the Hainich results, in a
decade comparison, in a an average growth
in stock of 8.6 m3 per hectare and year (NPH
2020); this value is of a similar order of mag-
nitude as the average increment in German
(managed) forests (Third Federal Forest In-
ventory: 10.3 m3 per hectare and year for
beech forests); the figure can be reconciled
with the prevalent highly productive forest
development phases once it is noted that
the Hainich forests are by no means yet in
their optimal or terminal phase.
Transferring the calculation method used
by Schulze et al. (2020a) to the unused forest
areas in the Hainich, the growth in stock of
8.6 m³ per hectare and year results in a CO2
sink of 8.0 t CO2 equivalents per hectare and
year. Since no utilization takes place, this re-
sults in a medium-term climate protection
performance of the forests in the Hainich,
which is even higher by a factor of 2.5 than
Fig. 8: Forests as CO2
reservoirs (a) globally
(top; UN 2021) and (b)
in Germany (bottom;
Riedel et al. 2019,
BMEL 2021).
Graphic: Eckhard Jedicke
Fig. 9: Carbon storage
per cubic metre or m³
of wood increment
and time until its re-
lease after felling (UBA
2020 a).
Graphic: Eckhard Jedicke
Fig. 10: Ecosystem carbon pool in the Slovak
Carpathians in primeval forests (all development
phases) compared to commercial forests in the
mature phase shor tly before logging (Leuschner
et al. 2021).
Graphic: Eckhard Jedicke
53 (12) | 2021 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 23
DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests
Originalarbeit
the CO
2
mitigation effect of managed forests
of 3.2 to 3.5 t CO2 equivalents per hectare
and year including substitution effects as
determined by Schulze et al. (2020a). It be-
comes clear that the discussion about the
climate protection performance of forests
rests in part on incorrect data.
5 Outlook
The primeval forests in Europe - to be distin-
guished from today's unused natural forests,
which display more or less pronounced char-
acteristics and consequences of past use -
have shrunk to tiny remnants of less than
1 %, and even these tiny remnants are highly
endangered. Four-fifths of temperate prime-
val forest areas are located in the Carpathian
arc, and political commitments justifiably re-
quire their protection. At the same time, Ger-
many's National Strategy on Biological Diver-
sity sets clear targets of 5 % of forest area for
natural forest development (future natural
forests) and 2 % of the federal territory for
wilderness development - targets that should
have been achieved by 2020 but have been
missed by a long way. In order to objectify
the public debate, this article has analyzed
the importance of primeval forests for the
conservation of biodiversity and in their
functions as carbon stores and sinks and the
effects of abandoning utilization in forests.
As the WBGU’s main report (2020) on
“Land Transition in the Anthropocene” has
shown, natural process conservation in the
forest is integral to any exemplary multiple-
benefit strategy: it contributes significantly
both to the conservation and promotion of
biodiversity, in particular the specific species
and biocenoses of old forest development
stages, and to carbon storage and sequestra-
tion, i.e. to climate protection. Abandoning
the utilization of representatively selected
forest areas is thus best practice for sus-
tainable combined nature- and land-based
climate protection and also does not rule
out the material utilization of wood when
this has objectively positive effects on the
climate.
In the second part of the article (see next
issue), we address the narrative of the cli-
mate neutrality of wood as a resource. Estab-
lishing the CO2 sink performance of wood in
the context of logging and the substitution
of wood products by other materials requires
nuanced discussion and our article under-
takes just that. The assumptions made con-
cerning the sustainability of alternative sce-
narios for forest treatment and wood use
made in the WEHAM study (WaldEntwick-
lungs- und HolzAufkommensModellierung
– Forest Development and Wood Supply
Modeling) are criticized. The sweeping gen-
eralization that wood is a CO
2
-neutral energy
source requires detailed analysis. Our find-
ings are then placed in the context of the
role of wood in implementing political goals
for climate protection.
Conclusion for practice
In conceptual terms, primeval forest and
natural forest must be clearly separated.
Forests that have only recently been set
aside are not (yet) a sufficient reference
for the assessment of biodiversity and
climate protection performance and
for the goals of natural process conser-
vation, because they require very long
periods of time to begin to resemble
primeval forests.
The imperative to protect primeval
forests rests on ethical, scientific, and
anthropocentric grounds: they preserve
genetic diversity and thus the potential
for climate adaptation, act as refugial
and source biotopes for highly special-
ized species, provide learning sites for
forestry strategies, and serve as research
laboratories for effects of long-term
environmental change.
Critical studies on the biodiversity per-
formance of unmanaged forests are
typically based on faulty assumptions or
are usually limited to the consideration
of vascular plants alone. Highly special-
ized species of animals, fungi, lichens,
and mosses in particular comprise the
unique value of forests that have been
unmanaged for a very long time. Conser-
vation assessments require an objective
analysis of a much wider variety of cri-
teria than mere species numbers. Our
findings clearly indicate a very signifi-
cant increase in the ecological value of
unused forests with a growing primeval
forest character.
The carbon storage capacity of forests is
decreasing in overall terms due to in-
creasing use of wood for energy along
with climate change impacts. However,
such issues are very complex. C storage
is significantly greater in primeval for-
ests at the landscape level than in man-
aged forests, while the C sink function
may be higher in intensively managed
(thinned) forests if thinning strengthens
the growth of productive dominant trees
(target trees) at the expense of weak-
er-growing or silviculturally undesirable
individuals of inferior quality. Here, too,
the data used in studies must be criti-
cally questioned. The argument that
only a utilized forest is a good forest for
climate protection cannot be substan-
tiated by the facts.
Fig. 11: In the south of the Hainich National Park, the former shooting ranges are now mainly young forest
areas with ver y little growth and shrubby succession areas are widespread. In these areas 200 samples are
located, which in the study by Schulze et al. are listed as permanently unused old forest areas.
Picture: Rüdiger Biehl, Nationalparkverwaltung Hainich (2016)
24 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 53 (12) | 2021
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2021.12.01.e
Originalarbeit
Finally, in the synopsis of the findings of
both parts of the article, we will draw conclu-
sions for how to bring objectivity to the dis-
pute over the value of primeval and natural
forests.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Dr. Hannes Böttcher,
Dr. Anke Höltermann, László Maráz, Dr. Peter
Meyer, Judith Reise, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Albert
Reif and Sabine Stein for their critical review
of the manuscript and valuable contribu-
tions.
Literature
For reasons of comprehensiveness, the de-
tailed bibliography is available under web-
code NuL2231.
Prof. Dr. Rainer Luick teaches
and researches at the Rotten-
burg University of Applied For-
est Sciences. Studied biology
(focus on geobotany and plant
physiology) and ethnology at
the Albert-Ludwigs-University
Freiburg and evolutionary biolo-
gy at the University of Michigan
/ Ann Arbor / USA. Doctorate Dr. sc. agr. University
of Hohenheim. Many years of work in private water
management and landscape planning. Since 1999
Professor for Nature Conservation and Landscape
Management at the Rottenburg University of
Applied Forest Sciences. Main research interests:
natural processes in rural areas, agricultural, nature
conservation and regional policy, extensive land
use systems, technology assessments for the energy
transition and commitment to protect the last Euro-
pean primeval forests.
> luick@hs-rottenburg.de
Dr. Klaus Hennenberg works
as Senior Researcher at the
Öko- Institut e. V.in Darmstadt.
Studied biology (focus on
nature conservation and vege-
tation ecology) at the University
of Göttingen; studied energy
at the University of Kassel
(Master), doctorate Dr. rer. nat.
at the University of Rostock. Since 2007 Senior
Researcher in the field of energy and climate pro-
tection at Öko-Institut e.V. Research focus: Sustain-
ability issues in forest management and bioenergy
production, evaluation of certification schemes,
modeling of GHG emissions in the LULUCF sector.
> k.hennenberg@oeko.de
CON TAC T
Prof. Dr. Christoph Leuschner
teaches and researches at the
Georg-August-Universität Göt-
tingen, Dept. of Plant Ecology,
in the Albrecht von Haller Insti-
tute for Plant Sciences. Studied
biology at the Universities of
Freiburg and Göttingen. PhD
and habilitation in plant ecolo-
gy at the University of Göttingen. 1996-2000 Profes-
sor of Ecology at the University of Kassel, since
2000 Professor of Plant Ecology at the University of
Göttingen. Member of the Göttingen Academy of
Sciences. Research interests: Ecology of temperate
and tropical trees and forests, climate change ef-
fects on forests, importance of primeval forests for
forest biodiversity, status and protection of agricul-
tural biodiversity in cropland and grassland.
> cleusch@gwdg.de
Dipl.-Ing. Manfred Grossmann, Head of Hainich
National Park, Bad Langensalza
> manfred.grossmann@nnl.thueringen.de
Prof. Dr. Eckhard Jedicke, Geisenheim University,
Competence Center Cultural Landscape, Chair of
Landscape Development
> eckhard.jedicke@hs-gm.de
Dr. Nicolas Schoof, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität
Freiburg, Chair of Site Classification and Vegetation
Science
> nicolas.schoof@waldbau.uni-freiburg.de
Dr. Thomas Waldenspuhl, Head of the Black Forest
National Park, Seebach
> thomas.waldenspuhl@nlp.bwl.de
53 (12) | 2021 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 25
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