Europe has lost 62% of the forests which originally covered the continent, says WWF. And although tree cover in Europe has expanded in recent years, "the biological diversity of forests is diminishing". The reasons WWF gives for this are the conversion of mixed deciduous forests to single-species coniferous plantations, the fragmentation of forests by roads and tourist facilities and continuing pressures from air pollution, forest fires and overgrazing.
The WWF accuses the European Commission and EU countries of showing a "striking lethargy" in protecting Europe's remaining natural forests, despite this "appalling situation". At present, less than 2% of Europe's forest cover is strictly protected. WWF is calling on governments to extend this to include 100 of the most important forest areas in Europe that are either completely or inadequately protected. In these areas, all kinds of logging activities would be banned and forests would be restored to their original state.
The best way of achieving this in the European Union - where over 40 of the 100 "forest hotspots" are situated - is through full implementation of the habitats directive, says the WWF. Described by the environmental group as "the most important nature protection law in Europe", this directive requires EU countries to protect rare habitats and species and set up the Natura 2000 network of protected sites.
However, at present not one country has fully implemented the directive and the European Commission has launched a swathe of infringement procedures against member states for non-compliance (ENDS Daily 17 October). WWF said today that by failing to implement the directive, "EU member states are jeopardising the last remnants of high-value natural forests in Europe".
The habitats directive must be "put back on track", the director of WWF's Brussels office Tony Long told reporters. To make "recalcitrant" member states comply with the directive, the Commission should consider financial sanctions - such as withholding EU funds - said Mr Long . It should also include the 42 EU "forest hotspots" identified by WWF in its Natura 2000 programme and dedicate "large amounts" of EU funding to establish a well-protected network of forest sites in Europe.
World Wide Fund For Nature, tel: + 32 2 743 8819.
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