10-year decline in EU forests confirmed

63% of broadleaf trees in EU show evidence of poor health; researchers look for causes

A European Commission survey has confirmed a ten-year decline in the health of Europe's forests. The results show that the proportion of trees with moderate or severe defoliation has more than doubled over ten years, which is broadly in line with a similar study published last year (ENDS Daily 4 September 1997). Carried out with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) since 1987, the annual surveys examine about 5,700 plots on 16x16 kilometre grid, checking trees for crown condition, tree nutrition and forest soil condition. This year's report shows that only 51% of EU conifers and 37% of broadleaves showed no significant defoliation. Across Europe, only 36% and 34% respectively fell into these categories. Experts are continuing work to determine the causes of tree damage and this year's review includes a report on the relationship between environmental conditions and forest health. According to a Commission official, the observed decline in tree health has occurred despite reduced emissions of air pollutants in most of Europe. This suggests that soil quality as well as air pollution, is an important factor, he said. Although drought is also thought to be a major contributor to poor soil quality, acidification and heavy metal leaching would have contributed to poorer soil quality he said, adding that with only two years' results it was difficult to come to clear conclusions.

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