European cooperation on forest protection

Example of a spruce population in the Black Forest threatened by drought (Photo:
Example of a spruce population in the Black Forest threatened by drought (Photo: Arthur Gessler). ’FFORWARDS will for the first time combine data from long-term forest monitoring, satellite observations and model simulations across Europe to understand the impacts of climate change on forests and to implement this information together with practitioners into action plans for Climate-Smart forestry’ - Arthur Gessler, WSL researcher.
The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL is participating in a pan-European project to monitor and evaluate the impact of climate change on forests. The aim is to create a basis for decision-making in practical forest management on a European and regional level. The first calls for grants are now being launched, enabling researchers outside the FORWARDS consortium to contribute to the project’s goal.

Climate change is already a threat to forest ecosystems and in especially to the ecosystem services that forests provide for nature and humans. Many tree species are suffering from rising temperatures and frequent droughts. However, we know too little about how we can strengthen the resilience of forests to climate change through forest management, protection, and restoration. A pan-European project with WSL participation aims to close this knowledge gap. The aim of the FORWARDS project is to prototype the ForestWard Observatory - a tool for monitoring and evaluating the effects of climate change on forests.

"FORWARDS will for the first time combine data from long-term forest monitoring, satellite observations and model simulations across Europe to understand the impacts of climate change on forests," explains WSL researcher Arthur Gessler. The obtained information will support policy makers and forest practitioners in taking measures to increase forests resilience in the long term. The ForestWard Observatory is intended to provide recommendations for measures at the European, regional and local levels to adapt forest practices to the changing climate. Gessler stresses that this does not replace the urgency to reduce CO2 emissions. "Without such a reduction, even adaptation measures cannot prevent the partial or total loss of key forest functions (such as avalanche protection). Thus, it is crucial to make the transition to net zero emissions in due time."

WSL leads the development of new methods

WSL leads the central work package of FORWARDS, linking ground-based forest monitoring data with satellite information across Europe. This allows experts to identify regions at risk where forests may lose their ability to provide crucial ecosystem services in the near future.

In addition, WSL is contributing its expertise in drought and heat monitoring to the project. WSL researchers are developing new models to assess in real time where current drought events and heat waves cause trees to be stressed. The TreeNet measuring system, which already provides detailed information on the water balance of trees and forests throughout Switzerland, makes a significant contribution to these efforts.

The new methods are being tested and refined on several WSL observation plots and the experimental site in the Pfynwald. The experimental afforestation on the Stillberg near Davos is also a demonstration site for climate smart forest restoration as part of the FORWARDS project. The effects of climate change on alpine forest ecosystems are being studied here.

FORWARDS is a project on, Research and Innovation SERI to prototype the ForestWard Observatory. The ForestWard Observatory is a pan-European monitoring and evaluation tool that will help to demonstrate the impacts of climate change on forests. It is intended to guide decision-making in practical forest management and policy making. FORWARDS is funded by the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. The project started on 1 November 2022 and will end on 30 November 2027.

Currently, the first round of up to 50 planned grant calls within the FORWARDS project is underway. This allows researchers who are not part of the FORWARDS consortium to contribute to the overall objectives of the project. Project proposals are being sought for five trials in Climate-Smart forestry and forest restoration. Researchers across the EU can apply to the European Forest Institute (EFI) until 31 October 2023. The projects are expected to start in early 2024 and run for a duration of 18 months.

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