European countries have more trees than 100 years ago, except for Flanders

Compared to a century ago, the number of trees in Europe has increased significantly. However, this positive trend is not reflected in Flanders. "We are at the bottom of the European ranking," Professor Bart Muys of KU Leuven told VRT NWS.

"There has been an enormous increase in forests and trees in Europe over the last century," says Muys, a professor of forest ecology and management. This is particularly true in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, France and Italy, but many forests have also expanded in Eastern Europe.

The increase is mainly due to industrialisation, Muys explains. "As the population grows and there is more demand for agriculture, you see more deforestation. But gradually, as people become more industrialised, they need less land to live on."

Fossil fuels

The shift from a medieval bio-economy to a fossil fuel-based economy in the 19th century also plays a role. "We used to take wood out of the forests to fuel various industrial processes. In the 20th century, that was no longer necessary," Muys says.

In recent decades, forests have grown spontaneously in some places and been planted in others. But Flanders is an exception to this positive European trend. "In our region, the trend is rather negative. Flanders is a typical region with a low afforestation index, comparable to the Netherlands and Denmark."

Spacial structure plan

"We are at the bottom of the European ranking. On average, 35 to 40 per cent of Europe is forested, but in Flanders, it is only 11 to 12 per cent," says Muys. "As early as 1997, we agreed in the spatial structure plan for Flanders that 10,000 hectares of forest should be added. But if you look at the last 25 years, the trend has been negative. We are getting further and further away from this target."

He blames the lack of available land for this. "In many places in Europe, there is spontaneous reforestation due to abandoned agricultural land, but in Flanders, not a single hectare of forest is added naturally. On the contrary, land is extremely scarce here."

"We are losing forests every year"

Flanders is not the only poor performer. The number of trees is also declining on other continents, especially in the tropics. Large areas of tropical forest are still being cleared every year.

"We are losing forests every year. And the forest that is being added is of lower ecological quality," says Muys. "Plantations are replacing primary forests with high biodiversity. This is fine for timber production but much less so for the other functions of the forest."


#FlandersNewsService | Illustration picture shows the Huwynsbossen forest, a nature area in Lichtervelde, West Flanders © BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER

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