At least 79 200 square kilometres of forest habitats protected under Annex I of the Habitats Directive need to be restored
Forests and other wooded land cover more than 40 % of Europe, making it one of the most forest-rich regions in the world. In addition to providing timber and wood products, our forests are home to many ecosystems, which have multiple functions and host a substantial part of Europe’s biodiversity. They also play a vital role against climate change.  As European forests are rather managed, many of their natural functions are impaired. Currently, less than one third of Europe’s forests are uneven-aged, while 33 % have only one tree species (mainly conifers) and 50 % have only two to three tree species .
Distribution of 69 forest habitats in the EU
Source: Distribution maps (10 km x 10 km) delivered by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the shades of brown indicate the number of habitat types per 10 km x 10 km grid cell
Due to their high ecological value and climate mitigation contribution, forests are one of the priority habitats recognised for restoration activities. To this aim, the EU not only set concrete targets for forests in its EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the proposed Nature Restoration Law, but also published a dedicated EU Forest Strategy for 2030 .
The Habitats Directive protects 69 forest habitat types, including, inter alia, temperate forests (e.g. Luzulo-Fagetum beech forests) and boreal forests (e.g. Western Taïga).The latest assessment of the State of Nature showed that a high proportion of Annex I forest habitats is in unfavourable status (84 %) and 17 % are further deteriorating.
At least 79 200 km2 of Annex I forest habitats need to be restored and at least 3 500 km2 of additional areas need to be ‘recreated’ from other land
According to the results of the EEA restoration assessment, the area of Annex I forest that require restoration amounts to at least 79 200 km2, representing 22 % of the total area reported for this group of habitats. However, as the condition for another over 116 400 km2 (33 % of the total area) is unknown, the area requiring restoration is most certainly considerably larger. In addition, the areas where the Annex I habitats will need to be recreated from other land uses represent at least 3 500 km2, mostly targeting Mediterranean forest habitats (but most likely even more areas will be needed to reach the good state for these habitats).
Habitat condition reported for forest habitats
Source: Habitat condition reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the restoration surface areas are indicative since they were estimated on the basis of minimum areas reported by Member States and, for most habitats, their condition is largely unknown.
Laurel forest on São Miguel island. © NEEMO
CASE STUDY: Increase in Macaronesian laurel forests in the Azores
In the east of São Miguel island (Azores), the survival of the rare endemic Azores Bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) depends on the existence and quality of the Macaronesian laurel forest (Laurus, Ocotea - 9360). The seeds, flower buds and fleshy fruit of the once-thriving laurel forests provide food for the critically endangered bird, of which there were just 100 remaining pairs in 2003. However, invading alien plant species brought to the archipelago by colonisers are threatening the laurel forests and creating a shortage of food for the birds.Three consecutive LIFE projects have taken on the main task of saving the forest and the species for future generations — and it seems that they have succeeded. The conservation status of Macaronesian laurel forests improved from poor in 2012 to good in 2018 and stabilised at the favourable level. The Azores bullfinch population stabilised at between 627 and 1 996 specimens and increased in area up to 160 km2. This was accomplished by, inter alia, enlarging the Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme Special Protection Area by almost three times, covering the whole species range, and removing invasive species, such as the exotic Cryptomeria and Hedychium stands, replacing them with more than 300 000 saplings of diverse native plants cultivated in local nurseries, and creating a special nursery dedicated to the production of native plants (PRIOLO LIV03 NAT/P/000013, LAURISSILVA SUSTENTAVEL LIFE07 NAT/P/000630, Life Terras do Priolo LIFE12 NAT/PT/000527).
Restoring the degraded habitat will in many cases include the actions and measures aiming at reducing the current pressures. Main pressures reported under the Article 17 reporting are: habitat management, habitat conversion and alien and problematic species
- Habitat management is by far the most frequent pressure for Annex I forest habitats. Most common impacts relate to the removal of old or dead trees, clear-cutting and other logging activities as well as forest management practices reducing old growth forests.
- Habitat conversion mostly relate to conversion into other types of forest, which often refers to conversions from extensive forests into intensive production forests (e.g. monocultures). Other conversions include logged areas without replanting or natural regrowth and the construction of roads and other infrastructures.
- Alien and problematic species mostly refers to invasive alien species identified as of Union concern under the Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014. Among other invasive alien species in temperate forests, some alien plants pose severe competition for light (e.g. Prunus serotina) and nutrients (e.g. Prunus laurocerasus). Such invasive competitors can lead to structural habitat changes and the creation of new plant communities and therefore negatively affects the forest regeneration.
Pressures reported for forest habitats
Source: Pressure reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018). Conservation status of habitat types and species: datasets from Article 17, Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC reporting
 European Commission (2021), https://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/index_en.htm
 Forest Europe, 2015, ‘State of Europe’s forests, 2020 report’, https://foresteurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SoEF_2020.pdf
 Langmaier & Lapin (2020), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2020.524969/full