Ancient forests of Europe

Page - December 1, 2006
The last ancient forests of Europe combine Europe's few remaining tracts of ancient forest in Scandinavia with the adjoining forest of European Russia, from the western flanks of the Ural Mountains. These forests represent Europe's last remaining intact ancient forest.

These forests have ensured the survival of numerous plant and animal species, including bears, reindeer, flying squirrels and the highly endangered eagle owl.

These ancient boreal forests are also home to tens of thousands of indigenous peoples. The reindeer herding Saami people live in northern parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway as well as the Murmansk region of Russia. The forests support the traditional cultures of the Komi and Nenets (or Samoyeds) who inhabit the Arkhangelsk Region and Komi Republic of European Russia.

"Living forests form a central part of Saami culture. Old growth forests are of crucial importance for reindeer herding and should not be logged for pulp mills under any circumstances. In the Saami culture we have been taught to respect forests ever since our childhood," Pekka Aikio, President of the Saami Parliament, Finland.

Going, going… nearly gone

Deciduous forests once covered almost the whole of Central and Western Europe. Today the continent's only undisturbed forests are in the far north. Roughly 30 countries throughout Eastern and Western Europe have no intact ancient forest left.

Finland and Sweden retain only one percent and three percent of their original forest cover as large tracts of ancient forest. Only European Russia retains extensive intact ancient forest, around 14 percent, and even this is under serious threat from industrial logging. The common perception that Russia is a country with unlimited natural resources is a myth. In reality the country's undisturbed forests, and particularly the last large intact ancient forests, are shrinking rapidly.

 At least 150 square kilometres of ancient forest fall victim to the chainsaw every year. New vegetation can take years to grow in Polar Regions where the summers are short.

European governments have done little to ensure the conservation of the small areas of ancient forest that remain in their jurisdiction. Exploitation of wood and timber, road building, mining, pipelines and railways are cutting the forest up into small fragments.

In Finland, the state-owned Forest and Park Service is destroying its own last remaining ancient forest, while Finnish industry is increasing its imports from the neighbouring ancient forest in Russia.

European consumers are responsible for the destruction of at least 15,000 hectares of ancient forest in European Russia each year. The Russian government is responsible for much of the rest.

Meanwhile Europe also remains a critical market for illegal and destructively logged timber from countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Cameroon, despite well publicised accounts of the widespread nature of illegal and destructive logging in these regions.

Finland's forests nearly finished

In the north of Finland, the Finnish government's own logging company (Metsähallitus) is logging in areas crucial for the traditional livelihood of indigenous Sámi reindeer herders, despite the recommendations of the UN Committee on Human Rights.

In December 2004 Greenpeace tracked the logged wood from reindeer herding areas to mills that produce disposable products such as copy paper, magazines and disposable tissue paper.

Greenpeace, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC) and a majority of the reindeer herding co-operatives in the Sámi area have jointly mapped the important reindeer grazing forests. Reindeer herders and environmental organisations demand that the mapped areas must be left outside of harmful industrial logging. The needs of reindeer herders and wishes of the organisations are to a large extent ignored. The Finnish government continues the destructive logging of several of the crucial winter pasture areas.

To learn more go to:

copyright 2002 Greenpeace/Global Forest Watch

Potentially intact ancient forest, >50,000 heactares

Other forests

Sources: Intact forest landscapes of Sweden and Finland, Taiga Rescue Network 2000

Intact landscapes of Russia, Greenpeace Russia and GFW 2001, Current forest cover, University of Maryland 2000