Forests in the Carpathians

More than half of the Carpathians are forested, thus representing a very important resource in the area. The forest cover is stable or increasing slightly mainly as a result of strict prescription and control of forest regeneration in all countries, prohibition of deforestation and spontaneous afforestation of formerly used pasturelands. Forests in the Carpathians represent high biodiversity values. In contrary to Western Europe, where large areas of truly natural forest that display natural forest dynamics are almost completely absent, the Carpathians still harbour around 300,000 hectares of such forests including the largest tracts of virgin forests in Europe. From low mountain land oak forests, through beech-oak mixtures, beech, beech-conifer mixtures to conifer woodland, forests show a remarkable natural diversity, sheltering a large number of plant and animal communities that have remained largely intact and unchanged.

The more widely known groups of organisms, such as mammals, birds or plants, however, constitute only a small part of the species diversity of forests. It is the very small organism that predominate, especially invertebrates and fungi. If a forest is to be home to a complex of its typical species, it must contain a variety of micro-habitats. Old growth or virgin forests are best suited to this role because they are rich in big old trees or dead wood which are often absent in commercial forests. It is known that one third of all forest species depend on the occurrence of dead wood. Many of these species are listed as endangered species. Due to this fact, a sufficient amount of dead wood in forests is increasingly considered to be the key issue in maintaining biodiversity.

Forest management

On the other hand, forests are under pressure due to intensification of some improper forest practices, fragmentation and degradation including the expansion of habitation, industrial and commercial areas, the impact of use and visitation, invasive species, and less animal breeding and life stock feeding.

From the economic, ecological and social points of view extensive, stable, healthy forest ecosystems should be maintained, which can provide a wide range of products, functions and services, in particular

  • Biodiversity conservation,
  • Climate regulation,
  • Creation and protection of soil,
  • Purification of air and water, and providing,
  • Timber and non-timber forest products, and
  • Recreational areas.

To fulfil the goal of having healthy forest ecosystems, responsible forest management should be adopted all over the Carpathian range. Forest management should be preferably based on principles of natural processes and allow these processes as far as possible (close-to-nature forest management). This will ensure the long-term stability and resilience of the ecosystem against different abiotic and biotic disturbances.

National strategies related to the forestry sector exist in most Carpathian countries, and although the available documents differ in their context and level of elaboration, common objectives can be found in all of them. Among these objectives are

  • Maintaining or enlarging forest cover, and improving the health and vitality of the forests.
  • Ensuring the productive functions of the forests and their role in rural development.
  • Promoting the sound use of wood as an environmentally friendly and renewable material and sustainable use of non-timber forest products (berries, mushrooms etc.).
  • Improving the conservation and sustainable use of different components of forest biological diversity ecosystems.
  • Identification and protection of natural, especially virgin forests.
  • Promoting the restoration of close-to-nature forests.
  • Enhancing the role of the forest-based sector in mitigating climate change and improving the protected forest functions such as preventing floods, landslides and in general water cycle regulation.
  • Promoting the participation of regional and local authorities and communities in forest management.
  • Identifying, developing and applying appropriate schemes for payment for environmental goods and services provided by forests.
  • Strengthening the governance of the forestry sector and enforcing forest law, with particular attention to combating illegal logging and associated trade.
  • Identification, development and implementation of best practices in forest management and close-to-nature forestry.
  • Promoting and coordinating scientific research and information exchange on Carpathian forests.

Having all these objectives in mind the project consortium asks the authorities and managers to promote and fully implement the above mentioned. Suggestions of concrete measures that support the objectives can be found in the study “Development of Common Integrated Management Measures for Key Natural Assets in the Carpathians” which was developed within the BioREGIO Carpathians project.

Brief information on databases on old-growth forests available at the CCIBIS Geoportal 

Old-growth forests in the Carpathians

During 2002 and 2003, a mapping project financed by the Dutch government through the PIN Matra project identified about 300,000 ha of virgin and old-growth forests in the Carpathians displayed here with the exception of Slovakia where the data were derived from a more recent study. The criteria used for determination of these forests are not accepted entirely today and ongoing investigations indicate that only a part of these forests still exists today. More recent and up-to-date data are available for Slovakia and three counties in Romania (Braşov, Covaşna, and Maramureş).

Old-growth forests in Romania (Braşov, Covaşna, and Maramureş)

The OGF were identified in the project (Jul 2011 – Jun 2014) ”Support Responsible Forest Management for a Sustainable Development in the Danube – Carpathian Ecoregion”, goal nr 2.4 “Identification and mapping of forests with non-interventions management in the priority regions” carried out between July 2011 and June 2014 carried out by WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme and supported by WWF SE and IKEA.

In Romania the priority regions for the project include the following counties: Brasov (BV), Covaşna (CV), Sibiu (SB), Mureş (MS), Harghita (HR), Maramureş (MM).


1) Preliminary identification of OGF was done based on desk research. The specialist identified possible OGF based on written information, ortho photomaps and satellite images. In this stage all forests were eliminated which did not qualify OGF. The preliminary identification was finalised at the national level.

2) The second step was that forest specialists cross-checked in the field whether the results of the desk research match with reality according to the established criteria.

The result of the identification of OGF were presented to the public and stakeholders (owners, forest administrators forest management units, state institutions, NGOs, protective areas managers etc.). Finally, the map of OGF was sent to key decision makers for their support to protect them.

Old-growth forests in Slovakia

During 2009 and 2010 FSC Slovakia conducted a complex survey to identify and map old-growth forests (OGFs), within the project “Protection of old-growth forests in Slovakia”, which was funded by EEA Financial Mechanism, Norway Financial Mechanism and the State budget of the Slovak Republic through the Ekopolis Foundation. Other activities of the project included improving the protection of OGF, increasing public awareness and exploring possibilities for sensitive use of LGF for research and ecotourism.

Method Using the database of forest stands of the National Forestry Centre and a survey of ortho photomaps, 324 localities covering over 53,000 ha were selected for the filed mapping, which identified the borders or the OGFs and completed data forms for each locality. These data were processed using GIS and the database of OGFs of Slovakia was created.

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