Danish forests and Denmark’s stance on sustainability

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Following on from our series about forest policy and legislation in Scandinavian countries, today’s post takes a closer look at Forestry in Denmark,  the country’s 2012 EU Presidency and the contribution Denmark has made to creating a roadmap for a sustainable European economy. The total forested area of Denmark amounts to around 534.500 ha (2006). Just south of the boreal coniferous forest zone, Denmark is the most northerly country in the central European temperate forest zone and more than 40% of forest land in Denmark has been PEFC certified.

Common species of tree include the oak which comprises around 9%, pine which makes up 12%, beech which makes up 13% and the Norway spruce which have all been planted and this species makes up 19% of tree species. Other species of trees are planted for greenery production and Christmas trees. In total, the growing stock in Denmark’s forests tallies up to approximately 106 million m³.

Although Denmark is one of the most deforested countries in Europe, the forested area and growing stock have been steadily increasing since 1800. The levels have risen from around 3% to today’s annual increment, which has been calculated to be 5.45 million m³, and the felling amounts per annum come to 2.2 million m³.

This has been hugely beneficial in terms of carbon storage and it has been estimated that the annual increase in stored carbon in Danish Forests amounts to 1.34 million tonnes, which amounts to 4.90 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

So who owns forest land in Denmark? The State owns around 23% of forest land, private foundations own around 4% of Danish forest land and 8% is publicly owned.

Forestry and Danish Culture

Denmark also has a high percentage of forest land (around 65%) that is owned by private persons. The private persons and citizens who own forest land in Denmark are often farmers, who also happen to be forest owners. In instances such as theirs, it is likely that the forest land has been owned by the family for generations.

Other citizens who are new forest owners will have bought the land for hunting and mainly as a place for recreational activities. However, generally it is accepted that forest owners see their forest land as being a legacy to leave to their children. Their objective is to manage the forest effectively, so that when they leave it to their children, it is in the same condition that they found it in, or in an even better condition. A great emphasis is placed on conservation as well as production values.

Danish family forestry has been under considerable pressure in recent years, with the economic sustainability of forestry being brought into question. Finding another stream of income has offered a solution for some, and more forest owners have been pushing the recreational value of their land. There is a relatively high ratio of Danish people per hectare of forest land (10-1), so there is a high demand for recreational pursuits within Danish forests.

The Danish Forest Association, looking after the interests of Danish forest owners

Forest owners are well represented by the Dansk Skovforening, The Danish Forest Association. Their objective is to promote the professional and political interests of the country’s forest owners. The Danish Forest Association is also an advocate of sustainable forest management and it seeks to promote the protection of nature and conservation with Danish forestry.

The DFA also provides valuable information to forest owners concerning the non-wood and wood markets, as well as protecting the interests of Danish forest owners. This political supervision of forest owner’s interests occurs in tandem with the provision of public information on forests. In addition to owning their own international wood trading company, the FDA also has its own monthly publication, Skoven (The Forest).

Forest Protection and biodiversity

Around 5% of Denmark’s forest land falls under some sort of specified restrictive protection, and approximately 4% is now protected under the Sustainable Forestry protection scheme or Natura 2000 scheme. Danish forestry and Danish Nature protection legislation takes care of the general conservation and protection of Denmark’s wetlands and forests, and changes in land use and conditions are regulated by these laws.

The Danish government formulated an Action Plan for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation in Denmark from 2004 to 2009. The Action Plan presented the Danish government’s plans and proposals to safeguard and preserve the ongoing development of biodiversity in Denmark. The primary objective was to halt the loss of biological diversity within the country by 2010. Although this represented a significant challenge to the government, it was met by plans for targeted efforts that were to be implemented in many different areas. The Action Plan was intended to act as a framework for this and give an overall description of how the protection of biological diversity and nature should be carried out well into the future.

The Action Plan came about at a time when the fruits of certain conservation efforts were already evident. Denmark had already ceased using certain dangerous toxic chemicals, air pollution had been reduced and efforts to halt the decline of natural areas had been successful. Government initiatives such as the establishment of national parks, the designation of natural sites of international importance and their adoption of a national forest program had achieved a great deal in terms of nature conservation and the protection of biodiversity.

Rare species of orchids, insects, tree frogs, deer and birds were on the rise. This was only part of the solution however, as there were further challenges to be faced. Denmark is a densely populated country, so there is a high demand for resources which invariably impacts upon the environment.

The basic concept behind the Danish government’s action plan was to increase biodiversity by investing resources in the country’s most valuable natural areas. Denmark was already committed to such activities under EU Regulations and international agreements such as the FSC, or Forest Stewardship Council.

Fast forward to 2012 and there are still notable efforts to preserve biodiversity in Denmark. Earlier this year, WWF Denmark and Birdlife Denmark took the step of hiring their own fulltime lobbyist to target both European and Danish politicians. These activities were in relation to the EU’s Danish Presidency to the EU (Jan-June 2012).

WWF Denmark and Birdlife Denmark recognised the importance of seizing the opportunity of raising awareness of nature conservation and the protection of biological diversity during Denmark’s EU Presidency. With the Danish government and EU becoming more supportive of sustainability and conservation issues than ever, this was an ideal time to influence the process.

The message was very clear. A greener EU was called for which involved making room for nature, and this extended to the EU budget.

Other interesting developments in 2012 included the Danish Ministry of the Environment organising a workshop with the EPBRS and the University of Copenhagen with support from the Global Biodiversity Information facility (GBIF) and the European Environment Agency.

The workshop of the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) saw in excess of 80 experts including members of the IUCN members, people from the IUCN Secretariat attended the workshop. The intended goal of the workshop was to determine ways in which the TPBES could cooperate with existing mechanisms to ensure that its initial actions were both effective and timely.

This meeting of European policy makers, natural, political and social scientists and government officials identified that Europe was ready for the IPBES work programme and that it could make an active contribution.

In fact, Denmark’s EU Presidency’s Programme emphasised four main areas of interest, Growth, the Economy, Security and of course, the Environment. There was no doubt that conservation featured highly on the agenda and there was a particular focus on sustainable growth. New legislation on the 7th EU Environment Action Plan, the 2050 Energy Roadmap and energy efficiency was pushed. It was agreed that increasing investment in renewable energy and green technologies is desirable, and that integrating sustainable development and energy efficiency into the EU’s agricultural and transport policies would contribute to the EU developing a more resource efficient economy.

Denmark was highly vocal in its commitment to establishing the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and to supporting the EU target to stop the loss of ecosystem services and biological diversity by 2020.

The Danish Programme stated that in order to transform the economy, polices had to recognise the fact that natural capital, well-being and economies are interdependent. With this being the case, biological diversity concerns would need to be fully integrated throughout policies concerning the production sectors that make the biggest impact upon biodiversity, including, fisheries, agriculture and forestry. The Presidency advocated actions such as setting a proactive agenda for supporting and promoting sustainable growth, such as turning waste into resources and more in the way of recycling and re-using resources and products.

Other exciting developments included Denmark continuing work to minimise and eliminate man-made mercury emissions, where appropriate, and a new regulation concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). Carbon targets were also agreed upon, with the Danish Programme urging decision makers to drive low carbon investments and to agree upon a 30% reduction in the 2020 targets, as well as the clear carbon targets for 2030 and 2040. Additionally, Denmark was also in favour of working towards making Common Agricultural Policy and public procurement more environmentally friendly. The need to encourage private and public purchasers to change their consumption patterns was recognised as an effective way of contributing towards resource efficiency. Mobility, housing and nutrition are actually responsible for 70-80% of all impacts upon the environment. Using sustainable European timber would make a positive contribution in terms of housing and modern methods of the construction of timber buildings.

Denmark enjoyed the accolade of leading the EU to June’s Rio+20 or United Nation’s Conference for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. It brought the EU’s stance on the creation of a roadmap for a sustainable global economy.

Sustainable Forest Management in Denmark

Sustainable forest management (SFM) has been high on the agenda Denmark’s agenda for the last decade or so. It has become increasingly recognised that SFM should be integrated into the country’s national forest programmes and national forest policies as a whole.

Despite the fact the total area of forest land in Denmark is relatively small; the nation still considers its forests to be of great importance. They represent islands of natural habitats in a landscape of agricultural and urban areas. Aside from this, they also provide many high quality and valuable industrial raw materials, and they are also safe havens of Danish cultural heritage. The biological diversity that is to be found in Denmark’s forests and the landscape amenities are intrinsically linked to national identity.

Danish forest policy hopes to achieve the ambition overall goal of balancing production, recreational activities and nature in such a way that biological diversity protection is increased.

Danish Strategy for Sustainable Forest Management

The basic principle behind Denmark’s strategy on forest management is that economic, social and ecological objectives can all be accommodated simultaneously, and it is possible to achieve this balance without any major conflicts arising.  This leads to an interesting concept that is known as multiple-use forest management. In a country with low forest cover such as Denmark, there are only small areas of forest available for each necessary function, if the forest area is divided up and then allocated for specific purposes only, the total area for each function is severely restricted. There are exceptions to this methodology though, such as protected areas.

The country’s Strategy for Natural Forest from 1992 provides guidelines for the preservation of biological diversity of forests. This includes untouched forests, coppice forests and grazing forests.

Although Denmark is still struggling to meet its targets and to balance the needs of a large population with preserving biological diversity, their efforts to increase the area of forest land within the country have been consistent. It is also worth noting that the Danish government has been instrumental and proactive in terms of contributing towards EU 2020 targets on sustainability.