On World Tree Day, Let's see how the trees in our forests are doing!

Published: Oct 19, 2023 Reading time: 5 minutes
On World Tree Day, Let's see how the trees in our forests are doing!
© Foto: Jona Schmidt/Unsplash

Forests are our greatest natural resource. However, they are not doing very well here in the Czech Republic. Inappropriate management and climate change are to blame. Trees are drying out and succumbing to bark beetles, especially in the Jeseníky and Vysočina regions. Fortunately, several forest managers have already started on the road to remedy this.

The Czech Republic was historically densely forested. However, the country suffered extensive deforestation due to colonisation in peripheral areas in the Middle Ages and the early modern era. By the time of Maria Theresa, only about 27.5% of Czech lands were forest. Since then, the proportion of forested areas has increased significantly to 37.1 % today, and the area covered by forest is growing.

Although the Czech Republic is becoming more forested year by year in terms of area, our forests are experiencing a significant decline in health.

This is despite the fact that they represent our greatest natural resource. Forests regulate the local climate, keep excess water out of the landscape, provide a haven for diverse flora and fauna, and create a barrier to extreme atmospheric influences such as strong winds.

Forests provide us with wood, clean the air and water, protect the soil, and they offer a place to rest and regenerate. They also protect human populations from natural disasters like drought, fire, soil erosion, storms, high winds, and floods. All these functions disappear if the forest is converted to agricultural land, succumbs to development, or decays due to biotic and abiotic factors.

However, a forest can only provide these functions if it is healthy.

Find out how healthy the forest in your community is in our interactive app:


Traditional industry does not favour forest health

A historical emphasis on economic production has indelibly marked forestry in our country. Economic production was achieved by planting non-native spruce monocultures and canals' widespread drainage of forest land. Intensive industrial production, especially the burning of coal, affected the chemical composition of rain, which then decimated forests, especially in northern Bohemia and Moravia, in the form of acid rain (see here).

Sadly, this is not a historical problem, as coal is still burned today. The effects of acidification on forest health and the historical burden of acidified soils are still evident in the significant defoliation with the loss of leaves and needles. Within Europe, our forests are among the most affected by acid rain (source).

Spruce is a historically unfortunate choice with great inertia

The trademark trees of Czech forestry include the spruce, originally found at higher altitudes in the Czech Republic. In optimal conditions, spruce proliferates, and its straight trunks are highly valued in the lumber processing industry. However, spruce lacks resilience to extreme temperatures, drought, pollution and acid rain compared to other trees.

The inappropriate planting of spruce monocultures has weakened today's forests and trees by acid rain and drought and assailed by bark beetles and/or strong winds. These factors have left many dead zones, which would not have existed if the choice of tree was different. The most affected areas include northern Moravia, the Highlands and Bohemian Switzerland (Fig. 1). 

In our conditions, forestry has always tended towards the ideals of industrial production - strictly planned and technologically and scientifically controlled timber production. Today's reality does not reflect this idea at all. Despite the rapid mechanisation and planning, forestry has been characterised by calamities in recent decades. Instead of a forestry plan, most of the timber (86.9%) is harvested entirely unplanned, and 95% of the timber harvested is coniferous trees most of which was destroyed by bark beetle (source).

Instead of a forestry plan, forestry seems subject to changing climatic conditions and dealing with the impact of its inappropriate management. It is beyond all doubt that forestry will have to change profoundly if we are to continue to boast growing areas of primarily healthy forests. Fortunately, it can be said that the transformation is already partly underway.

The road to recovery

Today's foresters understand the need to replace non-native coniferous forests with broadleaf and mixed forests. In the last few years, they have planted more deciduous trees than conifers.

  • The reforested area is high and responds to the proliferation of areas with decayed vegetation (40,679 ha in 2021).
  • Natural regeneration also accounts for a significant part of forest renewal (9 111 ha in 2021), which shows the ability of forests to regenerate even under challenging conditions caused by climate change and the consequences of inappropriate management, even without human assistance.

However, Czech forestry still has a long way to go towards sustainable management. Industrial management practices such as clear-cutting, over-planting of conifers, maintaining species, age and structural homogeneity of tree stands and widespread application of pesticides need to be replaced by nature-based approaches based on diversity, selective harvesting and natural regeneration.

This will also require interaction with game keepers. The main negative factors affecting successful forest recovery after a calamity include gnawing by disproportionately overpopulated game animals.

Supporting natural carnivores in the landscape can address this overpopulation, even while protecting the property and livestock of farmers and grazers. Natural predators are primarily absent from the Czech landscape. We have thus created an ecological imbalance and have thus caused a significant problem contributing to the degradation of our landscape.

Quality instead of quantity

Evidently, the health of our forests is a public concern. It should, therefore, not be subordinated solely to the interests of private or state business, which, among other things, leads to the wasteful management of forests causing the current catastrophic calamities.

The Czech forests are not well adapted to changing conditions and are still facing challenging times. With rising temperatures and extreme weather, there will be further degradation of the landscape, and the forests are the only ones that can protect us from heat waves, droughts, storms and floods.

After all, (primarily deciduous) forests are natural for our landscape. Moreover, even if we cannot imagine it now, we will have to reforest a significant part of the Czech Republic in the future if we want to resist the effects of climate change and soil degradation by industrial farming.

The best solution to the deplorable situation is agroforestryThis practice combines agricultural production with trees, which help protect the soil from the scorching sun, regulate the microclimate and provide protection for vital biodiversity.

Monocultures of spruce or rape seed are no more.

Autor: Jakub Zelený, PIN environmental advisor

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