Europe was once covered by forest, from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The original forest covered probably 80-90% of the continent. The Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Stream warm the continent. The mountain chains lie mainly in east-west orientation, so they let the westerly wind carry the rain from the ocean to the East. The southern part of Europe has Mediterranean climate. There are more or less severe summer droughts in this region.

"Over half of Europe's original forest cover has disappeared. On average, the forest cover is 1/3 of the total land area." Ireland has the smallest forest area (8%), Finland the largest (72%).

During recent times, deforestation has been stopped and in a sense Europe became greener through plantation of trees. The problem is, that in many cases conifers have been preferred over original deciduous trees. " The plantations and monocultures, which now cover vast tracks of land usually, offer very poor habitats for European forest dwelling species."

The degree of naturalness

Natural / Pristine forests:
" Following the last Ice Age, natural or pristine forests developed freely without human intervention. These forests should show no or almost no sign of human intervention. Old growth and even younger stages of natural forests have a considerable amount of dead wood in the form of snags, stumps and logs. Natural forests usually have a varied age structure; they are a rich mosaic of trees and patches of forests of different ages. Old growth natural forests typically contain trees which are several hundred years old."
With the new data from the WWF forest scorecards, Taiga Rescue Network and the UN/ECE/FAO assessment of the temperate and boreal forests , WWF could estimate for the first time the amount of pristine or near pristine forests in Europe. " These still cover a heartening 15-20 million hectares - nearly as much as the entire forest area of Finland and Sweden...There is still a chance to save some outstanding remnants of our European forest heritage."

The most of these pristine forests are located in the North, in the taiga (Komi Republic, between the White Sea and the Urals). There are patches across the Russian-Finnish border and between Norway and Sweden.

Relic forests

Many Mediterranean and Eastern European forest types constitute relic forests, included in the red list of plants. These are usually only several thousands of hectares in size.

Semi-natural forests

These forests look very natural, they may contain the same tree-species, but they show signs of human intervention. Many of them are managed, trees usually do not reach their maximum age. Semi-natural forests are basis for the wood-supply and by protecting them Europe could help begin to restore its lost forests.

Plantation Forests

Many of them consist of European tree species, but show clearly that they have been planted.


The amount of pristine forests in Western Europe is just 2-3%.In the European part of Russia 5-10% of the forests can be classified as pristine or near-pristine natural forests. "Of these areas, perhaps less than 50% of pristine forests is considered to be effectively protected. The remaining unprotected old-growth and relic forests must be the priority areas for adding to the existing protected area networks in Europe. These forests represent the last vestiges of the forests which once covered Europe before the arrival of man"














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