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Protecting forest genetic diversity, a common purpose

Written by Silvio Oggioni

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike -Paulo Coelho-

Forests are ecosystems full of life, probably the richest on the planet. They host trees, shrubs, grasses, mammals, birds, insects, fungi, in short hundreds of living species. And they are vast: just think that one third of the surface of Europe is covered by forests, and is constantly increasing, according to the State of Europe’s Forests Report of 2015.

Within forests there are thousands of trees, each one slightly different from its neighbour. Trees from different species are obviously different, but even among those belonging to the same species are unique individuals, just like you and me. Each tree is special: more or less resistant, more or less beautiful, with better fruits or more productive. Forest genetics studies the variability of intrinsic traits in a species or individual that can be transmitted to the next generations, which is the very basis of diversity in the forest world. And it is this diversity that allows the dynamic equilibrium on which is based all life in the forests. Protecting genetic diversity of species and individuals is the basis for sustainable management of forest ecosystems. In Europe, more than 50% of woodlands are designated to protect water, soil and the ecosystems!

The European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) has worked on the conservation and sustainably use of forest genetic resources (FGR) for 25 years. The programme is hosted by the European Forest Institute (EFI), with which it has embarked on a solid path of collaboration and mutual interest, constituting a very solid synergy. It brings together experts to exchange information on the conservation and use of forest genetic resources and develop common action guidelines. The ultimate goal is to mitigate climate change effects on European forest diversity, fight tree diseases and preserve the European forest genetic heritage through a conscious use of genetic resources. An incredible goal possible only due to the continuous support of the member countries and the strong collaboration of numerous European experts.

EUFORGEN’s 14th Steering Committee meeting was held from 9th to 11th of April 2019 in Luxembourg, where once again 28 national coordinators from different countries met to define the Programme´s work plan. During this meeting a true atmosphere of community work can be appreciated. With this meeting, EUFORGEN prepared to enter into its sixth phase: In these next five years, the focus will be on the political and research needs in the field of FGR management, the update of the Pan-European FGR conservation strategy, and on climate change adaptation strategies. Furthermore, EUFORGEN will continue to pursue its objectives, concluding the ongoing work such as the report on the use and transfer of Forest Reproductive Material in Europe. It will also support the publication of the new report on the status of Europe’s Forests 2020, coordinated by Forest Europe.

Conservation of forest diversity and forest ecosystems is possible thanks to a solid collaboration among European projects dedicated to safeguarding forest genetic resources, such as GenTree, GenRes Bridge, LIFEGENMON, SUSTREE and with international agencies such as FAO and Bioversity International that work on a global level. EUFORGEN’s 14th Steering Committee meeting was also a great opportunity to bring together various representatives of these international actors and from EFI, to build the future path together.

The protection, conservation and use of forest genetic resources in Europe is therefore in the hands of a solid and widespread network of people who collaborate with each other pursuing a common purpose. “No two journeys along the same path are alike”, but ours all go in the same direction. In Europe, the protected biodiversity and FGR areas are on the constant rise. That´s the right direction. I believe that if the forests could speak, they would heartily thank us.

If you are interested in learning more about the conservation and use of forest genetic resources, visit the EUFORGEN website: www.euforgen.org, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Photo credit: Ewa Hermanowicz

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