Sustainable management of 60 % of European forests has been in the responsible hands of about 16 million family forest owners for many generations. They manage their properties balancing economic, ecological and social values, with a strong personal attachment and commitment to the forest, inherited through the generations.
Their knowledge, motivation and interest provide a good basis for a form of forestry that is focused on the diversified utilisation as well as consideration for the environment. Sustainable forest management includes a versatility of traditions, which ingrain people to their country and roots.
Characteristic of ownership
European family forestry is ordinary people's sustainable and productive activity which spans over generations. Today it is no longer possible to define a typical forest owner.
The structure of family forest ownership is specific. It ranges from 0.5 ha to ever 10 000 hectares in size. Small scale properties are dominant in Europe. The whole concept refers thus mainly to a small scale forestry, which is based on personal involvement and strong stewardship values, often demonstrated through multiple-use forest management.
Additionally, the variety of management conditions and cultures across Europe is characterized by flexibility, to enable an effective and economic forestry of small size management units and a dispersed ownership structure.
The family forestry’s exceptional character is a combination of the individual forest owner’s responsible management, practices approved over generations and the diversity in management objectives. This in turn enhances stability and ecological diversity of forests as well as the quality of life in rural areas.
Around 4 million people are employed in forestry and wood processing industry. These people mostly live in rural areas. Forests and forestry are the backbones of keeping these areas inhabited. They contribute significantly to the economic and social sustainability of these communities. Family forestry provides employment and income and contributes to the strengthening of less developed regions in Europe.
Through sustainable forest management, European family forest owners provide the raw material for the forest industry sector, which in turn provides an annual turnover of around 400 Billion Euros, respectively 9 % of the GDP in Europe.
Investing with a long-term perspective
Many families still rely on their forests to contribute to their family’s livelihood. The long-term thinking and investments reach beyond the lifetime of the forest owner, to the benefit of the generations to follow. Stable conditions as well as secure property and land tenure rights enhance this sense of responsibility. The production of wood as a renewable and environmental friendly resource for wooden products, paper and energy brings income to the families and supports the reinvestment into the European forests.
Respecting nature and biodiversity
European family forest owners are the guardians of our natural heritage. They invest in the conservation of biodiversity to ensure the ecological balance in their forests. They treat forests with respect, as an integral part of their livelihood. Private forest owners are deeply self-committed to carry out their responsibility, thus motivated to invest in biodiversity conservation.
Economic sustainability allows the forest owners to afford taking all other aspects of sustainability into consideration as well. They go hand in hand. It is in the owners’ best interest to take good care of the forests. Healthy forests maintain growth and biodiversity.
Family forest management has brought out a visibly high standard of biodiversity in privately owned forests. As one outcome of this, Europe’s forests are increasing, unlike most forest regions in the world. Besides voluntary commitments for nature conservation family forest owners are also engaged in contractual agreements to support specific conservation needs. Moreover, due to the responsible and integrated management of forest owners more than half of the designated Natura 2000 areas can be found in European forests.
For the common benefit
The contribution of forests and forestry to the sustainable development of modern societies is manifold. Family forests deliver the renewable resource wood, care for natural biotopes, clean water, fresh air, soil stability, medical and herbal plants, recreation and leisure services as well as the protection against natural disasters, to name but a few.
Family forests are open daily to lifestyle consumers, who come for hiking, biking, jogging, horse-riding, bird watching, berry picking, meditation and other leisure activities.
Developing for future
Family forest owners have the knowledge and long-term experiences on their ground and are therefore best partners in policy making in rural areas. By sustainably producing the renewable material wood they can significantly contribute to reaching future political goals, such as combating climate change and rural development. Family forest owners are both proud of their past achievements and committed to the present and the future at the same time.