Young planted trees growing in a lush green valley

European Native Trees Under Threat

Young planted trees growing in a lush green valley

European Native Trees Under Threat

"Trees are essential for life on earth, and European trees in all their diversity are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role " Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of IUCN Red List Unit.

The sixth mass extension, the accelerated loss of habitats and species, continues to unfold and threatens Europe’s native woodlands. According to the latest report by IUCN, more than half of Europe’s endemic tree species – those that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet – face extinction.

1. The problem

2. The causes

3. How does it affect us?

"Trees are essential for life on earth, and European trees in all their diversity are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role " Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of IUCN Red List Unit.

The sixth mass extension, the accelerated loss of habitats and species, continues to unfold and threatens Europe’s native woodlands. According to the latest report by IUCN, more than half of Europe’s endemic tree species – those that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet – face extinction.

1. The problem

2. The causes

3. How does it affect us?

The Problem

Forest covers aproximately 33% of land in Europe. In the 2019, IUCN report 454 native tree species have been evaluated leading to some frightening results: 42% of native species are threatened with extinction (assessed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) and 58% of endemic trees are threatened.

A mountain ash tree with red berries

A mountain ash or rowan tree

A mountain ash tree with red berries

A mountain ash or rowan tree

The Problem

Forest covers aproximately 33% of land in Europe. In the 2019, IUCN report 454 native tree species have been evaluated leading to some frightening results: 42% of native species are threatened with extinction (assessed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) and 58% of endemic trees are threatened.

Summary of tree species in each Red List category in Europe and the EU 28. IUCN

White flowers of  a Ley's whitebeam

Ley's whitebeam flowers

The highest impact is suffered by the Sorbus genus with more than three-quarters of its species threatened and about one-third critically endangered. Among these trees are the mountain-ash and Ley’s whitebeam, of which there are currently only 9 trees left in Wales. Other affected species are the horse-chestnut, well known for its polished brown fruits used in the children’s game conkers, the Balkan pine and the Serbian spruce.

The highest impact is suffered by the Sorbus genus with more than three-quarters of its species threatened and about one-third critically endangered. Among these trees are the mountain-ash and Ley’s whitebeam, of which there are currently only 9 trees left in Wales. Other affected species are the horse-chestnut, well known for its polished brown fruits used in the children’s game conkers, the Balkan pine and the Serbian spruce.

White flowers of  a Ley's whitebeam

The Causes

What threatens our native European species and therefore our ecosystems? Here are some of the main causes:

  • Alien invasive and problematic species – This is the most severe threat, affecting 38% of tree species. It includes pests, diseases and alien invasive plants, often introduced by humans as a result of the increased global trade.
  •  
  • Deforestation, degradation and wood harvesting – Trees are harvested for timber and non-wood product or entire forests and woodlands are clear-felled and converted to agricultural fields.
  •  
  • Climate change – Though climate change is an indirect threat, it has the potential to affect many tree species. Extreme weather events, floods, droughts, fires – all have an impact on biodiversity. Furthermore, the changing climate can favour invasive species, which than can spread and compete with the native species
  •  
  • Fire – This could be the result of climate change events or anthropogenic in nature, in the case of deliberate forest fires.
  •  
  • Land abandonment, ecosystem modifications and urban development – Traditional management practices are being abandoned, affecting the environment. Moreover, natural habitats are reduced, disturbed or even destroyed by the expansions of urban, tourism and industrial areas.

 

Green mossy trees growing above a carpet of lush ferns

How Does it Affect Us?

"This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe's ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet." Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s Europe Office.

It is important that we continue to have these tree species on our continent. Native and endemic species play an important role for the entire ecosystem. They enhance biodiversity, which means that if they cease to exist, other organism such as fungi or insects, that are associated and depend on these trees will disappear too. Native species are adapted to site conditions and are more resistant and can help boost the entire ecosystem resilience. They also have an effect on soil quality and can help conserve water. According to the IUCN report, most European trees have at least one recorded use: food, medicine, construction, fuel, cultural etc. so it is important to try to save and restore these species.

Follow and read about our projects to see how we, at Mossy Earth, include native trees in restoration and rewilding actions.

An old tall chestnut tree in a park

A horse chestnut tree

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

      • 1. “European Red List of Trees” – Malin Rivers et al. 2019, IUCN publication - iucn.org
      •  
      • 2. “More than half of native European trees face extinction, warns study” – Jonathan Watts 2019, The Guardian – theguardian.com
      •  
      • 3. “Why forest and tree genetic diversity matters” – Biodiversity International – bioversityinternational.org
      •  
      • 4. “FAO Stresses Importance of Native Tree Species in Restoration” – Jaime Webbe 2014, SDG Knowledge Hub – iisd.org
      •  
    1. 5. “Learn about the value of indigenous trees—and plant one!” – 2019, UN Environment Programme – unenvironment.org

Ley's whitebeam flowers

The Causes

What threatens our native European species and therefore our ecosystems? Here are some of the main causes:

  • Alien invasive and problematic species – This is the most severe threat, affecting 38% of tree species. It includes pests, diseases and alien invasive plants, often introduced by humans as a result of the increased global trade.
  •  
  • Deforestation, degradation and wood harvesting – Trees are harvested for timber and non-wood product or entire forests and woodlands are clear-felled and converted to agricultural fields.
  •  
  • Climate change – Though climate change is an indirect threat, it has the potential to affect many tree species. Extreme weather events, floods, droughts, fires – all have an impact on biodiversity. Furthermore, the changing climate can favour invasive species, which than can spread and compete with the native species
  •  
  • Fire – This could be the result of climate change events or anthropogenic in nature, in the case of deliberate forest fires.
  •  
  • Land abandonment, ecosystem modifications and urban development – Traditional management practices are being abandoned, affecting the environment. Moreover, natural habitats are reduced, disturbed or even destroyed by the expansions of urban, tourism and industrial areas.

 

Green mossy trees growing above a carpet of lush ferns

How Does it Affect Us?

"This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe's ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet." Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s Europe Office.

It is important that we continue to have these tree species on our continent. Native and endemic species play an important role for the entire ecosystem. They enhance biodiversity, which means that if they cease to exist, other organism such as fungi or insects, that are associated and depend on these trees will disappear too. Native species are adapted to site conditions and are more resistant and can help boost the entire ecosystem resilience. They also have an effect on soil quality and can help conserve water. According to the IUCN report, most European trees have at least one recorded use: food, medicine, construction, fuel, cultural etc. so it is important to try to save and restore these species.

Follow and read about our projects to see how we, at Mossy Earth, include native trees in restoration and rewilding actions.

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

      • 1. “European Red List of Trees” – Malin Rivers et al. 2019, IUCN publication - iucn.org
      •  
      • 2. “More than half of native European trees face extinction, warns study” – Jonathan Watts 2019, The Guardian – theguardian.com
      •  
      • 3. “Why forest and tree genetic diversity matters” – Biodiversity International – bioversityinternational.org
      •  
      • 4. “FAO Stresses Importance of Native Tree Species in Restoration” – Jaime Webbe 2014, SDG Knowledge Hub – iisd.org
      •  
    1. 5. “Learn about the value of indigenous trees—and plant one!” – 2019, UN Environment Programme – unenvironment.org

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