The Mediterranean forest area has increased by two percent between 2010 and 2015, resulting in a rise of 1.8 million hectares – about the size of Slovenia, says a new FAO-Plan Bleu report "State of Mediterranean Forests 2018".
But forests in the Mediterranean have also been considerably affected by degradation and are increasingly in jeopardy from climate change, population rise, wildfires and water scarcity, the report warns.
“Mediterranean forests have long been adapting to pressures caused by human development. But never have these pressures been so extreme as they are now,” said Hiroto Mitsugi, FAO Assistant Director-General, Forestry Department.
“Unless we do more to combat forest degradation, more than 500 million people across 31 countries and three continents will soon face a wide range of economic, social and environmental problems” added Mitsugi.
Elen Lemaitre-Curri, Plan Bleu's Director said: "In a context of rapid climatic, societal and lifestyle changes in the Mediterranean, forest and tree-based solutions are critical to the region overall sustainability, with an expected impact well beyond forested areas. Upstream forests, agro-forestry, and urban trees and parks can help preserve key ecosystem services, reduce soil degradation and transition towards a circular, resource-efficient, bio-based, low carbon and socially fair green economy. Reaching this potential will require using a range of instruments, including participatory approaches, innovative economic instruments and partnerships.”
Mediterranean forests – key figures
Drivers of Mediterranean forests’ degradation
Forest degradation in the north of the Mediterranean is driven mostly by land abandonment and fires, whilst forests in the south-east suffer from an overexploitation of fuelwood, overgrazing, and population pressure.
Climate change remains the most significant threat to all Mediterranean forests. Rising temperatures, erratic rain patterns, and longer droughts will significantly alter the cover and distribution of forests and trees over the next years.
For example, as trees try to withstand droughts, they deplete their carbon stores and produce less carbohydrates and resins, which are essential to their health. This has already led to a decline or dieback of oak, fir, spruce, beech and pine trees in Spain, France, Italy and Greece, and of Atlas cedar trees in Algeria.
The Mediterranean population doubled between 1960 and 2015, reaching 537 million, and is estimated to rise to 670 million by 2050. While there has been little demographic change in the north, rapid population growth in the south-east has led to an excessive exploitation of natural resources.
Wildfires remain a significant threat. Although the number of fires have decreased in the north and northeast in recent decades, the number of larger fires (affecting over 500 hectares) have increased. The report predicts this trend – overall fewer but larger fires – to continue.
Water shortages and soil erosion are particularly harmful to Mediterranean forests as soils are thinner and poorer than in other regions.
Over 300 animal and plant species of Mediterranean forests threatened with extinction
The Mediterranean region is the world’s second largest biodiversity hotspot, but as forests face rising pressures, so are its animals and plants.
Forests are home to three quarters of Mediterranean terrestrial mammal species, nearly half of the region’s vertebrate species and almost three quarters of terrestrial insects. Forests also hold more than a quarter of the region’s higher plant species.
Forests in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco have the highest number of threatened species (26 percent in Spain, 24 in Italy, 21 in Greece, 17 in Turkey, 15 in Morocco).
Mediterranean forests are also rich in fungi. However, they are gradually decreasing due to clear-cutting and timber harvesting.
Solutions to forest degradation
The report urges countries to scale up the restoration of forests and landscapes. In particular, it recommends:
The benefits of Mediterranean forests
Mediterranean forests are a source of timber, food, energy, medicine and water, and provide a range of goods, services and opportunities – from panels, paper, cork, mushrooms, truffles, honey, pine nuts to recreation, tourism and employment. They purify our air, protect our soils, and water and regulate our climate
The report covers 27 countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Turkey.