Exploring the forests of Luxembourg during the 9th Annual Meeting of the Integrate Network: A Journey about Forest Resilience- and Conservation

Exploring the forests of Luxembourg during the 9th Annual Meeting of the Integrate Network: A Journey about Forest Resilience- and Conservation

A warm welcome to Luxembourg

Despite a chilly autumn at our doorstep, on the 4th of October, we were warmly welcomed by the chair of the Integrate Network, Michel Leytem (ANF), as he opened the 9th Annual Meeting of the Integrate Network held in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. There were about 94 participants across 3 days from 18 different countries and for many of us, it was our first time in the small, but very interesting country. Thankfully, Michel gave us a thorough introduction to Luxembourg, its rich history, and its many diverse forest types.

We then got a taste of the country’s changing forest policy with a presentation by Gilles Biver (mecdd). He introduced the new “the law on forests”, which, he explained “opens a window for multifunctional forests in a scope of continuous cover forestry, considering critical challenges, such as climate change”. Next, Pascal Armborst (ANF), shared his insights on practical forest management in Luxembourg.  He explained that climate change adaptation and close-to-nature forest management approaches are the main drivers on the agenda of Luxembourg, however, this transition will take time. Noting that many Network member countries deal with similar challenges, he stressed the importance of cross-border collaboration and the need to exchange best practices and lessons learned. This crucial message of the importance of working together was echoed by Bertrand von Loe, a forestry advisor, who presented the Interreg project ASKAFOR, which promotes the transfer of knowledge and skills to reduce barriers to the advancement of continuous cover forestry.

We then shifted to a broader EU focus with a presentation by Stefanie Schmidt from the European Commission (DG Environment) who introduced the “Guidelines on Closer-to-Nature Forest Management”. The strategies state to increase biodiversity-friendly forestry through further elaborating on closer-to-nature forestry practices and by developing a definition and guidelines respectively. The guidelines function voluntarily and are designed as a toolbox to assist the transition toward an open-end point of closer-to-nature forest management.

On this point of transitioning, we heard on-the-ground experiences from Georg Frank (BFW, Austria) in the ReSynatWald2.0 project.  Austria has a long tradition of forest management by age class system and a large corresponding network of research plots. Continuous cover forestry (CCF) having received less attention resulted in a lack of permanent research plots in un-even aged forests. Pro Silva Austria as a network for CCF saw the need for a more scientific evaluation of best practices for CCF. To answer to the need, Georg explained that the project established a network of reference and demonstration sites to measure key indicators, benefits, and costs of CCF. Given the recent impacts of climate change on forests, the role of natural regeneration has become a hot topic. This was picked up by Robert Jenni (BAFU, Switzerland) who introduced the concept of adaptive silviculture, and his project where they studied natural regeneration in several demonstration sites across Switzerland with the intention of sharing good practice examples. He emphasized to “have trust in your forest”, the natural regeneration potential might just surprise you!

As we face not just a climate crisis but a biodiversity crisis, understanding how compatible biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation measures are crucial. This was picked up by Lyla O’Brien (EFI), who presented the results of the Integrate MDTF evidence study on forest practitioner’s challenges and experiences adapting forests to climate change. Most practitioners saw more synergies than conflicts between climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation, which is good news for tackling these dual crises. But as knowledge is growing rapidly about conservation and adaptation in forestry, Lyla noted that practitioners very often find input to their daily work by attending excursions (very much like the ones in this meeting!). The final report of the survey will be soon available on the Integrate website.

These findings were complemented by a practice-orientated session, with presentations from different countries where new practice demonstration sites were established. Nenad Petrović (University of Belgrade) presented experiences with the I+software as a tool to support the communication of new forest management guidelines in the western Balkan region. Hannes Schmitt and Beka Koberidze (GIZ) gave insight into how marteloscopes and tree-related microhabitats (TreMs) are being used in Georgia to stimulate knowledge transfer and sensitize forest managers and other stakeholders on new aspects of forest management and biodiversity conservation. The importance of TreMs as an indicator of high biodiversity value and a tool for education was also emphasized by Simay Kirca (University of Istanbul), who used TreMs as a tool to observe naturalness in recreational areas in Turkey. Terms can be seen as a medium for conservation optimism, where Simay with a nice note “Tree microhabitats make people enthusiastic about forests, create interest for their beauty and well-being”.

The final session of the day was dedicated to the organization of the Integrate MDTF-facilitated by Bernhard Wolfslehner, head of the Integrate Secretariat. He emphasized the importance of the Network as a platform for developing solutions together across countries and announced that this important work will undoubtedly continue in 2024 with Austria as chair of the Network. Ireland was also voted as chair in 2025, ensuring that the next two years will be nothing short of more exciting discussions and close collaboration to further integration of biodiversity into forest management. With this fantastic news, the first day drew to a close. A delightful visit and a guided tour through Luxembourg City, followed by a joint dinner. The room was filled with animated conversations as people from diverse (forestry) backgrounds came together in a spirit of cooperation, sharing their experiences and expectations. This sense of unity and shared visions created an uplifting and optimistic atmosphere and was a perfect ending for the first day.

Into Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland

After learning so much about Luxembourg’s forest the previous day, participants were keen to see some in person on the excursion to Müllerthal, also called the little Switzerland of Luxembourg, on the second day. At the first stop, we arrive at “Houneck” forest, we are welcomed by Joe Mensen and Jean-Pierre Arend, Elisabeth Freymann, and Gilles Pansin (ANF) presented their initiative of retaining water in the forest. Drainage canals were installed many years ago in the forest to facilitate soil drainage and timber harvest. However, they explained that increasing droughts make it necessary to close ditches and install small ponds to let the main creek flow naturally. The development is being accompanied by research and monitoring.

We regrouped at a forest road and encountered an unexpected sight: a trailer equipped with a large screen, transforming the forest into an outdoor classroom. The first presentation was given by Georg Winkel (WUR), on Integrating Nature and People? Drivers, obstacles, and pathways for integrated forest management. Here we learned that changes in the climate, environment, society, technology,  and politics influence the demands of forests and forest ecosystem services. Integrative forest management has the potential of a win-win approach, as it allows for synergies between the delivery of ecosystem services and conservation. However, this also creates challenges that need to be recognized especially when considering forest ownership. Mario Gilcher and Dan Nicolas (Luxplan) gave insight into the new technology of LiDAR which is being used in Luxembourg to map forest structures, offering unprecedented possibilities for future forest monitoring. This was further complemented by Giovanni Santopuoli (Unimol) who explained that LiDAR can also be used to detect forest disturbance effects and support forest management towards more forest resilience.

In the afternoon we ventured into Friemholz, adjacent to the tourist hotpot UNESCO Geopark Müllerthal, to learn about how to integrate forestry, nature conservation and tourism. The majestic old oaks of are highly valued by visitors and extremely important for biodiversity, particularly for the Bechstein bat (Myotis bechsteinii). However, as the forest is also used for timber production, there is a need for well-balanced approaches. The day was concluded with a small hike into Geopark Müllerthal and an Apéro at an amphitheater for forest visitors.

Mist in the air, don’t despair

On the last day, we visited the Härebësch forest, the morning was misty morning when we arrived in the so-called Wild West of Luxembourg. The excursion started with a presentation by Maaike de Graaf and Etiënne Thomassen (Bosgroep Zuid Nederland) on enhancing forest resilience by climate smart forest management and the improvement of soil conditions through liming and rich litter species.

As the excursion carried on, we were guided through the forest by local foresters into the forest, we were all immediately taken aback by the many trees that looked as if they had been blown up with explosives, the mist only a small portion of the disaster. The forest was struck by a massive windstorm in 2014, damaging around 40.000m3 of timber. The foresters explained the long process of restoring the forest. After the storm, they mapped the damage using LiDAR. They then extracted the most valuable oak and beech logs, but all the remaining wood was left as deadwood. The remaining living trees were left to serve as habitat trees and to provide seeds for regeneration and tree species that were missing were planted on a small-scale.  After these steps, the forest was made a protection area, and timber production was stopped. As the mist was clearing up, the success of their efforts was immediately apparent by the amount and density of green regeneration that could be seen everywhere you looked!

As the excursion came to an end, so did the 9th Annual Meeting of the Integrate Network. Our host Michel symbolically locked the door to Luxembourg’s forests and handed over the key to Georg Frank, the next Chair of the Integrate Network. Participants expressed that they are looking very much forward to meeting again for the 10th Annual Meeting of the Integrate Network in Austria in October 2024 and its beautiful forests.

We would like to take this opportunity to once again say thank you to Michel and his colleagues and express our gratitude for hosting us and allowing us to explore the diverse forests of Luxembourg!

Written by Silvester Boonen, Maria Schloßmacher, Lyla O’Brien, and Andreas Schuck

Pictures: Andreas Shuck, Celine Salcher, and Silvester Boonen