The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) grows exclusively in Europe. The beech forests are a fundamental piece of the ecological mosaic in Europe. A transboundary forest ”complex” called “The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe” stretches over 12 European countries. A selection of these unique and valuable beech forests are recognised by UNESCO as the natural World Heritage with 78 component parts in more than 40 protected areas.
The integrity of the beech forests, one of the last biodiversity strongholds in Europe, is very vulnerable. Climate change has started to impact the zonal ecosystem of central Europe, and extreme weather conditions, such as intensive drought during the growing season strongly impacts these remarkable forests. Besides, the different ways of managing buffer zones across the individual World Heritage beech forest component parts is threatening this ecosystem. As are rising visitor numbers and a lack of management resources in the protected areas located in different regional administration districts.
In theory, these regional administrations are well qualified to look after the local natural heritage. However, the key to achieve a successful and long-term protection of the whole ecosystem complex is to define a harmonised approach and to cooperate beyond the borders. Public authorities, scientists and civil societies in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia joined forces in an EU-financed project to establish a cooperation platform and reach a common ground in implementing adequate conservation measures. The solution for the protection of these valuable European beech forests for the next generations are new tools that will support management authorities. They will ultimately help to establish a long-term positive relationship between the management authorities and the local communities.
The BEECH POWER project creates strategies and action plans focusing on empowering surrounding communities, stakeholder involvement in buffer zone management, conflict management, visitor management and sustainable forestry management. The overall aim is to reduce existing conflicts and increase the capacities of relevant authorities for the sustainable management of these exceptional forests, as well as to create benefits for local communities. This year, the partnership plans to continue the awareness campaign among beech forest communities and stakeholders, to establish local working groups and to organise an international school exchange program for the young generation.
In pilot locations, BEECH POWER will test, evaluate and anchor the newly developed tools and models in local areas. Here, youth is one of their main target groups. The BEECH POWER Academy will be the first ever youth exchange programme integrating the knowledge on World Heritage of natural resources. In their pilot, two local schools from Angermünde in Germany – home to one of the World Heritage Beech Forest component parts - and one school from Starigrad close to the Paklenica National Park in Croatia will experience the natural education in intercultural exchange. This concept, as well as other models are developed to inspire other regions and cities on how to tackle the natural protection
To save our beech forests as we know them, #cooperationiscentral. Together the project partners are changing perception of the natural and cultural value of old-growth beech forests and together they are creating tools that support the ecosystem integrity of old-growth beech forests and their buffer zones. BEECH POWER helps protect the last fragmented remnants of this globally significant forest ecosystem in a joint effort involving seven partners from five countries, led by Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development from Germany.