Federico Borella Photojournalist
The last forest
The last European Virgin forest
Six thousand years ago, much of Europe was covered by wild forests, coniferous forests at altitude and in the north, and beech forests in the hills and flatlands.
In the last two millennia, Europe’s virgin forests have gradually been cleared to supply timber or to make way for agriculture, transport corridors and settlements. The last major rainforest areas in Central Europe have been systematically removed over the last 300 years and have been replaced by ‘orderly’ farmed forests, which are oriented towards the maximum yield of wood. As a consequence, Europe has lost enormous amounts of biodiversity and species richness.
Today, only tiny fragments of these once wild forests remain, meaning that what is left is even more important to protect than ever before.
Compared to its size and population, Romania contains a hugely disproportionate amount of Europe’s last virgin forests. With a population of only about 4% of the European Union and a land mass of approximately 5%, only a decade ago, Romania was home to about 65% of the EU’s virgin forests.
authorities, as NGOs have reported. In Romania some 27 million cubic meters of wood are cut annually, of which nearly a third are cut illegally, according to environmental organizations.
On the mountains of Romania the wood is cut and then traded, while around the cities it is cut to build. Everywhere, imposing villas appear instead of the trees. This happens without any control, much less remorse. In fact, a forest land is ten times cheaper than a building plot, and this means that people's interest in deforesting grows exponentially.
For example, in the area of the Baneasa forest (one of the residential areas of Bucharest) one square meter of forest is sell at 15 euros but, after its deforestation, the same square meter worths 100. The profit obtained with these transactions sometimes comes to one million euros.
Romanian timber largely ends up in the Arab market, such as in Egypt, where furniture is made with it. Many businessmen bought whole forests in the Carpathian country under cost.
In 2015, the National Catalogue of Virgin and Cvasivirgin Forests was set up, an important step in the struggle for the conservation of the last remaining primary forests.
This nationwide database of primary forests should officially provide a comprehensive and strict protection system. Unfortunately, only around 20,000 ha of forests are included today (March, 2018).
Populating the “Catalogue“ has been slow because support by forest owners and authorities is lacking, logging of virgin forests continues at a rapid pace and it makes protection a race against time.
To classify and protect a virgin forest under the “Virgin Forest Catalogue“, forest experts have to submit studies to authorities to prove that the mapped forest meets the established criteria, but before an expert can submit a study, the landowner must agree to the forest survey and classification. If the owner does not agree, the forest cannot be mapped and protected. These delays allow continued logging in many old forest areas.
Companies from Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France, as well as Romanian countries all invested heavily in intensification of Romania’s logging, firstly taking out the oak, then the spruce and then into the beech forests.
These factors have greatly contributed to the rapid forest destruction seen in Romania.