We would do well to heed the Buddhist saying "Cut down the forest of your greed before cutting real trees."
There has been extensive loss of forests since the early post-glacial period 10,000 years ago, when an estimated 80 to 90 percent of land in Europe was heavily wooded. Although partly due to changing climatic conditions, this deforestation is mainly the result of human activities such as land clearance for farming, and logging for fuel, construction, shipping and mining. Today, forests cover 33 percent of European territory, ranging from 6 percent in Ireland to up to 66 percent in Finland.
Forests serve many functions:
As they perform these functions, forests stabilise the climate and shape the landscape. Forests are also popular areas for relaxation and recreation.
Forests are a source of timber for construction, biomass for fuel, pulp for paper, and raw materials for medicines and many other products. Large areas of forestland are also used for livestock grazing. Worldwide, about half the timber cut each year is used as fuel for heating and cooking, especially in less-developed countries. Some timber is burned directly as firewood, and some is converted into charcoal, which is widely used in urban households and some industries. One-third of the world’s annual timber harvest consists of logs for conversion into building materials such as lumber, plywood, hardboard, particle board and chipboard. One-sixth is converted into pulp for use in a variety of paper products.
The importance of forests for recreation has gained increasing attention in Europe over the past decades. Forests provide many essential non-material benefits, especially for those living in the stressful environments of modern industrialised countries. Recreational activities have had both positive and negative impacts on forests. In general, using forests for recreational purposes tends to favour their preservation and the protection of wildlife, and helps to limit forest losses to urban sprawl and road construction. However, excessive numbers of visitors and tourists can lead to soil erosion along and adjacent to footpaths. Wildlife is disturbed, plants and saplings are trampled, and litter accumulates.
Huge areas of European forests regularly burn down (1 percent each year). Forest fires caused by lightning are a rare but natural phenomenon. Such natural fires represent only a small proportion of the total number of forest fires in Europe. The most common causes are poor management practices, arson, land-use conflicts and negligence.
Despite the fact that the bulk of forests worldwide are used for timber production, common awareness of their many important functions, including their role in biodiversity protection, is gradually increasing. Although earlier the main goal of forest management was to produce sustainable yields, the focus has now shifted to sustainable management. Greater attention is being given to the important environmental and social functions of forests, including their role in biodiversity protection and the conservation of water resources, as carbon sinks, and as resources for recreation and tourism.
Nearly 40 percent of the territory of Belarus is covered by forests, making it one of the 10 most forested countries in Europe.
According to 2010 data:
Thirty species of wild trees grow in the forests of Belarus, the main ones being pine, spruce, warty birch, pubescent birch, black and gray alder, common oak and aspen. These species comprise almost 99 percent of the country's forests.
Areas of natural forest that have been cleared of trees take a long time to regenerate and often become different types of forests. Every time an artificial forest is planted, there is an impact on the species composition. Each year, about 40,000 hectares of young forest are planted. Pine trees predominate (70 percent), spruce accounts for about 20 percent, and English oaks make up about 6 percent of these planted areas. Artificial forests occupy more space than natural forests in most European countries, but make up just one-fifth of the forests in Belarus.
Dead wood is an important component of normal life in the forest.
Positive and negative aspects of forest use
Forests in Belarus provide building materials, edible mushrooms, fruits and medicinal plants, and are popular areas for recreation.
Logging — In 2012, the Ministry of Forestry was responsible for the harvesting of over 10.1 million m3 of commercial timber, which was 88.1 percent of the planned production for that year. The uncut areas were in swampy, inaccessible locations. The goal of demonstrating good results and fulfilling quotas is one reason why the number of trees felled often exceeds the quantity necessary to meet real needs. Forest enterprises are using more effective and powerful technology to reap greater harvests. At the beginning of 2013, the organisations of the Ministry of Forestry had at their disposal a large number of timber harvesters and other high-performance logging equipment (139 harvesters, 170 forwarders and more than 1,500 cargo-handling machines), which were used to harvest more than 1.9 million m3 of timber. Such large pieces of machinery require the construction of more roads, exacerbating the already considerable negative impact on the forests. Road construction in turn attracts greater numbers of tourists and poachers, and increases the risk of forest fires. Compared with legal logging activities, illegal logging is far less of a problem in Belarus.
Non-timber resources — Up to 52,900 tonnes of edible mushrooms, 51,800 tonnes of fruits and berries, and about 90,000 tonnes of medicinal herbs grow each year in the forests of Belarus. Fruits are more prevalent in the regions of Minsk (28 percent) and Gomel (26 percent). The most abundant fruits are blueberries (33,000 tonnes) and cranberries (11,200 tonnes), while harvests of rowan berries (1,100 tonnes) and bog whortleberries (1,300 tonnes) are smaller. Of the 200 species of edible mushrooms growing in the forests of Belarus around 20 species are harvested, including the king bolete, chanterelle, orange-cap boletus, rough-stemmed boletus, yellow-footed bolete, bovine boletus and conical morel. More than 360 species of marsh and forest plants are widely used in science and traditional medicine, and about 30 percent of official medical drugs are still manufactured from medicinal plant materials. Birch sap resources are estimated at 480,000 tonnes, around 25,000 tonnes of which are harvested each year. The annual extracted amount of galipot, an impure resin of turpentine obtained from pine trees, is around 30 tonnes. Galipot extraction has a negative impact on the condition of pine forests and the plants and animals that live there. Up to 50 tonnes of honey are collected from forest apiaries each year. Other forest products include household brooms (400,000 per year) and bath besoms (45,000). Hunting grounds in Belarus occupy 16,766 hectares. There are 255 hunting enterprises, 78 of which are under the Ministry of Forestry.
Forest recreation and tourism — Recreational facilities managed by the Ministry of Forestry include 78 hunting lodges (for hunting and fishing), family and business holiday accommodation, and infrastructure for eco-tourism, horse riding and river rafting. In some areas, the recreational footprint is too large and heavy. Human activities are damaging soil and forest vegetation (e.g. at the Svityaz Lake resort). The impacts of transportation and the use of cooking equipment also increase the risk of fires, especially during the summer months, thus entry to certain forests is prohibited in high temperatures. The unrestricted harvesting of berries and mushrooms is also causing damage to some forest plant communities. Careless methods of collection can damage plants to such an extent that they take a long time to recover. The recreational use of forests can also lead to pollution from domestic waste and petroleum products.
All forests in Belarus are state owned.
Disputes related to forest management
Belarus has established a network of nature protected areas, which includes nature reserves, national parks, wildlife reserves (zakazniks) and natural monuments.
The following resources provide information about forestry in Belarus: