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Introduction to the theme

Marco Ferretti (President of the international ICP Forests programme) takes the floor

Why do we need a European-wide infrastructure to monitor forests? The example of the ICP Forest programme



Forest monitoring as an international initiative was launched in Europe during the 1980s in response to the concern generated by the alleged forest decline caused by transboundary air pollution. Since then, and thanks to the effort put in place by countries, European Union (EU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a unique forest monitoring system has been developed. Such a system consists of:

  • two networks of plots (so-called Level I and Level II) distributed all across Europe
  • a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs, i.e. the monitoring Manual)
  • an international database
  • an international network of scientists and experts organized in thematic groups (Expert Panels and Committees).


All the above elements are co-ordinated by the UNECE International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests), probably the largest long-term internationally co-ordinated forest monitoring program in the world ICP Forests organizes data produced by 42 participating Countries and covering different responses (e.g. forest health, growth, diversity, nutrition) in relation to different drivers (e.g. climate, air pollution, deposition, biotic agents) (attention: il manqué une virgule dans le texte en français) and media (soil, vegetation, atmosphere). As such, it is unique also with respect to the possibility to integrate data across spatial, temporal and ecological scales. It has been proven to be essential in reporting, and detecting and understanding changes in the status of European forests.

Although the original aim of the ICP Forests remains linked to air pollution, its potential goes much beyond, and data collected under the ICP Forests are pivotal in many evaluations attempting to understand the condition of European forests with respect to key environmental and forest management issues. These evaluations will be hardly possible on the basis on national initiatives only.

The importance of long-term, fully documented data-series on forest resource is more and more obvious and acknowledged among scientists, but it is not always so among politicians and resource managers. This contrasts with the evidence that only long-term data can help in understanding status, changes and determinants of change of our forests.

When considering the ecological, societal and economic value of European forests, the results obtained up to now and the potential for future scientific and technical development at European and global level, the monitoring system co-ordinated by the ICP Forests is an invaluable asset for forest ecosystem science that should be maintained.

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