Governments’ shoddy implementation of EU laws harms our forests

Posted on 04 October 2021

A new report published by the European Court of Auditors finds EU policies intended to address biodiversity and climate change in forests are all too often not being implemented or adequately enforced.
Forests cover over a third of the EU’s land area, but their health is rapidly deteriorating [1]. According to a new report from EU auditors, this is partly because the EU-level laws set up to protect them are not being translated into real conservation efforts on the ground – despite the Member States’ obligation to do so.

The report warns, in particular, of the limited impact of EU nature laws – including the Birds and Habitats directives and the Timber Regulation – either due to the lack of implementation by the Member States or the lack of adequate mechanisms to check if they are being implemented effectively, as well as the lack of consistent enforcement by the European Commission. Many Natura 2000 protected areas that contain forests, for example, were found to have no conservation measures or have conservation measures that are not being implemented.

Reacting to the report, Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office, said: “The report highlights again the urgent need for the Member States to step up the implementation of the existing nature laws. Too often forests that are designated as protected under EU legislation are protected only on paper, with no real conservation efforts on the ground, or they see levels of logging activities that make them no different to non-protected forests. This kind of shoddy implementation and enforcement of EU laws leaves forests only that much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and drastically hinders their ability to capture and store carbon. In the face of the climate crisis and ecological collapse, failing to ensure resilient and diverse forests is nothing short of playing with fire.”

The European Commission and member states must urgently:

  • Step up actions to ensure EU forests are genuinely protected. This includes strict protection of all remaining old-growth and primary forests.
  • Integrate biodiversity as a key principle in commercial forest management. This is an absolute necessity that will increase the resilience of forests against climate-driven disturbances like droughts, fires and pests.  
  • Improve the definition of sustainable forest management, with criteria for assessing if a forest is ‘sustainably managed’. This would then help to ensure that rural development funding is having a positive impact on forest biodiversity and resilience. 
  • Introduce and support ambitious legally binding nature restoration targets, including for forest ecosystems.

For more information:

Sabien Leemans
Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer

Bartosz Brzezinski
Communications Officer for Biodiversity & Agriculture
Tel. +32 484 28 15 10

Notes to editors

[1] See State of Europe’s Forests 2020 and Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services: An EU ecosystem assessment.
Rutting Red deer (Cervus elaphus), Klampenborg Dyrehave, Denmark.
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Florian Moellers / WWF