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German forest decline hits record levels

February 24, 2021

Bark beetles are the main driver of spruce tree deaths in the country. But this was exacerbated by a dry summer.

an image of destroyed trees in Germany
Fires, drought and a bark beetle infestation have all taken their toll on Germany's forestsImage: Jochen Tack/dpa/picture alliance

Forests in Germany "are sick" and deteriorated at record levels in 2020, the agriculture minister said, commenting on an annual forest report released on Wednesday.

Forests in Germany cover around a third of the country's entire area, at 11.4 million hectares (44,000 square miles).

Key report findings:

  • More trees died in Germany in 2020 than in any other previous year.
  • Just 21% of trees under observation had an intact canopy — an indication of how healthy a tree is.
  • A record 1.7% of the trees under observation died between 2019 and 2020 — almost 10 times the average.
  • Spruce trees were especially hard hit: 4.3% of these trees under observation died.
  • Deciduous trees were hit by canopy thinning, meaning trees were missing much of their normal leaf mass.

Future-proofing Germany's cities

Multiple factors are causing tree deaths

The report, which examines the condition of 10,000 trees each year since 1984, found that there were multiple factors causing Germany's forest decline.

A bark beetle infestation was the main cause for spruce tree deaths in the country. This was made worse due to a dry summer that enabled the beetles to get deep into barks.

The report also blamed storms, drought and forest fires in the past three years for massively damaging German forests.

What is being done to stop forests getting sick?

"We have launched the largest ecological forest reconstruction program ever," Julia Klöckner, the agriculture minister said on Wednesday.

As part of this, the government is hoping to encourage bio-diverse woodlands, with various types of tree.

The government has also already pledged about €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) in funding to support municipal and private forest owners.

BUND nature group does not think the government is moving fast enough.

"The German government must finally take effective climate protection measures and at the same time massively reduce polluting emissions from transport, industry and agriculture," the group said.

kmm/aw (Reuters, dpa, AFP)