Climate crisis: how beetles and fire are devouring European forests

Climate crisis: how beetles and fire are devouring European forests
Copyright euronews
By Hans von der Brelie
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A combination of record-high temperatures and drought saw France lose some 65,000 hectares of forest this summer to rampaging wildfires. These same conditions saw the Bark beetle flourish, devouring a staggering 11,000 hectares, one-quarter, of the Franconian Forest in Germany.


The climate crisis has accelerated the dieback (death of trees) in forests in Germany.

Extreme temperatures and drought-hit summers have resulted in a surge in bark beetle populations. Since 2018 Germany has lost half a million hectares of forest. In particular, spruce species have been heavily impacted.

"Here, in the Frankenwald (Franconian Forest) we have large-scale forest dieback. It is a catastrophe. What was built up through generations, was destroyed in just three years.” Explains Matthias Lindig, Forester, and Bavarian State Forest Office Agent.

Matthias's team fights the bark beetle, but already one-quarter of the spruce forest in north-eastern Bavaria is dead. Overlooking just one beetle spruce can lead to widespread infestation and in a few weeks, 400 further trees can become infected and die. 

When it’s hot and dry, Germany's spruce monocultures become easy prey for beetles. Since April the number of bark beetles is skyrocketing again.

One spruce can be infested by some 500 to 1000 bark beetles, they kill the tree – and they proliferate, producing 20.000 young beetles… that’s why it’s so fast, so quick. Once upon a time, with just one generation (per year), you could handle. But with three generation, it’s getting difficult…” SaysHannes Lemme, Bug Hunter, and Entomologist.

Is there still some hope?

Some private forest owners have the courage to try new ways of working. Christof Körner, has a young “forest of the future” that he planted seven years ago. It's an interesting combination of trees, healthy and fresh, and flourishing despite the drought-ridden summer.

"In the past, (local) wood producers considered hardwood being weed trees. It got eliminated. Just the spruce was valued, the spruce was the breadwinning tree.” Says Christof. We believe in planting indigenous tree species, that are able to withstand a hotter climate. He continues.

Devastating Forest Fires in France

Flaming infernos this year destroyed some 65,000 hectares of forests in France. Huge woodland areas dried out due to record high temperatures and lack of rain were the perfect conditions for rapidly spreading fires. 

One of the biggest forest owners in the village of Origne, in the Gironde region in Southwestern France is Nathalie Morlot. Her family have been been in the logging business for generations. The trees planted by Nathalie’s grandpa were among those devoured by the flames.

It all started around 1860, at the time of Napoleon III, when the swamps were transformed into pine-tree plantations. There were 2700 hectares of pines, out of which 2400 burned.

"Everything must be replanted again. For 40 years there will be no real forest here around. We will suffer a change of landscape, of our natural heritage. All the work of our ancestors, our grandparents and parents is burnt down… It is appallingly sad…” Reflects Natalie. 

Despite this species being highly inflammable, the owners plan on reforestation of the quick-growing pine tree.

Ecologists claim greater biodiversity, more hardwood, and broader fire breaks, can offer solutions to prevent future large-scale forest fires. 

But not all forest owners agree on that, Stéphane Latour is the Director, of Fibois Landes De Gascogne. 

"90 percent of the fires are caused by human activities. That’s why it is important to have clearances without shrubs close to infrastructures and urban areas. This free space needs to be clean, to avoid that fire can depart from there. Anyway, we will be exposed to very huge fires, given the risks linked in particular to climate change, in the upcoming years.”

Nathalie in France and Christof in Germany are not giving up hope though, and both planting new trees – for the next generation.

Journalist • Richard Cadey

Video editor • Christele Ben Ali

Additional sources • Domenico Spano & Matthieu Michaillat (graphics), Eric Deyerler & Sébastian Saint-Cricq (drones), Mathieu Ollagnier (MoJo France)

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