Partnership to tackle Mediterranean forest threats

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

image captionForests play an important role in the region's economy as well as being environmentally important

A partnership has been established to tackle the range of threats facing forests in the Mediterranean region, such as water scarcity and fires.

Each year, wildfires in the region claim up to 1m hectares of forests, at an estimated cost of 1bn euros (£870m).

The new partnership was launched at the 2nd Mediterranean Forest Week, which is being held in Avignon, France.

It will bring together scientists, policymakers, landowners and farmers.

"The region's forests have faced a number of socio-economic challenges over the past 100 years," explained Eduardo Rojas, assistant director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Forestry Department.

"On top of this we have the challenge of climate change, which is predicted to be very critical for the Mediterranean region by increasing temperatures and reducing rainfall," he told BBC News.

The FAO warns that the area is set to face a "considerable increase in longer and more frequent droughts and heat waves".

This is likely to increase the risk of large-scale wildfires and greater water scarcity, affecting both rural and urban populations.

Raising awareness

As well as climatic shifts, there are a number of socio-economic threats facing the habitat that covers about 8.5% of the Mediterranean basin. These include increasing demand for agricultural land, tourism and the expansion of urban areas.

image captionAccording to the FAO, forest fires cost the region about one billion euros each year

For example, the FAO observes, forest areas in southern parts of the region are coming under increasing pressure as a result of activities such as overgrazing and the felling of trees for firewood.

Forests in the northern Mediterranean appear to be at a greater risk of wildfires because many forests are privately owned and, as a consequence of a lack of hands-on management, vegetation has spread, increasing the risk of wildfires.

"The Collaborative Partnership on Mediterranean Forests will help raise awareness on the wealth of vital fuctions Mediterranean forests provide to its citizens," explained Mr Rojas.

"These include soil and water protection, landscape values, carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. It is urgent that we join efforts to restore and preserve their function for future generations.

"The partnership tries to build on existing partnerships, but we now understand that just intergovernmental co-operation within the region is not sufficient, so that is why we have set up this partnership," he added.

"We hope to integrate research institutions, forest owners, farmers and other stakeholders who would otherwise not be active within an intergovernmental framework."

The group will initially focus its attention on six nations in the southern and eastern reaches of the Mediterranean: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

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