Forest conservation in the Mediterranean

Lebanese cedar (<i>Cedrus libani</i>), Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, Lebanon. / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Lebanese cedar (Cedrus libani), Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, Lebanon.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

The Mediterranean forest mosaics of cork and holm oaks, cedars, pines and olive trees are home to about 25,000 species of flowering plants of which 13,000 are endemic.

They also host an amazing faunal diversity including large mammals such as brown bear, wolf, leopard, endemic Barbary ape, Barbary and Sardinian deer, Iberian lynx and mouflon.

Forests originally represented 82% of the total Mediterranean land cover. Today, only about 17% remains.

Our aim is to establish new protected areas, to improve the management of existing ones, and to initiate restoration plans for degraded forest landscapes.

Conservation and sustainable development approaches are being integrated for local communities to gain economic benefits from their environment.

The challenge is to establish a Mediterranean forest network to act as a biodiversity reservoir and as a barrier against desertification.

The main forest areas where WWF Mediterranean is active are in Croatia, Lebanon, Morocco, Portugal and Tunisia.

::: Threats :::

Mediterranean forests have played a crucial role in the rise of some of the oldest civilisations. Environmental impacts from ancient times are still visible but are overshadowed by massive development of the past 200 years. The last 4 decades in particular have seen rapid degradation.

In European countries, forest degradation is mainly the result of urban development and coastal and high mountain tourism. In the Southern Mediterranean countries, forests are under pressure from competition for agricultural land, firewood collection, overgrazing, wildlife hunting and unsustainable plant harvesting.

Apart from this, between 600,000 and 800,000 ha of Mediterranean forest burns every year (an area about the size of Crete or Corsica), and 95% of these fires are caused by arson or negligence.

About 300,000 km2 of land in the European coastal zone of the Mediterranean is undergoing desertification, affecting the livelihoods of 16.5 million people.

Chronic water deficit is another critical issue related mainly to soil degradation and overexploitation of water resources.