During the 1980s the health status of European forests declined. Defoliation, discolouration and tree mortality above usual levels gave rise to serious concern. In order to objectively describe changes in forest health status foresters and scientists all over Europe started to periodically monitor indicators of forest health like defoliation and discolouration. Furthermore, possible causes for forest health deterioration were also recorded. The main cause for forest decline at that time was feared to be the high concentration of sulphur species that caused acid rain and a high input of acidifying substances into the soil. These findings stressed the necessity of air pollution abatement policies. These were implemented under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and under related EU clean air policies and resulted in a 70% decline of sulphate deposition.
A considerable part of the underlying scientific information needed for this process has been provided by the International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests) since 1986.
Over the years a two-level monitoring system has been developed. General information on forest health status is annually recorded on so-called Level I monitoring sites. More intensive investigations are realised on Level II sites. Additionally most of the European countries monitor their forests on a national level on their own accord (National Forest Inventories). The National Forest Inventories in many countries include Level I sites, but monitor national forest condition in a denser grid.
One of the important achievements of 25 years of European Forest Monitoring is the development of well-documented harmonised indicators and criteria for forest health as well as monitoring methods. The application of these in forest monitoring today allows a good comparability of monitoring results.
Today air pollution and the deposition of pollutants in forests and on their soils is not the only threat to forests anymore, even though the deposition of nitrate still is a serious problem. Increasing concentrations of ozone, declining biodiversity and climate change come into focus. It is widely accepted that the Earth’s climate is undergoing significant human-induced changes. Main changes are increased global mean temperatures and increased frequency of extreme events of drought and storms. Limited water availability may affect whole forests or only single tree species. Single events of extreme drought and heat stress like the summer of 2003 can cause growth declines, high levels of mortality and even delayed multi-year effects. Consequently, altered water regimes are considered the most serious threat to forests all over the world. We can already make quite precise predictions how the climate will develop using climate modelling. However, it is widely accepted that a high biodiversity in forests are the best way to guarantee that forests will be able to adapt to present and future changes.
Under these new threats it is a challenge for the international community to keep the forests as vital, diverse and healthy as possible in order to preserve one of the most important resources. Sustainable management and protection of forest functions needs scientifically sound data which can be gained based on the well-established monitoring system for Europe's forests. However, to meet data needs that arise with new environmental problems like climate change and conservation of biodiversity, the monitoring system that until now has focused on effects of air pollution, has to be revised and further developed. The main objective is to gain more information on each single plot, while the total number of plots monitored is reduced.
For the above mentioned reasons and in close cooperation with ICP Forests FutMon will revise the European Monitoring System to make it more effective:
The large-scale monitoring of crown condition will be conducted on about 4300 plots in connection with national forest inventories.
Intensive monitoring will be done on about 250 plots and besides crown condition and forest growth comprises meteorology, air quality, deposition, soil condition, ground vegetation and foliar chemistry.
Additional parameters are assessed under demonstration actions D1 - D3.
Expected results apart from the revised monitoring system are:
Harmonisation and improvement of existing methods will be continued. FutMon uses latest technical developments and defines and implements more precise monitoring methods in order to collect data more efficiently.
Comprehensive analysis of the existing data with respect to carbon allocation in trees, forest soil condition, critical loads of air pollutants, their exceedances and impact on forest biodiversity, dynamic modelling of future effect of air pollution and climate change (water availability and drought stress) on forests.
Furthermore, the response of forest ecosystems to clean air policies will be predicted
FutMon is being carried out by 38 beneficiaries from nearly all EU-Member States. The project has a total budget of 34.44 Mio €. Under the funding of Life+ the EU contributes 16.14 Mio € to the total budget. The remaining budget is provided by national authorities of the respective beneficiaries.