No. They do not exist only in our imagination and in the fairy tales that we read as children and we continue reading in our adulthood, we can also find them in real life: wild forests where human beings have barely stepped on. A recent study - which comes with a map that you can see in this article, below - goes to show that there is a surprising amount of this type of primary forest.
"What we have been able to show through this study is that, although the total area of forest is not large in Europe, there are still many more virgin or primary forests than we thought, and they are widely distributed in many parts of the Old Continent" explains Bill Keeton, forestry ecologist at the University of Vermont (United States), in a press release from this center of studies. "And where they are they provide ecological values and exceptional and unique habitat for biodiversity," adds Keeton.
This ecologist has been part of a team led by researchers from the Humboldt University in Berlin and has created the first map of the last remaining wild forests in Europe. This map indicates more than 1.37 million hectares, divided into 34 different countries, including Spain, especially in the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian coast. The study has been published in the magazine Diversity and Distributions.
The main author of the research, Francesco Maria Sabatini, a scientist at Humboldt University, clarifies that "it is not that these forests have never been touched by the hand of man; since that would be something difficult to believe in Europe. " "Even so, these are forests in which there are no clearly visible indications that human activities have occurred in them. Perhaps these activities have been blurred after decades of nonintervention (of the human being in these places), in which the ecological processes have followed a natural dynamic ".
International collaboration, fundamental
Getting to compose this map required a lot of work, as they recognize. "We contacted hundreds of forest scientists, experts and NGO activists from all over Europe, asking them to share information on where to find these forests in their respective countries," adds Sabatini. "Without their direct participation, we would never have been able to build our database, which is the most complete database ever compiled for Europe," he stresses.
The study highlights that primary forests in Europe are quite rare, are located in areas far from the populations and are fragmented into small patches. "The European landscape is the result of millennia of human activities, so it's not surprising that only a small fraction of our forests have not yet been disturbed," says Tobias Kuemmerle, director of the Conservation Biogeography Laboratory at the Berlin University. also the main author of the study. "Although these forests only correspond to a small fraction of the total forest area in Europe, it is no less true that they are absolutely exceptional in terms of their ecological and conservation value," he points out.
According to the researchers who have carried out the study, these forests are important because they tend to be safe areas for species that are in danger of extinction. In fact, scientists see them as natural laboratories in which to study the impact that people have on forest ecosystems. The research also reports that 89% of the mapped primary forest is in protected areas, but only 46% of this land is under strict protection. The fact of having this map now can help to protect more these forest spaces in Europe.