UNESCO PRIMEVAL BEECH FORESTS
Date: 12 November 2020
The Snežnik-Ždrocle Forest Reserve and the Krokar Virgin Forest are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the five-year selection process and expert evaluation of the nominated forests, a process that also actively involved the Slovenia Forest Service, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee selected forests from 10 countries and recognised their special value as proof of the incredible development of beech ecosystems in Europe after the last Ice Age.
UNESCO PRIMEVAL BEECH FORESTS
The Snežnik-Ždrocle Forest Reserve and the Krokar Virgin Forest are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the five-year selection process and expert evaluation of the nominated forests, a process that also actively involved the Slovenia Forest Service, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee selected forests from 10 countries and recognised their special value as proof of the incredible development of beech ecosystems in Europe after the last Ice Age.
The nomination of the two above-mentioned forest reserves to the list of natural world heritage provides further validation for Slovenian forestry and our expert sustainable forest management. Forests greatly contribute to the biodiversity and the ecological balance in the increasingly strained landscape, they protect the ground from erosion, they regulate water drainage and provide us with drinking water as well as wood and numerous other goods. Due to the expert work performed in Slovenian forests in the last 65 years, conducted on the basis of prior knowledge, preserved forests are becoming somewhat of a Slovenian trademark, which also has a beneficial effect on the development of tourism.
Decades ago, Slovenian foresters identified forests that are especially important in terms of their condition and development, took them out of management plans and protected them as forest reserves. Together with sustainable management of all forests, this is an additional contribution of forestry to the preservation of our nature. There is a total of 170 forest reserves across various forest sites. Among them are the Snežnik-Ždrocle Forest Reserve, the biggest of them all with 793.9 ha, and the Krokar Virgin Forest (74.5 ha).
The Krokar Virgin Forest presents the untouched primeval forests on the picturesque outskirts of the Kolpa Valley while the Snežnik-Ždrocle Forest Reserve encompasses ancient beech forests with patches of primeval forests. Because of the specific site conditions created by the proximity of the sea and the high elevation of Mt. Snežnik, the beech forms the upper tree line and is a testament to the power of survival in the most extreme conditions. Both forest reserves lie in the middle of vast forests that are part of the Natura 2000 network.
The story of the beech and its significance
The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a climax tree species common across most of Europe. It is native to Western and Central Europe, Southern Scandinavia and the Balkan, Apennine and Pyrenean peninsulas. In the east, it spreads all the way to the Ukraine. In the Alps, it is found at elevations of up to 1700 and in the Apennines up to 1950 metres above sea level. With a 31% share of the total growing stock, the beech is the most common tree species in Slovenia; taking into account the natural potential vegetation, its share would reach 58%. The beech is one of the most economically and ecologically important tree species and the favourable conditions in Slovenia allow it to reach one of its optimums.
The wider area of the Krokar Virgin Forest and the Snežnik Forest Reserve were home to some of the most important Ice Age refuges of the beech, which later repopulated most of Central and Western Europe from here. In terms of biodiversity, these are the richest beech forests in Europe – this is the cradle of the European beech. The extreme elevations at which the beech is found in Slovenia also speaks to the great conditions for their growth. According to dr. Robert Brus, an expert in the field of beech research, the beech would undoubtedly get his vote if it ever came down to choosing an official national tree of Slovenia.
The common beech can reach a height of 40 metres and a diameter of 1 meter. It is a deciduous tree with a large, domed crown and a branched root system that is not particularly deep. The trunk is straight, the bark is thin, grey and smooth even with older trees, only rarely is it slightly cracked near the bottom. The shoots are brownish, bare and glossy, the buds are brown, pointy, up to 3 cm long and always tilted at a 45-degree angle to the twigs. The flower buds are slightly more rounded. The stems mainly have an alternate leaf arrangement. The leaves are simple and ovate; they are 6 to 10 cm long and 3 to 7 cm wide. They are dark green and glossy at the top and shiny at the bottom. Young leaves have hairs, but they only keep the hairs around the edges as they mature.
The beech prefers fresh, deep and humus-rich ground. It braves the winter cold relatively well, but saplings are very sensitive to spring frost and prolonged droughts. The common beech is a shade-tolerant tree species, saplings especially can wait in the shade for decades. It is a sub-Atlantic species which thrives in humidity and does not like the dry and cold continental climate. It does not tolerate urban environments well, especially compacted surfaces, salt and industrial emissions.
The common beech is one of the most economically important tree species in Slovenia. It has a hard, heavy, elastic wood that is not particularly long-lasting in outdoor conditions and has great heating potential. It is used to produce high-quality charcoal, it is great for furniture (it bends especially well), wood floors, plywood and railway sleepers. Beech masts are only edible when cooked or roasted, while raw ones were once used as pig feed. Dry distillation would be used in the past to extract tar from beech wood which was then used to produce lotions and ointments for rheumatism and gout. The common beech is also a decorative tree, suitable for large parks, gardens and avenues.
Probably the thickest beech in Slovenia can be found in Stara Povšna near Kokra – its circumference is 580 cm and it is 30 m high. This is also where beech trees as high as 46 m can be found and represent some of the tallest beech trees in the world.
Fun facts: Charcoal remains from Palaeolithic caves, pollen analyses and genetic research of today's populations show that the beech had Ice Age refuges not only on the Balkan and Apennine peninsulas, as recently thought, but also in the area of present-day Slovenia. After the Ice Ages, it spread into Western Europe from these locations due to the geographic conditions.
(Robert Brus: Drevesne vrste na Slovenskem, 2000)