Expanding knowledge of community-based forestry in Europe

The European Congress on Community Lands highlighted changing forest ownership regimes in Europe, and emphasized the potential of community-based forest management to revitalise rural economies and promote social cohesion.

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Photo: Eugenia Rodrigues

Forest ownership is changing across Europe. New community and private forest owners are bringing fresh interest and new objectives to forest management. According to the COST Action FP1201 “Forest land ownership changes in Europe” report 2015, common property regimes, such as rural common ownership/rural communities have been identified in 16 EU countries, including all Mediterranean countries. Yet information on community-based forestry in Europe remains scarce, although this type of management is crucial for greater social cohesion and the revitalization of rural economy.

On October 7 2018, the European Congress on Community Lands (known as baldios in Portugal) took place. The commoner’s movement has existed in Portugal for many decades, and the third congress on this subject was organized this year by the National Baldios Federation – BALADI, with the purpose of expanding the knowledge on community forest area diversity in Europe, as well as highlighting the importance of these territories in the context of rural development. The main target audience included community forest area managers and associations, Forest Services technicians, politicians and scientists from Portugal and neighboring countries. The opening of the event was carried out by several important figures in the governance of these areas, including the BALADI President and the Secretary of State Forests and Rural Development.

Photo: Pedro Gomes

In Portugal, community forest areas occupy approximately 14% of the continental forest territory. These areas are owned and managed by rural communities, autonomously or in collaboration with the Forest Services. Within the national forest universe, baldios are a valuable heritage and an important area for silvicultural activities. They are mainly located in the mountains, in Northern and Central Portugal. Baldios forest areas were created in the 30s of the last century and have an indisputable importance both economically as producers of raw materials and socially as guarantor of employment in rural areas or also in environmental terms as a guarantor of regulation of the water system, of soil preservation and of microclimatic protection. For this reason, the Congress also addressed topics such as “Participatory Management and Local Territorial Governance,” “Social Economy,” “Environmental and Energetic Valuation of the Baldio Resources” and “Legal Framework”.

These events are of the utmost importance to highlight the relevance of these forest areas that are unique in their combination of economic, social and environmental aspects. For more information about community-based forestry in Portugal consult the page of the National Federation of the Baldios or of the Center of Applied Ecology “Prof. Baeta Neves.”