Exploring Mediterranean forests: forty years of testimony

The book “À la rencontre des forêts méditerranéennes: Quarante années de témoignage“ is a written testimony by Jean Bonnier, honorary president of Forêt Méditerranéenne and the International Association for Mediterranean Forests.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In this book, aimed not only at the French but also at all those who are interested in the Mediterranean forests on the north, south and east coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, I try to show how the concepts in use around the world should be handled with caution and wisdom about our very special natural ecosystems.  I am particularly attached to France, but its Mediterranean region is so similar to so many neighbouring regions of Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Maghreb, and is so included in the Mediterranean ecosystem, that my reflections concern 25 countries and 100 million hectares.

I also note, and regret, that the focus on our forests is unnecessarily fragmented among the various stakeholder groups, whether they are “productive foresters”, “conservationists”, pastoralists, urban planners, etc., all of whom are involved in the management of our forests.  As if our Mediterranean forests had not always been the place for “agro-silvo-pastoralism”. I believe that this disastrous situation is due to the very complex history of this region of the world, including that of the 20th century, and must be corrected with a more holistic approach.

My aim, therefore, is, first of all, to present the Mediterranean forests, avoiding any short cut between a general and worldwide movement in favour of forests of any kind, from Amazonia, Russia or Indonesia, and those that concern all of us who live between Lisbon and Baghdad and, in France, between Perpignan and Menton, or between Valencia and Bonifacio.

I would like to recall, for most of our peers who are generally not aware of this, that the Mediterranean forests are special, determined by a climate that is totally original in the world, with a hot and dry season around the summer and a cold and more or less humid season around the winter. Sometimes they may be just shrubs from the scrubland or the bushes, but they are the ones that provide us with our daily natural environment and so many comforts and protections that we now call ecosystem services.               

Like all the forests around the Mediterranean, each of our massifs therefore belongs to one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Mediterranean forests are home to five times more species of trees and shrubs than the rest of Europe. Therefore, for France, these forests represent more the French part of the forests of the Mediterranean basin than the Mediterranean part of the French forests alone. Moreover, this is true for most of the northern basin countries, of which only a part of the forests is Mediterranean.

Image: Jean Bonnier

Knowledge on their development, management, culture, defence against fire and destruction by humans requires references in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean rather than the forests of Central Europe or Atlantic regions, and there is so much to see and learn between Agadir and Amman, between Thessaloniki and Biskra…!

In the course of my career, over more than forty years, thanks to Forêt Méditerranéenne and the International Association for Mediterranean Forests (AIMF) which I helped to create, I have had the good fortune to visit many of our Mediterranean countries, in southern Europe and Turkey as well as in the Maghreb. I have visited the forests there and, above all, I have met those who look after them, farmers, foresters, stockbreeders, mayors, technicians and researchers; no doubt some of you readers.

My book gives you my testimony: our Mediterranean forests structure the territories in which the life of our fellow citizens is played out and developed, without them being aware of their importance, their specific characteristics, their multiple values and complexity, their dynamics, the services they provide and the needs of their management. Could this book, perhaps, help to understand this extraordinary cultural and living heritage of Mediterranean shores?

Publication details

Original Title: À la rencontre des forêts méditerranéennes: quarante années de témoignage
Author: Jean Bonnier
Contributor: Jacques Blondel
Publisher: Editions L’Harmattan, 2020
ISBN: 2343187258, 9782343187259
Pages: 310
Price: 34 euros