The province of Soria, Spain, increased its forest area by 60% over the last 60 years

Cesefor analyses data from the 4th National Forest Inventory and its previous editions to showcase the state of forests in Soria and the challenges posed by climate change.

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Forest in Soria
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has recently published the 4th National Forest Inventory (NFI) of the northern province of Soria. Cesefor, a leading centre for research and innovation in forest management, has carried out a comparison of the last NFIs published in order to analyse how Soria’s forests have evolved over the last 50 years. The results are being analysed within the framework of the LIFE Soria ForestAdapt project to achieve better adaptation of our forests to the effects of climate change through integrated forest management.

This 4th NFI updates the information on the composition of the forests in terms of species, number of trees, volume of wood and tree growth, among many other variables collected in the field inventories. This process began in the 1960s with the first Inventory and is currently completing its fourth phase, the results of which have just been published for the province of Soria.

Forest area

The province of Soria covers an area of just over one million hectares. Forest land (comprising woodland, scrubland, natural pastures, etc.) occupies 60% of the province (5% more than the national average), while agricultural land occupies 37% and the rest (artificial and water areas) account for 3%.

But not all the forest area is covered by trees. Forests extend over what is known as the wooded forest area. This area occupies 447,000 hectares in Soria, i.e., 43% of the province is covered by more or less dense forests.

From the analysis of the National Forestry Inventory carried out by Cesefor, this wooded area has been increasing considerably since the NFI began to be carried out. In the 1960s (1st NFI) it was 278,000; at the end of the 1980s (2nd NFI), it rose to 353,000; in 2004 (3rd NFI) it was 415,000 and currently it is 447,000, i.e., in just under 60 years, the province of Soria has increased its woodland area by 60% (7.75% in the last 15 years).

Comparing these figures with the provincial population figures (around 89,000 inhabitants), each inhabitant of Soria enjoys 7 hectares of woodland, while the national average is 0.4 hectares per person.

Figure 1: Evolution of forest area in Soria (hectares).

What are our forests like? Number of trees and volume of wood

In the 1960s, the province of Soria had only 87 million trees. Nowadays, Soria has almost 250 million trees (2,804 trees per inhabitant) of which 116 million are conifers (mainly pines and junipers) and 134 million are broadleaf trees (holm oaks, oaks, beeches, poplars…).

Figure 2: Evolution of the number of trees in Soria (orange: broadleaf / blue: conifer).

Forest inventories estimate the amount of wood according to the different species and their size (diameter and height). In the recently completed fourth NFI, it has been calculated that there are more than 37 million cubic metres of wood in Soria’s forests. Of these, almost 30 million are conifers while there are just under 7.5 million hardwoods. This contrasts with the distribution of the number of trees in which hardwoods dominate and is mainly explained by the fact that conifers, mainly pines, have much more wood in their adult trees than the majority hardwoods in the province (holm oaks, gall oaks or oaks).

Thus, the two species that produce the greatest volume of wood in the province are the two main pines, the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and the black pine (Pinus pinaster), which together account for almost 70% of the total wood in the province. However, the holm oak (Quercus ilex) is the species with the largest number of trees, about 66 million individuals, accounting for 27% of the total number of trees in the province.

The increase in the volume of wood has been remarkable during the last period, which has risen to more than 37 million cubic metres while in the third NFI it did not reach 30 million, i.e., an increase of 26% in the amount of wood available in the province of Soria. This increase in available wood is largely due to forest management, the prevention of damage and diseases, and especially fires. Consequently, this sustainable management is making it possible to take advantage of the available wood (in 2019, almost 325 thousand cubic metres of wood were cut) and, at the same time, to increase the amount of wood by accumulation in existing forests, as well as the appearance of new forests due to forestation or natural expansion of forests.

Figure 3: Evolution of wood volume.

Adaptation to climate change

Although these figures are very positive, Cesefor states that “we find ourselves in a context of climate change in which forests need to adapt to the new conditions. Extreme events can increase vulnerability to pests and fires, so it is essential to adapt management to minimise the damage suffered”. But it is not only management that needs to adapt, human activity in forests also needs to adapt to these new conditions, both in commercial and recreational uses of the forest, enjoying nature, but being aware of its fragility.

It is therefore necessary to create forests and societies that are more resilient and resistant to climate change. The LIFE Soria ForestAdapt project is working in this sense to define the necessary mitigation, governance and information measures for our forests.

In this project, Cesefor has the support of the trustees that integrate the Foundation that governs the operation of this centre (Diputación de Soria, UVa and FAFCYLE), and also with the active involvement of the Junta de Castilla y León (collaborator in this initiative through the Territorial Service of Environment in Soria). The following entities are part of the Soria ForestAdapt consortium: the Global Nature Foundation (which coordinates the project), the Business and Climate Foundation, the Cesefor Foundation, the University of Valladolid, and the organisations responsible for the PEFC and FSC certification systems in Spain.