Since its creation in June 2011, the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management (CEEM), based at the Faculty of Forest and Environment, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (EUSD) has worked to promote and apply the principles of econics to sustainable development. Econics is defined as an “approach to studying the dynamics and functioning of (complex and holarchically nested) ecological systems with the aim of deriving management solutions for natural resource-dependent socio-economic systems as a gateway towards sustainable development under global change”.
In the last decade the Centre for Econics has largely contributed to further research on sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystem-based adaptations to global change. Further, the Centre for Econics also aimed to promote career opportunities in the sector, and developing cooperation and internationalization within the discipline of biodiversity conservation.
One of the Centre for Econics fields of activity is related to the study, conservation and management of old-growth beech forests in Europe – especially regarding the development of the transnational serial UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. In this context, the Center for Econics implemented a series of beech forest-related projects in close cooperation with a large group of experts and practitioners across Europe.
Supporting the development of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
European beech forests are characteristic for Europe and the process of their expansion across the continent after the last ice age is globally unique and of outstanding universal value. Thus, in 2007 the World Heritage Committee (WHC) approved the inscription of representative undisturbed beech forest ecosystems in 10 component parts – “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians” (Slovakia and Ukraine) on the World Heritage list. In 2011, the WHC approved the first extension nomination to include five additional ancient beech forests, thus becoming the “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Ancient Beech Forests of Germany” (Germany, Slovakia and Ukraine).
In order to initiate and facilitate the trilateral cooperation between the three countries, the Centre for Econics conducted a project to improve the management especially of buffer zones, which surround and protect the component parts. The project further aimed to support the development and implementation of the joint management system of the trilateral World Heritage site. Experts from the partner countries participated in four meetings to evaluate the current state of protection and management of the involved protected areas.
The first extension increased the representation of the diversity and evolution of European beech forests within the trilateral World Heritage site. However, to fully represent the ecological process of beech forest expansion the WHC recommended to assess the potential for a finite European nomination. For this purpose, with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and under commission of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the Centre for Econics conducted a two-year screening process in cooperation with a large group of experts from more than 20 European countries (‘European World Heritage Beech Forests’, 2012-2014). They identified 64 potential candidate sites and prepared a potential extension nomination on technical and political level, which was officially taken over by Austria in 2015.
In addition, the Centre for Econics complemented a study on the joint management of the trilateral World Heritage site in cooperation with the involved partners. A focus of the study was laid on the formulation of recommendations on how to meet the management challenges that would result from an increasing complexity of the World Heritage site in the context of a potential extension.
During the screening process, the ‘European Beech Forest Network’ (EBFN) emerged as a steadily growing group of experts from all over Europe, dedicated to beech forest research, conservation and sustainable management. With further funding from BMU, the Centre for Econics moderated an intensive workshop series to discuss and exchange recent findings about the situation of beech forests and different management approaches (“Beech Forest Network of Europe, 2015-2017). The EBFN has the objective to support the protection of old growth (beech) forests and increase transnational cooperation in research and conservation.
Further projects to protect the World Heritage beech forests
After the extension of the World Heritage site, a first project-based coordination office was established in Austria under the lead of E.C.O. Institute of Ecology. The Centre for Econics was involved in this project in the context of analyzing threats to World Heritage beech forests and identifying potential corridors between the component parts. Since 2019, the coordination office is based in Brussels at the Sonian Foundation. The Centre for Econics continues the close cooperation with the coordination office, especially in the context of two ongoing EU projects.
Presently, the Centre at EUSD is leading the Interreg Central Europe project BEECH POWER, which is coordinated by the Centre for Econics and implemented together with six further partners in five countries. The aim of the project is to support the further development of the World Heritage component part management, to safeguard the integrity of the forest ecosystems in the component parts and to fincrease their impact on sustainable regional development.
In addition, the Centre for Econics is represented as partner in the LIFE Prognoses project. Here, research on forest management impacts on microclimate is the main field of technical involvement, to contribute to the assessment of different ecosystem services, which old-growth (beech) forests provide.
The Centre for Econics is looking back on more than a decade of cooperation within the Beech Forest Family and the team is looking forward to continue its work on and dedication to this exceptional European forest ecosystem!