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We go to the forest for berries and mushrooms, and to the forester for wood. But where to find out how many forests grow in Poland and how to assess their quality? Is there a way to describe the forest in numbers?
It turns out that there is. In forestry, or more generally, the science related to the functioning of the forest, there are several parameters by which it is possible to determine in what shape the forests in our country are. These are forest cover, abundance, age, and species composition. What is hidden under these terms?
Forest cover without secrets
Forest cover is nothing more than an indicator that determines to what extent a certain area is covered with forest. It is given as a percentage, which illustrates the ratio of the area covered by forests to the total area of a given area. Currently, Poland’s forest cover is 29.6 per cent, which means that forests cover almost 30 per cent of the country. This was not always like this. In 1946, the ratio was only 20.8 per cent. Thanks to the efforts of foresters, Poland’s forest cover has increased by almost half! No country in Europe has such a great leap forward in forest cover.
The Lubuskie Voivodeship has the highest forest cover (49.3%), while the Łódzkie Voivodeship has the lowest (21.4%).
A forest cover of 29.6 per cent corresponds to an area of 9.2 million hectares. This is how much of Poland’s forest area is currently covered. Since the end of World War II, Poland has added almost 2.7 million hectares of forest. This is more than the area of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship! Today, every third square kilometre of our country is covered with trees. And every year we have more and more forests in Poland.
As resourceful as Polish forests
Poland is one of the most wood-rich countries in the European Union. We owe this thanks to our location in a temperate climate zone, but also a consistently pursued forestry policy. The wood that is harvested annually is only about 2 per cent of what grows in the forests, which means that we are steadily increasing the abundance of Polish forests (that is, the amount of wood per unit area, or more simply, the number and size of trees). The abundance is increasing despite the economic work carried out in the forests and the millions of cubic meters of wood that reaches Polish homes in various forms every year. It is three times higher today than after the war!
How old are the trees?
Polish forests are becoming more and more stately and aged. The most common trees there are those between 40 and 80 years old. The average age of a forest is 59 years, but foresters are seeing a steadily increasing number of trees older than 80. Since the end of World War II, the area they cover has increased from 0.9 million hectares to more than 2.3 million hectares today. Tree stands which are over 100 years old occupy 14.9 per cent of the area in forests managed by the State Forests – by comparison, in private forests, the percentage is 4.9 per cent.
What kind of trees grow in Polish forests?
In lowland and upland areas, pine trees grow most often (about 60 per cent of the forest area), while in the mountains, spruce (in the west) and spruce with beech (in the east) predominate. Pine dominates for a simple reason – forestry is left with the worst quality soils, which pine tolerates. On the fertile ones, our ancestors established agricultural fields. Such forests, however, proved to have little resistance to climatic factors. They are also prone to pest attacks. Therefore, the presence of more resistant deciduous species, i.e., oaks, maples, beech trees and lindens, is steadily increasing in Polish forests. Just after World War II, there was 13 per cent of them. Today, broadleaved forest stands occupy almost 32 per cent of the area.