Forest research for NWFPs production is not as developed as for timber production. There are three main reasons for this:
- In Western Europe for the past hundred years the focus of forest research has been timber production. In this region, research on NWFPs is recent; however in the East there is a long-established research on NWFPs but due to language barriers and poor dissemination activities this remains largely inaccessible and poorly known.
- In many parts of Western Europe the tradition of utilisation of non-wood resources disappeared as result of social and economic changes.
- It involves a wide range of products from not only non-woody parts of trees (e.g. resins, fruit, bark, etc.) and understory plants but also other taxonomic kingdoms such as animals and fungi. Therefore NWFPs modelling imply a diversity of data collection requirements, modelling strategies and expert knowledge from various scientific domains.
There are some special features distinguishing NWFPs from wood resources, which have a strong influence on its research and forest practice:
- low concentration of resources (Grochowski, 1990);
- uneven distribution of resources (Grochowski, 1990; Mendes and Feliciano 2005);
- yield/harvest large variability over time (including seasonality) and space (Grochowski, 1990; Lintu, 1998; Mizaras et al., 2005);
- strong dependence of yield/harvest on climatic conditions (Mizaras et al., 2005);
- limited set of possibilities of harvest mechanisation (Grochowski, 1990; Seeland et al., 2005);
- poor durability and resistance to damage of products (Grochowski, 1990);
- for several NWFPs, there is a complete lack of control over the collection for commercial use in many European countries, and also the lack of regulation concerning their economic exploration.
The current forest research context is more complex than the past wood-based production approach. Forest management increasingly does not aim to optimise a single product (e.g. either wood or a NWFP) but to optimise multifunctional forest production – hence a bundle of products of different types as well as services. There is already expertise, data and models for several European NWFPs. Such knowledge is very geographically variable. In many cases, ecological knowledge on NWFPs is needed to be converted into mathematical models, which can be utilized in decision support tools to quantify the joint production of wood and NWFP.
Europe is characterized by a greater amount of historical information regarding mycological forest productivity, although these data are underused since they are fragmented among several research institutions and have never been analysed or studied jointly. Consequently, the data available about mushroom picking and commercialization of wild mushrooms are scattered, partial, heterogeneous and difficult to compare. The immediate and potential economic value from these activities is, except for a few choice edibles such as truffles in parts of France, Italy and Spain, virtually unknown. This makes the inclusion of wild mushroom gathering in forest planning difficult.
Forest mushrooms (including truffles) have historically represented one of the leading NWFPs in European forests due to their economic and social value, and also for their ecological importance. Moreover, mushroom picking is an important recreational activity in many European regions.
The utilization of wild mushrooms (e.g. Boletus) has been increasing in European forest areas in recent decades, generating a strong demand for information about this forest resource. In most cases the human contact with wild edible mushrooms is essentially through local communities who see in them either a source of extra nourishment or an opportunity to increase their income. However, the traditional household-level collection and use seems to be decreasing and it is partly replaced by "professional like" berry and mushrooms pickers.
It is being recognized that there is a growing interest of transnational networks to commercialize the collection of mushrooms, while avoiding the potential benefits for private forest owners in bypassing their property rights. Furthermore, most transactions are still undertaken without an appropriate characterization that would help protect the forest systems and local communities, who are easily exploited due to erroneous perceptions of the true economic dimension generated. The changing practices drive a paradigm shift that is crying for updated information in every aspect of forest mushroom gathering and its impacts. This is a prerequisite for devising measures of control on social conflicts due to the feeling that commercial utilization of natural resources is not in line with traditional habits and prevailing everyman's rights, on income loss from misinformed management as well as decay in resource potential, and, not least, on international supply and demand.
An increased awareness of the binomial mushrooms-health in forest systems should improve many aspects of the attitude of local communities on wild mushrooms. Monitoring for nutritional hazards from heavy metal contamination (some of it radioactive) is not well coordinated, and regulations on gathering, when existent, are not enforced, and the impacts from these activities on forest systems are virtually untapped. Only recently some rulings are in place, mostly regarding the trade of hallucinogenic (EMCDDA, 2010). A few forest mushrooms belong in this trade, but these represent a minor part compared with those picked as food, but European and state controls should extend to other aspects of mushroom gathering that are more sizeable in forest management.
The use of numerical optimization techniques applied to the growth models for an individual tree combined with the mycological models will allow to alternative silvicultural regimes to be simulated. Recently, there has been a first attempt to establish a multifunctional silviculture considering both, timber and mushroom productions. These preliminary results based on north-eastern Spain data encourage continuing developing new tools that allow integrating the mycological resources into forest management and planning expanding this methodology to other areas where there are enough available data which will be modelled and optimized, establishing dynamic forests scenarios which allow visualizing the effects of different silvicultural alternatives on mushroom yields.
NWFPs directly obtained from the trees can be summarised in: fruits, nuts and seeds, resins and other exudates, barks, and leaves. In Europe mainly harvested and commercialised tree-origin NWFP products are the nut from Pinus pinea, chestnut from Castanea sativa, cork from Quercus suber and resin from several conifers (Pinus pinaster, P. halepensis in Mediterranean countries and P. sylvestris or Picea abies in boreal regions). Main differential characteristics of tree NWFPs is that their harvesting can lead to a reduction in timber quality and/or tree vigour, as is the case of main resin extraction and debarking. In the case of fruit and seed collection, no direct damage is expected, but some practices as intensive pruning to improve fruit production or the use of vibrating harvesters can indirectly lead to decay of vigour. Given the intimate relation among tree survival and NWFP production, actual research on this topic mainly focuses on:
- Develop harvesting techniques which warranty tree survival and maintenance of the biological basic processes of trees (growth and regeneration). New laws preventing the illegal or unregulated harvesting of these products have been developed in some European countries.
- Identify main factors affecting NWFP production.
- Define management schedules in order to optimize tree NWFP, including silvicultural practices for natural stands, and agronomy techniques, as grafting plantations for increasing nut production in pine nuts or fertilization techniques.
- Specific models for tree NWFP under different global and management scenarios have been recently developed to support foresters in management decision (Calama et al., 2011; Bonet et al., 2010; Sánchez-González et al., 2008; Miina et al., 2009). In this context, works focusing on economical valuation and optimization of these products have been recently developed (Ovando et al., 2010; Palahí et al., 2009; Miina et al., 2010).
- Quality aspects and industrial and transformation processes. Recent advances on these lines include the implementation of quality control and certification topics, image classification of defects in pine nuts or cork and chemical properties.
Silvopastoralism is widespread in Europe, especially in the Mediterranean region (e.g. dehesa in Spain or montado in Portugal) and in mountain areas (e.g. wooded pastures of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland and France). Wood-pastures are a special case of forested ecosystems in which multifunctional land use allows the provision of very various NWFPs, including berries, honey, mushrooms, medicinal plants, cork, etc. Moreover, the most important primary product from an economic point of view is forage grazed by livestock. Tree cover has a strong impact on forage production and quality, which in turn influence animal behaviour and performance. Little is known about the contribution of understory plants or forest species to the diet of grazing animals and its consequences on the agricultural products (e. g. milk, cheese, meat).
Changes related to climatic factors (e.g. winter warming, increased summer precipitation) can reduce flowering and berry production (Bokhorst et al., 2008). But the relationships between yield of berries and climate variables are not fully understood (Wallenius, 1999). Therefore the potential of the models to predict changes in productivity are hampered by their limited capability to address climate change related impacts (e.g. droughts, bark beetle infestations, forest fire ignition; Lindner et al., 2010). The project MOUNTLAND investigated the sensitivity of the provision of mountain ecosystem services to both climatic and land-use changes, and suggested innovative policies and governance structures for mitigating the impact of such changes and for enhancing sustainable management practices in mountain regions. For example, Gavazov et al. (in press) showed how pasture-woodlands forage production in the near future (2000-2050 AD) will be affected disproportionately throughout the landscape. Experimental and modelling work showed that extensive farming, which allows for a sparse tree cover development within grazed pastures, ensures a rather stable forage supply. To the contrary, herbaceous production in intensively-managed unwooded pastures diminishes, mainly due to evaporative loss of soil moisture. Insulating forest canopy cover, but also structural landscape diversity, grants wood-pastures a buffering potential in the face of climate change in the forthcoming decades.
Many different products are obtained and commercialized from understory plants throughout Europe. In Mediterranean countries young parts of bushes and mosses are collected for ornamental purposes and several aromatic species are wild-harvested for the extraction of essential oil, which is used in the food and perfumery industries. In Central, Eastern and Northern European countries medicinal plants and berries are important both for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Germany is the European hotspot of the medicinal and aromatic plant market. However, there is a lack of data related to the real extracted quantities and trade, biological and ecological issues and modelling of the effect of harvesting in the long-term conservation. Only in case of species of community interest or species which are widely marketed, such as Arnica montana, Gentiana lutea, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or Thymus sp., resource assessments, implementation of sustainable harvesting techniques and management plans had been done (Michler, 2007; Melero and Cristóbal, 2008; Recasens et al., 2008; Bouguet and Gaultier, 2012).
The knowledge about medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) can be counted by the tens of thousands of books and papers worldwide (Schippmann, 2001). Nevertheless, in the period 1997-2000, only around the 8% of bibliographic references was referred to European countries (from data in Schippmann, 2001). At the same time, the bulk of this information regards to pharmacology, medicinal properties and classical ethnobotanical research. However, information about distribution, biology, population dynamics modelling, resource assessments, sustainability thresholds, resource management, economics and trade is still scarce and scattered in Europe.
Efforts in developing sustainable management of MAP had been done during the last 20 years, when international concerns about plant conservation issues relating to medicinal plants were rising. The need for improving the conservation status of plant species for which demands exceeds supply form wild populations was faced worldwide in the 90’s. As a result, the MPSG-IUCN jointly with TRAFFIC, WWF and the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) developed between 2001-2006 the International Standard on Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP) (MPSG-IUCN, 2007), which defines guidelines and provides tools to collectors, producers and decision makers for the planning and implementation of a sustainable resource management system. Now the ISSC-MAP is part of the FairWild Standard version 2.0 (FairWild Foundation, 2010), the only one tool for certification of sustainable wild collection of plant products. Until 2011 FairWild standard had been issued in 7 companies, mainly from Eastern European countries, and for 30 different plant species (FairWild Foundation, 2011).
High densities of deer populations often have negative impacts on forests (damages on forest regeneration, debarking, damages to soil, etc.) and posing several problems to forest management and managers. Thus, forest management in such cases implies the control of deer populations. Therefore often from a forest management perspective research is mainly focusing on these forest management problems (e. g. Loudon, 1978) rather than on the potentials related to the commercialisation of the game activity and/or of the meat. The meat of wild deer species as well as of other animals (the name of this special type of NWFPs of animal origin is "venison"), can be a valuable non wood forest product, that can be commercialised together with the recreational activity (hunting is very important in many European countries).
Research on venison production and commercialisation in Europe is not developed as in in other parts of the world where the value chain of this special type of product has been recently explored (e.g. Shadbolt et al., 2008). The potential for production and commercialisation of wild venison are proved by some initiatives, sometimes lead by public authorities (e.g. the UK Forestry Commission has developed "The Wild Venison Standard") where the key management practices to produce and marketing wild deer venison are defined. In the UK the possibility of marketing invasive species e.g. Sika deer, feral goats and grey squirrels as a contribution to the cost of management is also being studied. The potential value of wild deer venison has been supported recently by means of forest certification (FSC certification in UK, for the wild deer managed in the Forestry Commission public forests). Nevertheless, no comprehensive and updated information on quantities, prices, value chains, forest management practices to support the production of this product are available throughout Europe.
The development and implementation of innovative products (or new uses for traditional products) strongly depends on social, institutional and political factors: Non-wood products are often dealt in forest laws and education as “by-products” or secondary forest products which is the reason that the innovation systems do not focus on this field (Weiss and Rametsteiner 2005; Weiss et al., 2011). Furthermore, forest laws in many European countries allow free collection of those forest products for their personal needs (everybody’s right). All-in-all, non-wood forest products are typically not seen as a business field by forest owners and the development of these into market products is hardly supported by policies (Mavsar et al., 2008).
Emphasis will be given in this Action to existing innovation on NWFPs. New uses for traditional NWFPs or new NWFPs will be highlighted. In addition, there will be focus on new forest management production systems for NWFPs as well as, when applicable, discussing impacts and benefits of NWFP domestication/cultivation processes. The Action aims at collecting innovative examples throughout Europe, but it will also reflect on the innovation processes behind and will derive recommendation on how to support innovations for NWFPs.
The Action’s innovativeness can also be seen from the fact that despite NWFPs are of recognised importance, in most European countries, focus is still mainly in timber production and a shift it is clearly proposed here towards a MSFM. The traditionalism in forestry sometimes leads to wrong conclusion that forests have no value, unless they are used for wood utilization. Still, NWFPs are one of the income sources, sometimes the most important one, for rural households and often promote the biodiversity protection. Therefore, the importance of improving existing knowledge on European NWFPs is clear.