Climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events. Climate change adaptation and biodiversity enhancement should be pursued particularly for forests and soils by promoting, among others, forest management and silvicultural practices and associated skills. As far as forest management is concerned, the main problems caused by climate change relate to: (i) the low natural resilience of forests, due to the long life cycle of trees and the time needed to ensure adaptation of natural forests; (ii) reductions in ecosystem services and the value of forests, due to the slowness of natural adaptation to climate changes steering forests toward reduced economic performances, which may lead owners to progressively leave the forests neglected; (iii) the scarce biodiversity levels in commercial forests (few tree species of low genetic diversity), and (iv) the current state-of-art in reconstruction of forests after severe damages, which is mainly replanting previous species, in particular with monospecific plantations. This entails no adaptation measures to climate changes, so the weaknesses of existing forest structures and management remain and will most probably give the same problems in the future, due to more frequent, extreme weather events.
The LIFE VAIA project focuses on the adaptation of forest areas to extreme meteorological events, the promotion of fast responses to negative effects produced by such events, the acceleration of natural regeneration processes, targeting stable ecosystems with high biodiversity levels, and the generation of economic benefits to compensate the loss of income from timber exploitation.
Specific objectives are to:
- Consolidate the knowledge base on the use of innovative agroforestry procedures in forest farming, assess the effectiveness of the method and encourage its use in European forests;
- Develop an ecosystem-based innovative approach by implementing temporary/transitional (15/20 years) agroforestry until the growth of forest trees, and finalised to: i) tackle in the short time most of the negative effects caused to the environment by the destruction of trees (e.g. erosion, mineralisation of organic matter, loss of biodiversity); ii) accelerate the reconstruction of forest ecosystems, mixing natural and artificial reforestation concepts to promote the establishment of stable ecosystems characterised by high biodiversity and ecological value; and iii) create opportunities for sustainable economic development aiming to halt depopulation in the affected areas;
- Test and apply the VAIA approach in several areas characterised by different conditions to define fast response models to be transferred to other sites affected by extreme weather events, intensified by climate changes; and
- Promote the implementation of the EU Forest Strategy (in particular the 2021 Strategy).
The project contributes to the implementation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM(213)2016 and the new Strategy COM/2021/82 final); and the new EU Forest Strategy, under the European Green Deal, which highlights the need “to maintain and enhance forest resilience and adaptive capacity, including through adaptive solutions”. In addition, the project is in line with the 2019 Alpine Convention on climate change.
- Set up of the VAIA approach, a ‘temporary’ application of agroforestry as a tool for promoting the resilience of the EU forests to extreme events and climate change;
- Complete evaluation of several agroforestry architectures, tailored on the base of different pedological and socio-economic conditions;
- Improvement of knowledge on specific matters related to temporary agroforestry, including cultivation of edible species (i.e. Vaccinium), the management of beekeeping, and the choice of tree species in the perspective of climate change;
- Set-up of a ‘starter toolkit’ for the prompt replication of the VAIA approach in other EU contexts (technical and legal guidelines);
- Reforestation of damaged sites under innovative agroforestry concepts (16 pilot plots in 7 areas of total surface are 615 ha). Species adopted include some chosen based on expected climate in the next 20, 50, 100 years. Each pilot site will include a beekeeping area and exclusive rights for the exploitation of the whole area will be given to one beekeeper;
- Creation of economic chains based on non-wood products, like edible plants, small fruits and honey, that compensate for the loss of timber in the short-medium term and support the local economy to prevent depopulation;
- Restoration and improvement of the ecosystem services and resilience in the damaged areas.