Natural forest reserve “Hinterer Oiswald”
200 years ago the remote forest in the Northern Limestone Alps, which is hard to access even today, was intensively used as a grazing site for cattle, as it was essential for the farmers to turn a profit since, at the time, fodder was not as easily obtainable as it is today. Yet, the downside of this practice is that it left long-lasting impacts on the ecosystem and natural environment in the area.
Even today, these forests are still not comparable to the original virgin forests that once occupied these areas, despite the fact that the nature reserve “Hinterer Oiswald” has developed in a highly natural manner such that it is a perfect example of the typical middle- and high-montane forest communities of the northern rim of the Alps.
However, in the future this forest will once again become similar, in both its appearance and the state of its ecosytem, to the original virgin forest.
Forest communities, natural forest reserves - what exactly do these terms mean?
“118 different forest communities are known to occur in Austria:
They include Austrian pine forests in the Lower Austrian eastern alpine rim just as much as the submontane common oak/hornbeam forests which are found on the northern strip, in areas ranging from Vorarlberg, Tyrol, and Salzburg to Upper Austria”, explained Georg Frank, scientist at the Federal Research Centre for Forests.
For 20 years he and his team have conducted research work in 195 natural forest reserves all over Austria, which comprises a total area of 8,403 hectares.
As natural forest reserves must not be commercially utilised, they offer optimal conditions to study and undertake research about forest communities.
Special importance is attached to the cooperation with the owners of the forests as programmes like these are only successful if the two partners cooperate and support the programme. In legal and administrative terms, the Natural Forest Reserves Programme is implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management.
“Forests are probably the most important and most typical landscape feature of our country.
This complex ecosystem covers almost fifty percent of Austria’s national territory and provides a home to countless animal and plant species.
The Natural Forest Reserve Programme makes an essential contribution to the Austrian Biodiversity Strategy, which both safeguards, and improves, the biodiversity of our forests”, emphasised Federal Minister Andrä Rupprechter.
Near-natural development instead of preservation
Natural Forest Reserves are forest areas that are exclusively used for the natural development of the forest ecosystem, which in turn contributes to the promotion of biodiversity. That is, Natural Forest Reserves are areas where no commercial activity for the harvesting of wood is or timber is allowed as, instead, their intention is to preserve the natual environment. “They are designed to reflect the tree species composition, the structure of the forest stand, its vegetation and, above all, the natural development of future forests communities in the best possible manner”, explained Peter Mayer, Head of the Federal Research Centre for Forests (BFW).
Ultimately, each of the forest communities occurring in one of the 22 growth zones is to be represented by at least one nature reserve. It is essential to not just retain the current status, but also to allow natural development. Thus, in order to achieve this, policies such as leaving deadwood in forests as well as natural regeneration are followed, to minimise human interference.