Natural forest reserves

Natural forest reserves serve the investigation of forest development under conditions unaffected by human intervention and the development of a type of forest management which is close to nature.

Natural Forest Reserves Programme

Natural forest reserves (NFR) are forest areas destined for the natural development of the forest ecosystem where any direct form of intervention is prohibited. They contribute to the maintenance and natural development of biological diversity.

Development of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme

By signing Resolution H2 of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe in Helsinki in 1993, Austria committed itself to establish a network of natural forest reserves.

The objective under this Resolution is the conservation and enhancement of the biodiversity of forests, an essential prerequisite both for the sustainable existence of forests and for their capability to fulfil their functions.

A commitment concerning the establishment of a representative network of natural forest reserves is contained also in the Mountain Forest Protocol to the 1991 Convention on the Protection of the Alps (Article 10).

In 1994, preparatory work for the research project “Natural Forest Reserves” was carried out and a task force was set up in order to work out the “Basic Forest Guidelines of the Austrian Federal authorities for the establishment of an all-Austrian network of natural forest reserves”.

In the course of several decades preceding 1995, 86 reserves were established covering a total area of approximately 3,220 hectares (most of them thanks to efforts of the Austrian University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences). Those certainly highly valuable nature reserves are, however, very unevenly distributed among the Austrian Federal Provinces; forest communities are not represented in proportion to the areas they cover.

In autumn 1995 the Austrian Natural Forest Reserves Programme was presented to the public by the then Minister for Agriculture and Forestry.

This presentation was followed by broad campaigns to provide information via the press, interest groups, and forest agencies.

In 1996, after examination and preliminary appraisal of the notified forest areas, the Federal Forest Research Centre (now: Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests) started drawing up first expert opinions on the suitability of natural forest reserves.

Since the beginning of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme agreements providing for over 200 reserves covering a total area of approximately 8,600 hectares have been concluded.

Main objectives of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme

The objective of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme is to establish at least one representative natural forest reserve per forest community and growth zone (in Austria there are altogether 125 forest communities in 22 growth zones), taking into account also the representativity of the forest communities in terms of their relevant shares.

The uppermost goal of the programme is to maintain and/or improve the biological diversity (biodiversity) of forests.

This biodiversity is indispensable if we wish to have healthy forests which are able to fulfil their functions and to preserve our living environment for the long term.
The preservation and/or (re-)development of natural forest communities is to be promoted.

The Natural Forest Reserves Programme is to provide new findings for research and science (fundamental research) which can be used in an ecologically-oriented, close-to-nature forest management.

Organisational structure of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme

Planning and establishing natural forest reserves is determined by the cooperation with experts of the forest authorities, representatives of forest owners, and the Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests.

The Division of Natural Forest Research and Nature Conservation at the Austrian Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape, has been charged with the technical implementation of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme.

The administrative and financial management is carried out by the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, Directorates II/3 and III/4.

The forest authorities of the Federal Provinces are integrated in the pre-selection of possible forest areas.

There are informal contacts with the representations of interest.

Forest owners are in contact with the project coordination due to their obligation of regular reporting and permanent inspections.

Agreement on the natural forest reserves

The agreement on natural forest reserves was negotiated and concluded with Land & Forstbetriebe Österreich, the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture, Österreichische Bundesforste AG, and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance.

The Austrian Natural Forest Reserves Programme implies the contractual protection of forests, with forest owners making the areas available on a voluntary basis.

The Republic of Austria concludes, with the forest owner, a private-law contract for a period of 20 years in which the forest owner undertakes to refrain from any utilisation and economic measures inside the reserve.

To determine the annual compensation to be granted to forest owner, the Austrian Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape prepares a valuation report for the forest areas concerned.

In return for the loss of use, forest owners receive a compensation which depends on the economic value of the forest area, and a basic amount of 47.24/ha (for areas covering 100 ha or more  29.07/ha) for activities tolerated and duties fulfilled on the basis of a contract.

Payment is exclusively from budget funds of the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, Directorate III/4. Contact: Brigitte JELINEK.


As many of the 125 forest communities have already been included in the programme, priority is no longer given to the establishment of new reserves, but to the scientific support of the existing ones.

In future the point will above all be to gain new insights on the development of ecosystems, to establish networks with other research areas, and to draw conclusions for the practical application in forest management.

The Department of Forest Inventory, Division of Natural Forest Research and Nature Conservation, at the Austrian Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape, is responsible for the scientific supervision of the natural forest reserves.

Under the direction of Dr. Georg Frank, reserves are selected and established, expert opinions are delivered, and the as well as for the programme is implemented in practice.

published at 06.09.2018, Kommunikation und Service (Abteilung Präs. 5)