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Structure and management of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forests in Italy

Author(s): Nocentini S

Journal: iForest : Biogeosciences and Forestry
ISSN 1971-7458

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 105;
Date: 2009;
Original page

Keywords: Sustainable forest management | Coppice | Gaps | Traditional silviculture | Continuous cover forestry

Beech forests characterise the landscape of many mountain areas in Italy, from the Alps to the southern regions. This paper analyses the relationship between stand structure and the management history of beech in Italy. The aim is to outline possible strategies for the sustainable management of these forest formations. The present structure of beech forests in Italy is the result of many interacting factors. According to the National Forest Inventory, more than half the total area covered by beech has a long history of coppicing. High forests cover 34% of the total beech area and 13% have complex structures which have not been classified in regular types. Coppices are very widespread mainly because of the past, but also present importance of firewood and charcoal for mountain populations. A particular type of beech coppice, the selection coppice (or uneven aged coppice), was traditional in Tuscany and in some alpine areas. Starting from the fifties, following the widespread use of other low cost energy sources and the depopulation of mountain areas, many beech coppices have been progressively abandoned. Forest policies have been increasingly directed to favouring beech coppice conversion to high forests, which are considered more productive and ecologically more functional. Beech high forests have a very interesting management history which is a very good example of the separation between classical forest management, i.e., forest management systems defined by “scientific forestry”, described in text books and usually prescribed in forest regulation plans, and real life forest management, i.e., how forests have been, and mostly still are, actually managed. The analysis of the management history of beech high forests in Italy shows that management systems which favour simplified stand structure and composition according to rigid, predetermined models have been rarely applied. However, the traditional silviculture of beech stands in Southern Italy, based on the opening of very small gaps organized in time and space according to the different situations and to the reactions of the stand, can provide an example for a sustainable approach.
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