Ancient and primeval beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe

European beech trees are endemic in Europe. Their dominance in the broadleaf forests of the temperate zone testifies to their genetic and ecological adaptability. In the past beech forests dominated the landscape of Central Europe, today only a few are preserved in their natural form and therefore particularly worthy of protection. They are an excellent example of recreation and evolution of ecosystems since the last Ice Age. The Dürrenstein Wilderness area in Lower Austria contains 1,867 hectares of Wolrd Heritage Site, the most extensive primeval beech forest in the Alpine arc. 400- to 500-year-old beech trees testify the pristine nature of the forests. With 5,252 hectares of World Heritage Site, the Kalkalpen National Park in Upper Austria is the most extensive beech forest conservation area in the Alps. These forests are characterised by their high closeness to nature and, due to their large area and diversity of habitats, they reflect the typical beech forest spectrum of the region. 

The ancient and primeval beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe were declared as UNESCO World Heritage in 2017 and represent Austria’s first World Natural Heritage. The core zone of around 92,023 ha (buffer zone 253,815 ha) is formed by 41 protected areas in 12 European countries. The World Heritage management of the Austrian areas (7,119 ha) is carried out by the respective nature reserver administration. As part of a wilderness area and national park, they are subject to particularly strict regulations.

The European beech – a european endemic tree

The history of European beech forests begins around 10,000 years ago, after the end of the last Ice Age. Starting from several regue areas, i. e. ice-free areas where the beech could survive, it conquered alomst an entire continent. To this day, is expansion strength remains unbroken. It is still on the advance in southern Scandinavia as well as in the extreme west and north of the European beech Distribution area. This phenomenon is worldwide unique and is made possible by the enormous competitiveness of the beech. 

Settlement activities and economic use have reduced Europe’s natural beech forests to only a few areas. 

The uniqueness and at the same time the worthiness of protection of the beech forests has been recognized by UNESCO with the award as a World Natural Heritage Site.  A total of 91,000 hectares of the last old beech forests and primeval beech forests in Europe are now included in the list of World Heritage Sites like the Yellowstone Nationalpark or the South Tyrolean Dolomites. The registration of a total of 41 beech forest protected areas within 12 European countries (Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine) represents an enormous success for the protection and conservation of beech forests. 

The beech forests of the Kalkalpen Nationalpark and the primeval beech forest of the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area represent the beech distribution area of the Alps. Together, the two protected areas bring about 7,120 hectares of beech forests into the World Heritage Site. 

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