International Research in Uholka-Shyrokyy Luh Wilderness

Since September 26-29, 2017 Uholka-Shyrokyy Luh Wilderness has been a member of the European Wilderness Network. The size of Uholka-Shyrokyy Luh Wilderness zone is identical with the size of WILDForest and the area also includes 3 WILDRivers – the upper watersheds of Mala Uholka River (7 km), Velyka Uholka River (8 km) and Shyrokyy Luh River (9 km).

It is a motivation for many other existing and potential Wilderness and WILDForest and WILDRivers throughout Europe.

In Uholka-Shyrokyy Luh Wilderness the Largest Primeval Beech Forest in Europe is protected! This area is also subject to systematic international research. In recent years the Swiss-Ukrainian Scientific Adventure in the Carpathian Mountains is one of the most important international research fields in this newly audited Wilderness.

“The endless horizons, unspoilt nature, clear streams and the beech trees standing guard over the breath­ taking natural world were well complemented by the warmth and friendship that the Ukrainians emanated. Perhaps it is the philosophy of life – ‘everything in due course’ – that has allowed the forests to last so long.”

This is a quote of Daniel Oertig, student to the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences, Switzerland attending this research.

Daniel is a member of a Swiss-Ukrainian Scientific Adventure which already resulted with remarkable publication: Inventory of the Largest Primeval Beech Forest in Europe. This document is describing  this corner of the Carpathian and systematic work of international group of scientists.

Lets get a little taste of this area as described in their document:
European forests have been used and altered by humans for thousands of years, with the most rapid changes occurring during the Middle Ages. The expansion of human settlements not only led to the forest area diminishing fast, but also to more intensive use of the remaining forest. Wood continued to be the main resource for heating, energy and construction far into the 19th  century, and the increasing demand was met by exploiting and clear-cutting forests even in remote areas. Forests were also used for grazing, leaves were cut as fodder and litter was collected as bedding for livestock and humans.

Only scattered relicts of primeval forest, also known as virgin or primary forest, have survived in mountainous areas, mainly in the geographic regions of the Carpathians, the Balkans and the Alps. These virgin forest relicts have a high value for biodiversity conservation, but they are also unique objects for ecological and forest research as they provide unique opportunities for studying the complex natural structures, processes and ecosystem functions of forests undisturbed by man.

The value of such old-growth forests was already recognized in the 19th century, when the first forest reserves were established in Poland and the Czech Republic. Since then, most European countries have protected and set aside near-natural forests as reserves where old-growth structures can, in the long run, develop again. It may take centuries, however, before such formerly man-aged forests become like virgin forests again and provide the same kind of ecosystem functions as the long-lost primeval forests.

Beech forests would, without human intervention, cover large parts of the temporal zone in Europe as climax vegetation. The beech (Fagus sylvatica) is one of the most successful tree species in post-glacial vegetation history, with a distribution ranging from the mountains of the Mediterranean region in the South to southern Scandinavia in the North, from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the eastern foothills of the Carpathians and the Crimean peninsula in the East. Beech could potentially dominate most of the natural forest types within this extensive range, from sea-level to the lowlands and up to the montane belt, where the temperate climate suits them. In some areas it might even reach as far as the upper forest line. The proportion of beech forests in the current forest cover of Europe has, however, been dramatically reduced through millennia of land use. Untouched, old-growth beech forests mostly remain only in small patches in a very few inaccessible areas or sites where the historical circumstances are in some way special.

Vlado Vancura

Vlado Vancura is the Deputy Chairman and Director of wilderness of the European Wilderness Society and is based in Liptovsky Hradok, Slovakia.

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