Forests cover one third of the Earth's land area. They provide a multitude of services and goods for millions of people, including many indigenous communities. Deforestation and forest degradation have dramatically altered forest ecosystems, and the total area of forest loss during the 1990s has been calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as almost 100 million hectares (2.4 %). This loss has occurred mainly in subtropical and tropical countries; temperate forests have not decreased as greatly in extent, but rather have declined in natural species composition.
Forests and biodiversity
Forests provide by far the most important ecosystems for terrestrial biodiversity. They harbour the highest number of species for many taxa and also the majority of endemic species. Of the estimated several million species that have yet to be scientifically described, the majority are thought to live in forests.
Of the 1186 Globally Threatened Bird species, 902 are found in forests. Of these, 41% occur in lowland moist forests and 36% in montane moist forests, with the remainder in dry or other forest types. Three quarters of threatened forest species depend on one specific forest type only, and 86% require intact habitats and are intolerant of habitat degradation and disturbance by humans.
Forests are the key habitat for 83% of all Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) of the world, with 32% of these being tropical lowland forests and 24% montane moist forests. Within Important Bird Areas (IBAs), forests play a central role. 54% of all European IBAs hold forest or woodland. In Africa, the Guinea – Congo Forests biome holds the largest number of biome-restricted species, 278. The presence of these species has been used to identify 160 IBAs across this biome.
Global instruments for forest conservation
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (1995-1997) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (1997-2000). These bodies developed more than 270 Proposals for Action for a sustainable management of the world's forests. Following up on the IPF and the IFF, the United Nations in 2000 created the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). The UNFF consists of the UN member states and specialised agencies. Based on the IPF/IFF Proposals for Action, the UNFF has adopted a multi-year programme of work and a Plan of Action. The UNFF is supported by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, an interagency project to foster international cooperation and coordination on forests.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a first work programme on forest biological diversity in 1998. Four years later, in 2002, the CBD's sixth Conference of the Parties, adopted an expanded programme of work on forest biodiversity. This programme addresses conservation, sustainable use and benefit-sharing; an institutional and socio-economic enabling environment; as well as knowledge, assessment and monitoring. BirdLife is closely involved with the work of the CBD.
BirdLife and forest policy
Currently, BirdLife International is running a Global Forest Policy Project which is giving grants to national BirdLife Partner organisations for national-level forest policy work.
Forest conservation is high on the agenda of many BirdLife Partners, especially through their work on IBAs. The European BirdLife Partnership has its own European Forest Task Force.
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