Beech Forests in Germany

Germany can be regarded as beech forest country. 26% of the total distribution area of European red beech forests lies in Germany. Numerous types of beech forest only exist here, in the core area of the natural beech forest range. Beech forests therefore account for a significant share of Germany’s biodiversity.

In the primeval forests of Germania, which were still extensive in Roman times, the red beech was the dominant tree species. The natural distribution area of beech in Germany extends from the coastal regions through the North German Plain, colline areas and central uplands in the heart of Germany into higher Alpine sites. Due to the onward march of civilisation, beech forests now cover only a tiny fraction of their potential natural distribution area. These remnants of beech forest have almost all been used for forestry and often lack old growth and dead wood structures. Beech stands older than 200 years, isolated beech trees and larger contiguous areas of beech forest are very rare. Remnants of near-natural lowland beech forests now exist only in Germany, nowhere else in the world.

Since the days of Charlemagne, large-scale forest clearance has taken place to make way for agriculture. The industrial development which took place in the 18th and 19th century would also have been unthinkable without timber as its basic resource. Furthermore, from the late 18th century onwards, a critical shortage of timber shifted the emphasis to the cultivation of fast-growing conifers, squeezing beech out of many forests. Today, all that remains of Europe’s once extensive beech forests are a few isolated remnants of varying size. Ancient near-natural beech forests are now extremely rare in Europe, and are generally found at hard-to-manage sites. From an international perspective, they thus count among Europe’s critically endangered habitats, even though beech as a species is not endangered at all.