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Ancient Beech Forests of Europe

Criteria for the inscription of the "Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe"

To be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the UNESCO World Heritage properties must be of Outstanding Universal Value and meet at least one of ten selection criteria. The Beech Forests meet criterion IX for the inscription.

Criterion (ix): The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe are indispensable for understanding the history and evolution of the genus Fagus, which, given its wide distribution in the northern hemisphere and its ecological role, is globally significant. These complex, largely undisturbed temperate forests show comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure and mixed stands of common beech (Fagus sylvatica) across a variety of environmental gradients, in particular climatic and geological conditions, at the scale of almost all beech forest regions. Forests are included in all altitudinal zones, from coastal areas to the forest edge, and include the best remaining examples in the range of the common beech. Beech is one of the most important tree species in the temperate broadleaf forest biome and represents an outstanding example of recolonisation and development of terrestrial ecosystems and communities since the last ice age. The continuous northward and westward expansion of beech from its glacial refuge areas in the eastern and southern parts of Europe can be traced along stages and natural corridors across the continent. The dominance of beech in vast areas of Europe is living testimony to the genetic adaptability of this tree, a process that is still ongoing.

Integrity: The 94 components, selected from 18 countries, that make up the serial property are representative of the diversity of ancient and primeval beech forests throughout Europe, both in terms of different climatic and geological conditions and altitudinal ranges. The serial property comprises a set of components that reflect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and represent the variability of common beech forest ecosystems. Together, these components contribute to the integrity of the property as a whole. In addition, each component must demonstrate integrity at the local level, exhibiting all the natural development processes of the forests and their particular geographic and ecological location in the series. Most components are of sufficient size to ensure the natural processes necessary for their long-term ecological sustainability.

The most significant threats to the property are deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Logging activities in the vicinity of the components can cause microclimatic changes and nutrient mobilisation effects, with negative impacts on the integrity of the property. Land-use change in surrounding landscapes may lead to increased habitat fragmentation, which would be of particular concern for smaller components. Infrastructure development is a potential threat only in the surroundings of some components.

Climate change already poses a risk to some components and further impacts can be expected, including changes in species composition and displacement of habitats. However, it should be noted that one of the attributes of the property's Outstanding Universal Value is the demonstration of beech's ability to adapt to different ecological and climatic regimes throughout its range. Therefore, potential future changes must be monitored and documented to better understand these processes.

The above-mentioned threats can affect the integrity of the different components to different degrees and in different ways. For example, through reduced structural diversity, fragmentation, loss of connectivity, loss of biomass and change in microclimate, which reduce ecosystem functionality and overall adaptive capacity. To cope with these threats, buffer zones are established and appropriately managed by management agencies.

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