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NatWALD – Identification, selection, establishment & monitoring of new natural forest reserves

Natural forest reserves (NFR) have gained political and social importance due to current challenges related to climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Since 1995, forest areas have been put out of use on the basis of voluntary nature conservation contracts. The current NFR network consists of 192 forest areas with around 8,600 hectares (approx. 0.22% of the Austrian forest area). The aim of the NatWALD project is to expand the existing network by setting up 15 new NFRs (approx. 500 ha) with a contract period of 20 years.

NFR represent special natural forest areas in Austria and are of enormous importance in many aspects due to their high number and nationwide distribution as an area network. The selected forest areas are intended for the natural development of the forest ecosystem and any direct influence (forestry activities) is omitted. Natural forest reserves thus make a contribution to the preservation and natural development of site-adapted biological diversity. Forest biodiversity includes all life forms occurring in forested areas and their ecological functions; it does not only refer to tree species, but to all plants, animals and microorganisms and their genetic diversity.

Natural forest reserves contribute to the conservation and natural development of site-adapted biological diversity. Photo: BFW, Janine Oettel

Large, contiguous areas wanted

IIn the NatWALD project, special attention is paid to the selection of large, contiguous areas on which forest communities occur that have not yet been mapped in the network or are underrepresented. Such areas in particular enable important basic research in ecosystems that are particularly endangered in our cultural landscape. Natural forest reserves should not only represent the composition of tree species and the stand structure, but also the entirety of the natural vegetation conditions as well as possible or achieve these requirements in the foreseeable future. They are therefore exemplary stands of natural forest communities, of which 118 in 22 growth areas are relevant for NFR in Austria. The primary goal is not to preserve the current state of certain parts of the forest, but to allow their natural development. This development creates jungle-like habitat structures, from which particularly sensitive or specialized species benefit.

The establishment of natural forest reserves has always followed the principle of voluntariness and long-term nature. After the offered areas have been checked for suitability, reports are prepared on the basis of which the fee for the non-use is calculated. These reports are essential for fair and transparent compensation and are also defined as a sub-goal in the project due to their important role. The forest owners are actively involved in regular area inspections and regularly report on the condition of the area. In order to ensure the long-term security and availability of the data, the existing database will be renewed. This allows networking with other projects and the use of synergies within and outside the BFW, which strengthens both nature conservation and forest research.

Project infos

Project acronym: NatWALD
Project title: NatWALD – Identification, selection, establishment & monitoring of new natural forest reserves
Duration: 01.01.2023 – 31.05.2025

Program: Austrian Rural Development Programme 2014-2020
Project number: 7.6.1c-III3-62/22
Project management: Austrian Research Center for Forests (BFW), DI Nastasja Harnack


DI Nastasja Harnack, Austrian Research Center for Forests (BFW), Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8, 1131 Vienna,