We need to be able to quantify and assess biodiversity

Biodiversity impacts from forestry is currently under debate. A credible and systematic way of assessing biodiversity is an important factor for success – for the forest, and for the forestry of the future. However, biodiversity is difficult to measure, and some of the methods currently available are not well adapted to Swedish conditions. So, Professor Per Erik Karlsson and Eskil Mattsson, researchers at IVL, are developing new methods for carrying out these assessments in the future.

Per Erik Karlsson, IVL (Swedish Environmental Research Institute) Photographer: Johan Olsson.

– We need to be able to measure and follow up biodiversity, in order to balance different sustainability impacts against each other, in a quantitative way. It is not enough to state “this is good and this is bad”. In order to have a constructive dialogue, you really need to quantify different aspects of sustainability, says Per Erik Karlsson.

Through their work within Mistra Digital Forest, Per Erik Karlsson and Eskil Mattsson are developing measurable and quantifiable methods for evaluating biodiversity. It is not about inventing new methods, but instead it concerns the synthesis of various systems and methods that are available already.

One method of measuring biodiversity that Per Erik Karlsson and Eskil Mattsson base their biodiversity work on is an international method, developed within the UN’s environmental programme. The method is based on many years of research and development, and involves assessing the biodiversity impacts of different products, from a life cycle perspective.

Eskil Mattsson, IVL (Swedish Environmental Reasearch Insitute).

They see two particular challenges in applying this method of assessing biodiversity in Swedish forests: on the one hand, the assessments are applied to geographical regions that are far too large, and on the other hand, the reference levels used are not always relevant.

– The international method is based on using a “natural forest” reference level, without human interventions in the past, which implies that all human activities have a negative impact on biodiversity. In many cases this is unrealistic. Instead, you can use reference levels where humans are part of the ecosystem. From that starting point, we then consider how we want biodiversity to develop in the future, Eskil Mattsson explains.

The environmental quality objectives found in Living Forests – one of Sweden’s 16 national environmental objectives – form an important basis for the project. They include various indicators by which to follow developments over time. The existing certification systems for the forest, such as FSC and PEFC, where relevant grounds for certification have long been discussed, are an additional source.

– Right now we are in a phase of developing the methods, where we are trying to create a basic, common language. We are striving towards dialogue, where industry, researchers, nature conservation organisations, politicians and state authorities can meet and discuss ways of arriving at the best solutions, says Per Erik Karlsson.

Fredrik Klang, Senior Vice President Forestry, on biodiversity:

We have no right to compromise with the forest’s biodiversity, it is part of our natural environment.

We have a responsibility as utilisers of the natural environment, to ensure that all species and all natural processes in nature are preserved for future generations.

To this end, certifications are a way of describing the work so that the wider world understands. It’s proof of our sustainable forestry.