Nine facts about Swiss forests

They are a habitat, a source of income and recreational areas: how are our forests doing today? And what does the future hold for forests?

Edita Dizdar, Nina Huber, Silvia Schütz, Marlies Seifert
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1. 130 types of trees and shrubs

Switzerland’s forests are home to 130 species of trees and shrubs. And over 20,000 animal species live in Swiss forests. Some animals, such as the western barbastelle, are threatened with extinction. Others, such as the golden jackal, are reestablishing themselves. «The forest provides a habitat for plants and animals. Depending on the location, it also protects against natural hazards such as avalanches and floods or offers space for recreation», says forest warden Markus Rufener, who maintains the Gurten, Bremgarten and Sädelbach forests, among others, in the Citizens’ Commune of Berne. For example, he cuts trees that the forester has marked beforehand. The goal is to achieve a young, stable and vital mixed forest. «I am proud that I am doing something good for the forest of the future», he says.

2. More broadleaved trees in the future 

The composition of forests is changing. «At the moment, we have about the same amount of hardwood as softwood in Switzerland. This ratio will shift in favour of broadleaved trees in the coming decades», explains Frank Vasek from Timber Finance. The start-up, which is supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund, is developing ways to ensure the sustainable use of the forest of the future. For example, Timber Finance is campaigning for the increased use of wood as a building material. «Hardwood is almost as strong as steel. We could use it to build a second forest out of houses», says Vasek. 

3. These are the winners …

  1. The silver fir: it will advance to higher altitudes in the mountains because it has longer to grow each year thanks to warmer temperatures.

  2. The downy oak: it will spread in dry locations in the Valais, mostly at the expense of the Scots pine.

  3. The Douglas fir: it will withstand drought better in the lowlands than many other tree species. This is why foresters are increasingly planting this tree species, which is native to North America, there today.

... and these are the losers

  1. The spruce: on the Swiss plateau, in the Jura and in dry Alpine regions, it will be less numerous than it is today, because it does not tolerate heat and drought well and because of the bark beetle.

  2. The beech: its situation is becoming difficult in the lowlands on soils that do not store water well, for example on rocky ridges or gravelly soils.

  3. The ash tree: it will continue to decline sharply because it is threatened by diseases (ash dieback) and pests (emerald ash borer).

4. The tree line rises up to 500 metres 

As the lowlands become hotter and drier, the vegetation shifts to higher altitudes. The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) considers it realistic that the timber line will rise by 500 metres in some places by the end of the 21st century. In addition to higher temperatures, however, other factors must also be in place. For example, the areas to be newly forested must not be used for grazing. Due to alpine farming, the timber line has shifted downwards in recent decades because trees have been cut down in the Alps. Another requirement is that there are enough tree seeds to spread to the higher altitudes and survive. In addition, the soil conditions must be suitable for seed germination. And finally, wild animals such as deer must be prevented from causing too much damage to the young trees. 

5. Swiss forests capture 2.5 million metric tonnes of CO₂ each year 

Trees absorb carbon. This makes them an effective means of stabilising CO₂ in the atmosphere. «The storage potential is huge», says Leo Caprez of Brainforest. «More than a quarter of the CO₂ emitted worldwide is absorbed by forests.» Supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund, Brainforest is therefore developing solutions to prevent deforestation, for example by growing nuts or selling CO₂ certificates.

6. As little as 30 minutes in the forest stimulates body and mind  

Forests have a positive influence on us. Studies show that a 30-minute walk is enough to relax the mind and body. Blood pressure drops, stress decreases, and concentration increases. Learn more about the effect of forests

The Japanese have known for a long time that forests are good for people. Shinrin Yoku is the name of the tradition – “forest bathing”. The idea is to relax and recharge your batteries in the forest. More information on forest bathing.

7. Determining climate-smart forests from 55,000 trees 

A total of 55,000 young trees of 18 different species were planted on 57 test plots at all altitudes and in all regions of Switzerland. In this large-scale long-term project, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), together with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the cantons, is investigating which tree species thrive best with climate change. Researchers are now observing the growth and mortality of the trees under different environmental conditions over the next 30 to 50 years. 

8. The first Forest Act dates back to 1876 

Almost 150 years ago, in 1876, Switzerland enacted the first Forest Act and thus became a model worldwide. The aim was to use forests as a resource in a sustainable way. A ban on clearing came into force, and large-scale afforestation was undertaken in mountain areas. The reason behind it was that the Industrial Revolution had left its mark on our forests in the form of the damage caused by clear-cutting. Natural disasters such as floods, rockfalls, avalanches and landslides were the result.

9. Migros supports afforestation in Nicaragua

Migros is also aware of the significance of trees for the climate. It supports various climate protection projects with financial resources from the M-Climate Fund. So too in the north of Nicaragua. In cooperation with the Myclimate Foundation, the afforestation project in the San Juan de Limay region is underway, with the aim of capturing CO₂ from the atmosphere. Small farmers who own unused land in this area are financially supported to plant different types of trees on it. The additional forest areas protect against erosion, provide shade and also have a positive impact on the socio-economic conditions of the families, because they guarantee additional income as well as more stable yields from agriculture.

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