Natural forest expansion (NFE), that is, the establishment of secondary forest on non-forested land through natural succession, has substantially contributed to the widespread expansion of forests in Europe over the last few decades. So far, EU policies have largely neglected the potential of NFE for meeting policy objectives on restoration. Synthesising recent interdisciplinary research, this paper assesses the challenges and opportunities of NFE in view of contributing to European forest and ecosystem restoration. Specifically, we discuss the potential for supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and forestry and economic use, summarize the current knowledge about societal perceptions and the policymaking on NFE, and make policy recommendations to better use the potential of NFE. We conclude that NFE has the potential to contribute to the European restoration policy agenda if local contexts and possible trade-offs are properly considered.
Frei, T., Espelta, J. M., Górriz-Mifsud, E., Hampe, A., Lefevre, F., Martín-Forés, I., & Winkel, G. (2023). Can natural forest expansion contribute to Europe's restoration policy agenda? An interdisciplinary assessment. Ambio, 1-12.