FEFOCON: Environmental, social and economic feasibility of forest conversion


The objectives of the project are: quantification of the impact of forest conversion from coniferous to broadleaved forests on biodiversity and environmental quality, study of the attitude of forest owners towards forest conversion and relevant political tools, selection of political tools, establishment of policy guidelines and publication of results.


Air pollution causes acidification and eutrophication of forest soils in Belgium, exerting pressures on their vitality and biodiversity. Means for counteracting the effects of air pollution depend mainly on the interaction with the tree vegetation and the soil.
Concurrently, Belgian policy makers try to implement sustainable development to comply with European and global treaties. They encourage sustainable silvicultural techniques by informing, subsidizing and enforcing laws on forest managers.
The FEFOCON project is based on the hypotheses that converting coniferous forests into mixed species stands could achieve a considerable progress on mitigation of pollution pressure, conservation of biodiversity, economic profitability of forest management and the perception of forest users alike.

Project description


The general objective is to provide a series of policy instruments for the conversion to more sustainable forest types. The FEFOCON project achieves this step by step through the work packages.


In work package 1 we quantify the impact of forest conversion on biodiversity and environmental quality of forests. Partners 1 and 2 collect and valorise available data on pollution deposited to forests and of leaching elements underneath coniferous as well as broadleaved forests, with emphasis on nitrogen. They also sample new coniferous stands, broadleaved stands and forest stands where conversion is ongoing. Conversion of existing pine forests towards mixed broadleaved forests will take several decades and alternative scenarios are possible in the field. The pine stands can be gradually thinned, enabling broadleaved trees to germinate and grow under the cover of the ageing pines. The manager can also remove all pines in certain spots and replace them with broadleaved trees. The behaviour and effect of pollution during the conversion period may depend on the chosen management scenario.

The vast majority of the Belgian forests are private property. At the moment, little information is available about the willingness of forest owners to convert coniferous forests and about possible ways to stimulate them in this direction. (i) The effort needed to prevail on forest owners to convert their forest, (ii) the potential environmental gains of conversion and (iii) the changes in revenues from the forest, have to be expressed in monetary units, both at community level as well as for the private owner. An interdisciplinary approach of partners 3 and 4, combining human and exact components in an economical frame is therefore the most appropriate methodology for this work package 2.

Based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour, sociological models help to explain and predict the resistance or support of different categories of forest owners. An inquiry assembles information on the attitudes of owners, their subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. These data are then used to predict the behavioural intentions. The modelling approach allows testing for the optimal policy tool to convince each category of owners to change forest management. A Contingent Valuation Study translates the findings into monetary values. The data on environmental benefits by forest conversion will be translated into monetary values starting from existing market values as well as from literature data on non-use values.

After calculating the financial implications of several realistic forest conversion scenarios, a global economic assessment evaluates the environmental, financial and social feasibility of forest conversion. Next, policy guidelines can be proposed to the user comity (work package 3)
Finally, after feed back of end users (Web pages, workshop, in-depth interviews, consultancy), effective en efficient policy instruments will be formulated (work package 4).

Interaction between the different partners

The project encompasses forest ecosystem studies with measurements of chemical elements in the field and the laboratory, sociological modelling with an inquiry of forest owners and an economic assessment. For all partners the research focuses on concrete situation of forest management scenarios and implication of implied decisions on the ecosystem and people. Partners 1 and 2 assess ecological impacts of different conversion scenarios, upon which partners 3 and 4 question forest owners and calculate financial implications.

Link with international programmes

Conversion of coniferous forests is a central issue of international scientific conferences throughout Northern and Central Europe. The European Forest Institute (EFI) has a regional project center CONFOREST that deals specifically with forest conversion. The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) has a unit “4.04.09 Scenarios for transformation forest management”.

Expected results and/or products

The results will be disseminated in national forestry publications as well as in the international scientific literature and at meetings. Guidelines will be formulated for policy makers and the findings on forest conversion will be forwarded to the managers, possibly through forest groups.



The research team biogeochemical cycles of Partner 1 tracks the course of atmospheric pollution through the forest to the soil and the groundwater. The forest policy team performed the first inquiry of Flemish private forest owners. The team on forest dynamics formulates the ecological basis for technical conversion management of pine forests.
Partner 2 studies the biogeochemical cycles of spruce and broadleaved forests, with emphasis on nitrogen transformations in relation to the composition of the soil microbial community.
Partner 3 analyses the sociology of forest users: the perception of the ongoing management by those who visit a forest depending on their knowledge of nature and the participation of forest users in management decision making.
Partner 4 studies the integration of the factor ‘natural environment’ in economics and business administration with an eye for the general economic approach, the managerial approach and for the interactions between policymakers (government and private) and other stakeholders.

Contact Information


Noël Lust
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Department of Forest and Water Management
Geraardsbergsesteenweg 267
B-9090 Melle
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 90 26
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 90 92


Monique Carnol
Université de Liège (ULg)
Plant and Microbial Ecology
27, boulevard du Rectorat
B-4000 Liège 1
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 38 45
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 45 17

Luc Hens
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
Human Ecology
Laarbeeklaan 103
B-1090 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 477 42 81
Fax: +32 (0)2 477 49 64

Marc De Clercq
Department of General Economics
Hoveniersberg 24
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 35 02
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 35 99

Users Committee

Roel Vanhaeren - Ministry of Flemish Community, Division of Forests and Green Spaces
Christian Laurent - Ministry of the Walloon Region, General Direction of natural resources and environment
Stijn Overloop - Flemish Environment Agency (VMM)
J. Michielsen - Provincial and Interurban Drinking Water Company of the Province Antwerp (Pidpa)
Tom Anthonis - Royal Belgian Forestry Association (KBBM)
Dominique Plouvier - WWF Belgium
Jasse Cnudde - Flemish Forest Organisation (VBV)


atmospheric pollution, biodiversity, conversion, forest, nitrogen, theory of planned behaviour, SPSD II, PODO II, PADD II, MA04


Ecosystem {Integration level}
National {Cooperation status}
Belgium {Geographical scope}
Forest {Habitat type}
Ecosystem Services {Tags}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Carnol, Monique member 2003-12-01 2005-02-01
Lust, Noël promotor 2003-12-01 2005-02-01
Verheyen, Kris member 2003-12-01 2005-02-01
Hens, Luc member 2003-12-01 2005-02-01


Name Role Start End
Laboratory of plant and microbial ecology member 2003-12-01 2005-02-01
Department of Forest and Water Management leader 2003-12-01 2005-02-01


Reference Role
Feasibility of forest conversion: ecological, social and economic aspects (FEFOCON) : summary Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1695) author
Feasibility of forest conversion: ecological, social and economic aspects (FEFOCON) : final report Degrave, Frédéric - Malchair, Sandrine - De Schrijver, An ... et al Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1578) author
Ecologische, sociale en economische haalbaarheid van bosomvorming (FEFOCON) : samenvatting Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2006 (SP1696) author
Faisabilité environnementale et socio-économique de la transformation des forêts (FEFOCON) : résumé Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2006 (SP1697) author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform