Primaeval forest once covered most of Europe. This is the ultimate landscape without humans. Do nothing, and, after a succession of different vegetation types, eventually, an entirely natural forest will grow. Nearly any other landscape is to a certain extent man-made.
Most forests are nowadays managed for wood production. Even when they are fantastic and have an entirely natural species composition (like many Slovenian forests), the really old trees are scarce and there are too few dead trees. Meadows are very man-made: they are there because of farming. True, some meadows are highly important for flowers and butterflies, which would otherwise be restricted to wind fell clearings and barren. rocky slopes, of which would even only live in other, far away areas. Rivers can be natural, but few are. And really natural rivers largely flow through natural forests. Mountain areas can also be natural, and then they are largely covered with forests. Even the tree-line high up in the mountains would often be at a higher altitude without the efforts of past farmers, who cut trees to create additional summer grazing. Bogs can be very natural also, and some extensive bogs are natural areas with few trees. But, such areas are almost gone from Europe and the remaining parts tend to be managed to keep trees from growing there.
Primaeval forests have become very rare in Europe, but there are still more than you might think. Some are naturally protected because they grow on steep slopes. Others became hunting reserves for past royalty and were spared for this reason. Mostly, they are relatively small patches of forest, which are surrounded by larger expanses of managed forests. These are among the best-kept secrets of European nature.
Forest is by no means the same everywhere. The great Bialowieza Primaeval forest is dominated by Oak, Lime and Hornbeam. Montane Primaeval forest in Central Europe has many coniferous trees: Spruce, European Larch or even Arve, a pine-species which few are familiar with. Slovenian primaeval forests mostly have Beech and Silver Fir predominating. This confused me in the beginning. I know Bialowieza very well and in this forest, there are dead Oak trees everywhere. So, I searched for forests with many dead trees in Slovenia as well. Wrong. Beech decays much faster than Oak and Silver Fir may live very long indeed. Because of this, Slovenian Primaeval forests can have way fewer dead trees compared to Bialowieza. But, there are still many more dead trees than in a production forest.
So, how do you recognise a Primaeval forest in Slovenia? Well, for a start there are very few or no paths. Paths are mostly man-made and there should be no visible human impact, right? Second, the species composition has to match with the site. This usually means mixed forest and also many age-classes of trees standing right beside each other. Thirdly, dead trees are staying right where they are so there are standing and lying dead trees in many places. Fourthly: human access is either very limited or outright prohibited. Foresters mark the borders of forest reserves with a double blue-painted bar on rocks and trees. When you see this: keep on the paths. And keeping on the paths means that you look into the forest reserve from the edge. That is usually good enough because a path along a forest reserve is often situated in a buffer zone. Such a buffer-zone means that it actually is managed as primaeval forest + there is a path. So, the difference is negligible and you see the real thing.
Primaeval forests are places without human impact. If we would visit them, we would definitely influence them, even when we take only pictures and leave only footprints. So, a visit is a no-go. However, these places are fantastic as they give a true impression of the ultimate natural world. So, we do the best we can. We take you to the edge, which means to unpaved roads and marked trails from where we can peep in. This is not second best: what you see and experience is the real deal. And, at the same time, we don’t touch it. There are several forest reserves where we occasionally go to, depending on the place, we sometimes contact local specialist guides to join as well. This way, you have the best experience and the best, first-hand information. If this sounds good, drop us an email and we’ll take you there.
Written by Paul Veenvliet, 13.10.2018