Reading some of the documentation for this nomination I was struck by how little of Europe's ancient landscape remains and how attached some Europeans have become to those remnants. Not that Europe is short of forests -- on the contrary it has millions of acres of forests, and that area continues to grow. But except in a few remote and rugged areas those forests have been intensely managed for centuries. In many places the natural beech and elm trees were replaced with pines and oaks that were more useful for timber (especially timber for building ships). In some intensely managed forests trees were allowed to fully mature but were then cut down at the first sign of aging or ill health, so that no trees ever died naturally and no logs ever littered the forest floor:
Due to human intervention and because timber use is complete long before the onset of decay, we have grown unaccustomed to the sight of ageing and dying trees.To an American this is downright weird; the woods near by house are so choked by fallen trees that it is hard to walk off the trails.
I noticed that the German foresters did not refer even to the areas they nominated for Heritage status as "natural," just "near-natural." And despite the millions of acres of forest in Germany they could only fine 5,000 hectares, or 12,000 acres, of beech forest that they thought was even "near-natural."
One of the impressions I took away from Europe was that every scrap of ground had a purpose. If there were woods, it was because they had been set aside as a park, and every wood had a grand-sounding name even if it was only 500 trees. If there was a meadow, it was a Meadow Park or a Recognized Natural Meadow or something. There was no place that was overgrown just because nobody knew what else to do with it.
In the western US you can drive for hours without seeing anything that smacks of usefulness other than the road itself and the telephone poles beside it, but in the Old World such waste has been unheard of for centuries. The result is a shortage of places that can be called in any sense "natural." The point of setting aside these heritage areas is to let nature run its course, so there will be places where things live and die and rot in a more or less natural way, and where people can watch those things happen.