Climate change threatens Hungary’s Christmas trees

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Workers put a Christmas tree into a bandage machine in a plantation in Surd, Hungary, November 23, 2023. REUTERS/Marton Monus/ File photo

By Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo

SURD, Hungary (Reuters) – In the small village of Surd, which has supplied most of Hungary with Christmas trees for decades, villagers are worried their livelihood could be in danger as pine forests are shrinking due to climate change.

According to National Land Centre data, Hungary’s pine forests — mostly Scots pines and Black pines — covered 175,804 hectares in 2022, down from 185,218 hectares in 2019. While in 2008 pine forests accounted for 12% of all forested areas in the Central European country, their share shrank to 9.37% by 2022.

Pines, some of which had not been indigenous to Hungary but were planted in the early 20th century, have been adversely impacted by global warming not just because of more frequent droughts but also as wood-boring insects tend to proliferate in warmer temperatures, destroying the trees.

Amid the hills in Surd in western Hungary, people grow up to 2 million pine trees on vast plantations near the Croatian border. They now have to spray their plantations three times a year with insecticides to fend off the bugs.

“Unfortunately, things are going the bad way in the sense that the spruce has been hit by the infestation, and other types of pine trees must also be sprayed three times now,” said Janos Kanasz, the mayor of the village, who has been growing pine trees for about 50 years.

Kanasz said they ought to raise prices by about 20% this year due to the cost of insecticide, but this is not possible as Hungarians have been hit by double-digit inflation and will not be able to afford to pay more for their Christmas trees.

While pine trees are unlikely to disappear in Hungary, as types indigenous to western areas bordering Croatia, Slovenia and Austria will likely survive, the share of pine forests will inevitably decrease further, said Laszlo Galhidy, forest programme officer at World Wildlife Fund Hungary.

“Hungary’s continental climate is not really favourable for pine trees and this has been coupled with the strengthening impacts from climate change, with long droughts and warmer summers,” Galhidy said.

“This has resulted in various insects being able to attack these trees more easily and more severely.”

In Hungary, in areas where coniferous forests have had to be cut down, the pines have been replaced by indigenous deciduous forests which could be seen as a silver lining.

“So man has brought in the pine trees, and now climate change will wipe it out. But this allows the original flora to be restored,” Galhidy said.


(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams)