Managing water and forests: how to take inspiration from nature and why

According to Antoine Lavoisier, in nature, "nothing is created or lost; everything is transformed." This can be illustrated by the recycling of waste generated by one activity and which in turn becomes the resource for another activity (e.g., anaerobic digestion). This cycle is known as the circular economy or green economy.

How can this virtuous circle be reproduced in the management of rivers and forests? Some questions still need answers. Is it possible to produce more wood while improving biodiversity conservation? Do forests have time to age between two cuttings? In short, which ecological qualities must be preserved to maintain natural diversity and increase the ability of forests and rivers to supply the multiple products and services that society expects?


  • Naturalness: no signs of human disturbance.

State of knowledge and lessons learned

In September 2013, an international symposium discussed the issue of naturalness in ecosystem management. The event covered scientific research, lessons learned and practical applications for managers and curious minds. Three years later, the book Naturalité des eaux et des forêts [1], coordinated by WWF, Irstea and the Forest Ecological Network of the Rhône-Alpes region and published by Editions Lavoisier, sets out the current state of knowledge, uncovering a wealth of thematic overviews, research results and field experiments.

For example, a national scale project was launched in 2008 [2] in order to study the impact of stopping forest exploitation on the structure of stands and biodiversity: 213 plots were set up across 15 forest areas. This is just one example among many of a research-management partnership. Another issue studied was how to combine the natural aging dynamic of forest stands (and thus the development of dendro-habitats, or cracks and cavities, required by many species) and the protective role of forests against rockfalls or avalanches. Field experiment results showed regular pruning was necessary to sustain a stand density compatible with this protective role.

About 60 authors, researchers, forest managers and river managers helped write this concise book with plenty of illustrations. Among them were 11 Irstea researchers [3], providing their expertise on various themes:

  • soil naturalness
  • forest management and biodiversity
  • dendro-microhabitats
  • forest continuity
  • biodiversity conservation or protection against rockfalls

Order the book

For more information

[1] Book coordinators: Daniel Vallauri (WWF), Christophe Chauvin (Irstea), Jean-Jacques Brun (Irstea), Marc Fuhr (Irstea), Nicole Sardat (Irstea), Jean André (Refora), Richard Eynard-Machet (Refora), Magali Rossi (WWF), Jean-Pierre de Palma (MedPan)

[2] Forest Management, Naturalness and Biodiversity (GNB) Project: Irstea, ONF, RNF. With financial support from ONF and MEEM.

[3] Irstea authors: Christophe Bouget, Frédéric Archaux, Emmanuelle Dauffy-Richard, Frédéric Gosselin, Marion Gosselin, Yoan Paillet (Nogent-sur-Vernisson), Franck Bourrier, Jean-Jacques Brun, Marc Fuhr, Sandra Luque (Grenoble), Laurent Bergès (Aix-en-Provence).